Sir Anthony Hopkins
Famous for films such as the award-winning Silence of the Lambs, and more recently for the TV science fiction series Westworld, Sir Anthony Hopkins is widely considered to be one of the greatest actors in the world.
In a series of frank interviews, the veteran star revealed he has been diagnosed as having Asperger’s syndrome. The diagnosis has helped him to analyse why he often felt troubled in his youth, but with no idea why.
An “insecure loner”
The 80-year-old Welsh-born star has always said his baker father’s working class values have shaped his life, keeping him grounded. However, Hopkins said he spent years experiencing feelings of deep insecurity – he described it as not knowing who he was.
He has often said he is a loner who doesn’t attend show business parties and has few true friends. This followed on from his schooldays, when he described himself as feeling “troubled” and subsequently “causing trouble.”
He has been widely praised for making the news of his condition public, as health campaigners say it will encourage other people with Asperger’s to talk about it. He has also proved that it has not been a barrier to his massively successful showbusiness career, spanning almost six decades.
What is Asperger’s syndrome?
People with Asperger’s syndrome feel, see and hear the world differently from people who don’t have the condition. It isn’t a disease and it can’t be “cured” – it is an autism spectrum condition. The term derives from the studies carried out in 1944 by Austrian paediatrician, Hans Asperger.
People with Asperger’s syndrome don’t have the same learning difficulties that some autistic people have. They are normally of average or above average intelligence, but may experience more specific learning difficulties, such as problems in understanding or processing language.
Often, people with Asperger’s syndrome have described the world as “overwhelming” – a feeling that makes them prone to anxiety. They may find it difficult to understand or relate to other people and regular social interaction, such as family life, school, work and social activities, can be harder.
People with undiagnosed Asperger’s syndrome (such as the young Hopkins) are left wondering why they are “different” and they often feel anxious that people don’t understand them.
As a young man making his acting debut in 1960 at the Palace Theatre, Swansea, in a drama called Have a Cigarette, Hopkins said in a recent interview that his brain had always been more tuned to acting and art, rather than to a business career.
He had an uncanny knack of learning his lines perfectly and revealed he liked to deconstruct each character, working out what made them tick – often realising his view wasn’t the same as other people’s.
Hopkins’ career took off in earnest in 1965, after acting legend Sir Laurence Olivier spotted him in repertory theatre and invited the 28-year-old to become his understudy at the Royal National Theatre in London.
This was the start of Hopkins’ legendary career, during which he has played many iconic film roles, including killer Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs in 1991 (he won the Academy Award for Best Actor) and the original Zorro in the American swashbuckling adventure, The Mark of Zorro, in 1998.
He has also played the god Odin, father of Thor, in the 2011 Marvel Studios’ film adaptation of Thor, starring Chris Hemsworth in the title role. One of Hopkins’ more recent box office hits was Transformers: The Last Knight in June 2017, when he played Sir Edmund Burton – an ally of the autobots.
Aside from his many acting awards, in 1987 he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. In 1992, he was made an honorary fellow of the University of Wales, and in 1993 he was knighted at Buckingham Palace for services to the arts. In 1996, he became a freeman of his home town, Port Talbot.
Asperger’s syndrome “helped my career”
In a recent interview, Hopkins confessed that he felt Asperger’s syndrome helped him as an actor in some ways, giving him an unparalleled ability to remember his scripts.
When filming Steven Spielberg’s Amistad in 1997, Hopkins (who played American statesman John Quincy Adams) amazed the cast and crew by memorising a seven-page courtroom speech and delivering it perfectly in one take.
He is also a talented mimic, who can turn his Welsh accent into the voice of any character he is playing. He even mimicked the voice of his late mentor, Laurence Olivier, when additional scenes were required in the 1991 restoration of Spartacus.
Hopkins says he has no plans to retire ever, and he also says he has no regrets about any aspect of his life. He has demonstrated tremendous strength and resilience and professes that even when life is painful, people must do the best that they can, for as long as they can.
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