At this point, Sir Anthony Hopkins has played countless intimidating roles, from the unblinking Hannibal Lecter to the three-piece-suited Dr. Ford in HBO’s Westworld. But at 79, he’s also growing increasingly prolific in another medium: Hopkins has produced more acrylic paintings in recent years than he can count, many which are now on display in two permanent exhibitions at Jeff Mitchum Galleries in Las Vegas, alongside another show this month in Palm Strings. Some of the paintings are going for a cool $80,000, even if he never got into this for the money. “It keeps my brain functioning, and it makes me laugh,” Hopkins said of his routine on a recent afternoon from his home in Malibu—just like acting or playing the piano, which he also does everyday. Here, he talks art and the prospect of Westworld season two.
How did you first get into painting? In 2003, my wife [Stella Arroyave] found some drawings of mine and said, “Did you do these? Why don’t you paint this?” I told her, “I can’t paint,” and she said, “Just do it.” So I did, and they worked out so well now that’s what I do. And then she decided she wanted to have shows and exhibitions of my paintings and I thought, Well, I’m not really a painter. She said, “Yes you are.”
How much time do you typically devote to it? I paint quite a lot. I go into the studio about four times a week, and I spend many, many hours in there—it’s in the garden house at my home in Malibu, a bit of a mess. I don’t play music or anything; I just paint, and I’ve been doing it more over the last two years, except if I’m working or going overseas or in some other country. But when I’m here, it’s my hobby. It’s what I do.
What normally inspires you? I just paint as I feel it, and as I feel like doing it. I just like the colors and mixing them up and creating shapes, all that sort of thing. I used to do landscapes, and I still do them, but I mostly do faces now—I have no idea why, they just came to me. I don’t make any conscious effort, I just paint as it takes me. One day a friend of mine, Stan Winston, the designer of Jurassic Park and all those prehistoric monsters, came to the house one day for a barbecue and went into my studio and looked at my paintings and said, “Who did these?” I said, “I did,” pulled kind of a botched face, since he’s a highly trained artist. But he said, “I couldn’t paint that.” He said very urgently, “Don’t train. Once you start messing about and getting into the science and technique of it, it can spoil it.”
When did you start exhibiting your artworks? The first time was in San Antonio, about 10 or 15 years ago. I’ve had a few in Aspen and Las Vegas before the ones this year. It’s very satisfying; I show up and look at the walls and think, “Did I actually do these?” It sounds a bit weird, but when I look at them closely, I think, “Did I actually do these? I can’t remember.”
Well you seem to be quite prolific. Yes, there seem to be a lot of them. [Laughs.] I’ve lost count.
Who are the artists that you admire? Does anyone influence you? No, not really. I mean, I like Van Gogh and Picasso, but I’m not influenced by them. I know that Picasso painted very rapidly; he was like a doodler, and then he would sell them. But anyway, he was a genius.
Are there other things that inspire you? Many of your works are titled after Shakespeare references, like “King Lear,” “Shakespeare’s Epiphany,” and “The Taming of the Shrew.” Well, I don’t write those. My friend Aaron Tucker, who’s the creative director of Margam Fine Art, is just constantly writing these poetic titles for the art, and I don’t have anything to do with that. The process comes from an exchange of conversations, but Aaron is such a creative man in his own right and he does all that stuff.
Did you ever think when you were younger you would get into painting? No, I never had an idea. I did draw as a little kid, and a young woman who was about 18 told my father that I was really good, and I thought of the idea of becoming a commercial artist. But I don’t have that application; I can’t take instruction. I was a terrible student, so for me to sit and draw flowers and apples, or even take piano lessons, would drive me insane. I tried to have a refresher course on piano and I thought I was going to go mad, because it’s just so complicated, and I don’t have that kind of a brain. I can’t study acting either. I did some basic technique at the [Royal] Academy [of Dramatic Art], but I’ve made my own training up as I go along through the years. Every experience teaches you to come to certain conclusions, and I still prepare well. But I don’t take it seriously. I don’t agonize over it.
Do you consider yourself primarily an actor, painter, or musician? I’m a jack of all trades, really.
You’re also an expert at Instagram. Well, I’m a bit naive. My wife will say, let’s do something in the studio, let’s put this on Instagram and Facebook and Twitters, and I actually sit there and say, “Oh, hi.” I’m very pleased, because I’ve never done Facebook before. It was Mark Wahlberg who got me to do it, when I was doing Transformers and we were in London. He said, “Do you want to do a Facebook thing with me?” I didn’t know what it was, but I said yeah, and that’s how it got started.
So your wife is kind of your social media manager, then? She is, she is. And I just go along with it, and I don’t ask too many questions. [Laughs.] Sometimes I ask her what’s going on, and she says, “You don’t need to know, just paint.” Which is good, because I’m not a self publicist. It’s the same with the acting business. I’m not part of that social setup for the acting profession. But I do do ink drawings on photographic paper while I’m [away for acting]; I take all that with me and I draw faces and landscapes, some of which become paintings.
Did you draw the landscape when you were filming Westworld? No, I was too busy learning my lines. [Laughs.] I didn’t have time to do anything else. They gave me a lot of stuff to speak. I became like a talking head.
Are you going to be working on season two? Oh, I don’t know yet. When does that happen? Next year? I haven’t been asked yet, and if I had been I’d have to keep it a secret, but I have no idea. I think Thandie Newton and Evan Rachel Wood are. But I let my agent do all that stuff.
Would you like to? [Pauses.] Um, I don’t know. It’s a long way off. I don’t bother my head about it; I just live in the moment. [Laughs.] I sound like a zen zombie. But I’m doing a BBC television series next year, and I’ll do some more exhibitions this year. I’m just very pleased. I’m very, very surprised that these exhibitions are so popular and can I go along then and read nice things about them. I think, Who would have thought after all those years I’d be painting? I mean, life is full of surprises. I’m surprised I’m still living in Malibu and still acting, but that’s the way life is. It’s always a big surprise.
Kristen Wiig & Jane Fonda as Hannibal Lecter will Chill Your Bones