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by dr andrew cousins

Sir Anthony Hopkirk — "That’s it. I quit"

Sir Anthony Hopkirk stunned the film world this week by announcing his retirement from acting. He’s been making films for well over twenty years now and in 1992 won a Best Actor Oscar for his role as a Welsh serial killer in ‘Silence in the Valley’. I talked to him about just why he’s giving up on movies.

AC: Sir Anthony, I think it’s fair to say that you’re the second most famous screen Welshman...

AH: Who would you say was the first?

Well I would have thought Richard Burton.

I’d go along with that. It’s just that I once did an interview for HTV and they introduced me as "the second most famous Welshman on screen", as well. I asked them at the time who they considered to be the most famous. Do you know who they said?


Max Boyce.

It could have been worse, I suppose. They could have said Shakin’ Stevens.

There’s no need to be offensive. I knew Richard Burton, you know. I was still drinking then and we used to get drunk on whisky and read Dylan Thomas aloud. ‘Under Milk Wood’ can only be read properly whilst inebriated. Did you know that? It extenuates the vowels sounds and heightens the consonants. I’ve been asked to read it many times myself but since I had to give up booze I now longer feel I could do it justice.

Since you brought it up, I’d like to ask you about your alcoholism. How close did it come to destroying your career?

It came very close indeed. The thing about being an alcoholic that very few people realise is that you’re probably the last person who recognises that there’s a problem. I’d be wandering down the high street after a heavy session with my jacket stained with vomit — somebody else’s vomit at that — cursing at traffic, singing rugby songs, picking fights with tramps and think that it was all perfectly normal behaviour. Mind you when you were hanging around with Richard Burton, Peter O’Toole, Oliver Reed and Richard Harris it was normal.

So what was the moment that made you decide that you had to give up drinking?

Probably when I woke up one day and found myself in hospital.

Things had become that serious?

Oh, I wasn’t ill. I’d been wandering about the streets pissed. It was the only building with lights on and I’d wandered in. I’d fallen asleep in an empty side ward. Even more embarrassingly it turned out to be a genito-urinary ward and so the newspapers assumed that I must have been being treated for a venereal disease of some sort.

Now the reason that I’m talking to you today is that you’ve just announced your retirement from acting. Can you tell me what prompted that decision?

Many reasons really. Boredom is one of them. Making films is crashingly dull. Ewan McGregor called it "the epitome of tedium" and he’s completely right. During the making of ‘Mission: Impenetrable II’, I took up crochet to help pass the time. Do you know what I made whilst filming that picture?

Er, no.

Three blankets and a tea cosy. Ridiculous. I spend most of my time on set standing around drinking cups of tea. It’s a very unproductive way of working. It takes six or seven weeks to make a movie, on average. Who on earth wants to do that for a living? What makes it worse is when you are working with a script that you know is rubbish. That’s very depressing. Mind you, if you think I’ve got it bad imagine how Jean Claude Van Damme must feel.

I know that in the past you often criticised Hollywood and once said "standards have slipped". Could you explain what you meant by that?

Simply that films aren’t being made today with the same care that they used to. Look at ‘Casablanca’. These days it would have a big car chase in the middle and probably at least one sex scene. As for the ending, it just wouldn’t even be contemplated. We’ve forgotten the values that made films great. It’s not just films from that era either. De Niro used to be a great actor. Then you see him in a film like ‘Meet the Parents’ and he’s reduced himself to a series of face-pulling exercises that are supposed to pass for acting. Critics often use the phrase, "phoning a performance in". He’s not so much doing that as using astral projection. Awful.

But I suppose the compensation for being a film star is that you get paid very large sums of money, attend glittering social events and sometimes you get given awards as well.

The money is nice. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy having nine houses. It’s very comforting to think that if one burned down tonight I’d have eight different alternatives to escape to. But there are down sides to that too. Accountants are bastards, for example. All they do is tell you how much money you have in the bank and how much of it you’re now going to have pay in tax. Then they present you with a very large bill for the privilege. They don’t have any social skills either, you know. I once went to a party held by an accountancy firm. All they did for the night was compare the size of their ledgers. It was really very sad. The only food they had was cubes of cheese and pineapple on cocktail sticks and the only thing to drink was a couple of Party Seven’s and a bottle of Babycham. I wouldn’t care but this was held last year. I don’t think they get out much.

Ok, so the parties and money aren’t that great but surely the awards must be quite nice?

I use my Oscar to weigh down the stopcock on my toilet cistern. Really they aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. For one night people think you’re the best thing since sliced cheese. But are you really? It’s a matter of personal taste isn’t it? Is Gwyneth Paltrow really one of the greatest actresses of our time? She’s won an Oscar so theoretically the answer is yes. But is she? Most of her films haven’t been that good actually. Take it from me - Oscars mean nothing. Like most of the film industry they’re a shiny façade covering cheap base metal.

So nothing will tempt you back to movie making?

No. Nothing. Never. And if I ever make another film again, I give you permission to stick needles in my eyes. As far as I’m concerned films are well and truly finished. That’s a promise.

Since this interview was conducted Sir Anthony Hopkirk has announced that he has agreed to reprise his role as Helwyn Lector in ‘Silence in the Valley II: Death at the Steelworks’. I’m about to catch a flight to Los Angeles armed with a big box of pins…

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