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Hopkins relishes damn-’em-all role

The subject is political correctness, and Sir Anthony Hopkins has definite opinions on the matter: “I can’t stand it.”

His character in The Human Stain, now in theatres, is the victim of knee-jerk apologists when he is unjustly accused of making a racial slur. In his own life, Hopkins, 65, has formulated an approach to fend off trigger judgements: “I don’t care what people think.”

The Welsh actor, best known for playing Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, takes on his critics in a 30-minute conversation that reveals a spunkier and more open Hopkins than is normally seen publicly.

He is unabashedly American. He is outwardly bored of British theatre and relishes the day he told that institution to stuff itself. And in March, in the face of murmurs from old friends and others who are not friends, he divorced his second wife, of 29 years, Jennifer Lynton, to marry a 46-year-old antiques dealer named Stella Arroyave. “That’s a lease on life for me,” Hopkins says. “A younger woman. I just feel life’s much more simple than I imagined it can be. I don’t get a head up about things anymore.”

That might come in handy because The Human Stain is absorbing its share of critical brickbats as Miramax juggled its release schedule. The not-so-surprising twist to The Human Stain, from Philip Roth’s novel, is that Hopkins’ character, a professor named Coleman Silk, is perceived as white and Jewish, but is neither.

“I thought my agent had taken leave of his senses,” Hopkins jokes. But Hopkins was impressed enough with the script to meet director Robert Benton, who required one lunch to persuade Hopkins to accept the role.

Hopkins connected with Silk’s damn-them-all attitude. After his academic colleagues shun him when he makes an offhand remark interpreted as a racial slur, his affair with a comely janitor played by Nicole Kidman gets more tongues wagging.

“You don’t owe explanations to people,” Hopkins says. “It sounds like a callous way of living, but you can’t just sit around trying to please everyone.”

Whether bitter or simply wiser, Hopkins seems to have reached equilibrium for existing in a self-contained world. “I don’t have much store of faith in human nature,” he says. “My credo is ask nothing, expect nothing, accept everything. Life is pretty easy that way. You can go with the flow of it.” He has an on-off estranged relationship with his only daughter, 33-year-old Abigail, from his first marriage, to Petronella Barker.

The Human Stain’s second-chance motif leads into Hopkins discussing his own revivals: The Silence of the Lambs as his professional salvation and his finally calling the US home. “Five years ago, I decided to make my home here,” he says. “It didn’t please everyone, raised a few eyebrows. But I didn’t want to waste any more time. I just wanted to come back here. My ex-wife didn’t want it. So I came out here.”

As much as Hopkins believes his no-nonsense approach has served him off screen, there is no doubt it has helped him on screen. He knew the classics would not be his fate, that he always had “one foot out the door” of the British theatre. “There’s nothing spectacular about acting,” he says. “All this mysticism about it. It’s bull.”

His 1992 best actor Oscar for The Silence of the Lambs touched off an impressive eight-year run in which he was nominated for an Academy Award every two years — 1994 for his repressed servant in The Remains of the Day, 1996 for Nixon and 1998 for his John Quincy Adams in Amistad.

“I enjoy working,” Hopkins says. “It keeps me out of trouble, out of stress, out of bars. I enjoy it more now than I’ve ever done because of the paradoxical attitude of nothing to win, nothing to lose. So you go into it, ‘If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t’.”

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