It must have been hard to believe when Anthony Hopkins was born in the small Welsh town of Margam in 1937 that he would go on to win an Oscar, two Emmys, three BAFTAs, and be knighted. The child of a baker, Hopkins knew from an early age he wanted to be an artist, and his grades suffered as he focused on reading, painting, or learning the piano.
From the age of 15, Hopkins studied intensely to be an actor. After graduating from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, he attended the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.
He was recognized early on for his talent by some of the era's biggest stars, and what followed has been an extraordinary career over more than 50 years on the stage, in film, and on television.
From Understudy to Leading Man
From a young age, Hopkins attracted the attention of some of Britain's biggest acting talents. As a teenager he received encouragement from fellow Welsh actor Richard Burton, and his big break came when Laurence Olivier - regarded by many as the greatest stage actor of all time - invited Hopkins to join the Royal National Theatre.
Hopkins quickly became Olivier's understudy, and gained valuable experience filling in for the star.
In this clip from 1993, Hopkins talks about his experience as Oliver's understudy:
The Hopkins Method
Hopkins developed a unique way of preparing for his roles. He would read his scripts over and over, sometimes more than 200 times, so that he could read his lines naturally. This way, all of his dialogue had a natural quality, as if his character was actually responding, instead of reading a line on a page.
On the set of Amistad, he impressed the crew by reciting a seven page court-room speech from memory, impressing the director Steven Spielberg so much he apparently refused to call the actor anything but "Sir Anthony" for the rest of the shoot.
Hopkins also loves to improvise lines, forcing him to imagine how his character would genuinely react in a scene. His entire speech as Odin to his son in Thor was improvised, and director Kenneth Branagh says he moved crew members to tears with his performance.
Hopkins' professionalism didn't just apply to his fellow human actors. In the 90s, Hopkins worked with Hollywood stunt-animal Bart the Bear twice, in The Edge with Alec Baldwin and in Legends of the Fall. Bart's trainer, Lynn Seus, says Hopkins was one of the best actors Bart ever worked with.
"Tony Hopkins was absolutely brilliant with Bart," she said, "he acknowledged and respected him with a fellow actor. He would spend hours just looking at Bart and admiring him. He did so many of his own scenes with Bart."
A Lifetime of Great Roles
While Hopkins will always be remembered for his Oscar-winning performance as the serial killer Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, his career has included a wealth of brilliant performances.
Not many actors can say that they were nominated for a BAFTA for their first performance, but of course Hopkins was. His role as Richard I in The Lion in Winter almost won him the Best Supporting Actor prize. Since then, he's been followed throughout his career with nominations and awards for roles like the conflicted butler in The Remains of the Day, the sinister doctor in The Elephant Man, the larger-than-life Odin in the Thor series, and now his Golden Globe nominated performance in the hit TV show Westworld.
While it's tempting to say that Hopkins is just coming into his prime now, at age 79, but the truth is he seems to have started at the height of his career and stayed there for the past 56 years.
Here's hoping we get to enjoy many more of his great performances!