Sir Anthony has a heart
Arthur J Pais in Toronto
Anthony Hopkins doesn't owe an apology for playing the gruesome but charismatic Dr Hannibal and making pots of money, besides winning a slew of awards.
His real passion, he always says, lies in exploiting roles that grow on viewers. Even if a Howard's End is not a big hit like a Hannibal, he looks forward to doing more such films.
Apparently, Hearts In Atlantis, based on Stephen King's 1999 collection of interconnected stories that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival this year, is a film he has sunk his teeth in with quiet pleasure.
Hopkins plays the mysterious and enigmatic Ted Brautigan who befriends Bobby Garfield, a young boy who lives with his self-obsessed mother.
Bobby's memory of his long-dead father is painful because of his mother's bitterness towards him. Ted fills the gap by becoming a father figure, and helping him understand the world.
But Ted, too, has a haunted past. His strange powers puzzle and worry Bobby. Soon, Ted enlists the boy to help him avoid a potentially dangerous situation that he has feared for a long time. As Ted's pursuers close in, Bobby must take many crucial decisions.
"Ted is being hunted by some shadowy figures who are called the 'low men'," says Hopkins. "They're not from Mars or anything spooky. Ted has a psychic gift. He's not Cassandra, but he has a powerful intuition. And he's wanted by an agency. They're perhaps government agents. Maybe CIA. Maybe FBI. Maybe a secret group. Maybe Mafia.
"But it's never really stated. It remains unknown. He's wanted by these shadowy figures because he has a powerful gift
and they want to use it."
Novelist and Oscar winning screenwriter William Goldman, who in 1990 adapted Stephen King's Misery to wide acclaim, explains what drew him to adapt Hearts In Atlantis to the screen.
"I was so moved by it," says Goldman, who is currently adapting King's bestselling sci-fi epic Dreamcatcher.
"I love King most when he's not dealing with monsters but dealing with human monsters," he adds. "It is just so moving and
Hearts In Atlantis directed by Scott Hicks (Shine), now on more than 2,000 screens in North America, is produced by Castle Rock Entertainment, and released by Warner Brothers.
Castle Rock has enjoyed a successful string of collaborations with the author from the 1986 Stand By Me through such films as Misery, The Shawshank Redemption and
most recently, The Green Mile. The last film, with Tom Hanks, grossed an impressive $250 million worldwide.
Hearts In Atlantis has opened to mixed reviews in North America with many reviewers damning it for being too emotional and
pretentious. But trade pundits believe that the film has enough emotional pull and class to be a medium range hit like Misery, which grossed a decent $70 million in North America.
This is the first time Hopkins has acted in a film based on a Stephen King work. Among the positive reviews the film received, Associated Press called the film "beautiful and poignant", and praised Hopkins for crafting "a textured, fascinating figure".
"Ted comes out of nowhere," says Anthony Hopkins in the production notes of the film. "There's no explanation for him, a bit like Shane in the Western film. He has a history and a mystery about him. He's certainly not a sinister man. He's a good man, a very good man. A very gentle man. There's nothing spooky about him at all."
Hopkins was intrigued the way Stephen King made the boy's mother react towards the stranger.
"The mother resents him because, obviously, she resents everyone," says Hopkins. "And she resents strangers. She's not a bad woman. She's just a little locked up in herself. She doesn't like the influence she suspects that he's having over the boy. He's in fact having no influence at all; he's just being a friend to him, almost like a guardian angel."
Hopkins, who has been nominated for several Oscars, apart from winning one for his chilling performance as Hannibal in The Silence Of The Lambs, is notorious for doing research for the parts he plays.
How did he prepare to play Ted?
Hopkins says he needed only to look into his past: "Ted Brautigan reminds me of my grandfather on my mother' side of the family. I was very close to him as a child. And he was very close to me. He had a profound influence in my life; a very gentle, but profound influence.
"He gave me some courage and hope that I wasn't the dummy I thought I was. He was very encouraging in his life and this is what Ted Brautigan is with this boy."
When Hopkins was signed for the film, the actor to play Bobby had not been finalised. Director Hicks says he was adamant about finding the right actor to play Bobby and drew a promise from Castle Rock that they wouldn't go ahead till they found one.
After auditing over 500 boys, Hicks and producer Kerry Heysen received the tape of Anton Yelchin: "We looked at his tape and just said, 'This kid is amazing'." Bobby has to go through such a range of emotion. It was a huge task, and this boy was totally up to the job."
Yelchin insisted on addressing his co-star as Sir Anthony Hopkins, even when the latter invited to call him Tony. Hopkins, who taught Yelchin to play piano as the production was starting, calls the young actor "an extraordinary little kid."