If there’s one thing that makes The Rite worth seeing, it’s another mad performance from Sir Anthony Hopkins. As Father Lucas Trevant, Hopkins runs the full gamut in this film, going from eccentric exorcist to full-blown possessed maniac.
Sitting down with Dread Central and a roundtable of journalists, Hopkins opened up a little about his view on theology and his God-given gift at scaring the living shit out of people.
Q: How did you initially get involved with The Rite, and was there any hesitation about doing it?
Hopkins: There was at the beginning. My agent sent me this script. I didn’t know much about it, but I didn’t know if I wanted to play another spooky guy again. I wasn’t sure. I was in the middle of doing Thor when this came up about a year ago. I read the script and met Mikael Hafstrom, and I was pretty impressed by him. He seemed like a nice guy, very intelligent, and I had seen two of his movies. So I said “yes” and he went back to England and I started to working on the part, reading it. I had a couple of ideas and would e-mail these ideas to him that helped me understand this man a little more. And that was it. I had to learn Italian and Latin, which took a bit of time.
But I don’t know what my beliefs about any of it are, really. There’s a scene in the courtyard after the first exorcism when I talk to the young priest, Father Xavier, and his character has grave doubts about anything. He thinks it’s all a bag of tricks, y’know, he thinks it’s all mumbo-jumbo and maybe there’s no such thing, which is the debate. Is there such a thing as anthropomorphic presence of the devil or is it mental disturbance? That’s the debate I guess that’s in film and probably in the world. And I say to him, “The problem with skeptics and atheists is that we never know the truth. We’re always trying to find the truth. But what would we do if we actually found it?” I asked Mikael if I could write that line to sort of describe myself as an atheist, as a skeptic, which makes the young priest turn and say “You?” and I say “Oh, yeah, every day I struggle with my belief. On some days, I don’t know whether to believe in God or Santa Claus or Tinkerbell.” Those are my lines.
The Rite – Trailer
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Because nobody knows, it gives a semblance of humanity to someone who says they don’t know. The young priest [in The Rite] says, “I believe in the truth.” The truth, oh yes, look at the trouble that got us into over the last thousand years. Hitler knew the truth. So did Stalin. So did Mao Tse-Tung. So did Torquemada of the Inquisition. They all “knew the truth” and that caused such horror. Certainty is the enemy.
It’s like anyone saying, “The debate is over.” Who says it’s over? Human beings? We know nothing. Someone said, “Well, are you an atheist?” I don’t know what I believe, but who would I be to refute someone like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who sacrificed his life for his church and ended up in Flossenberg being executed by the Nazis…The great martyrs who died at the stake or were destroyed for their personal beliefs. So who am I to refute anything? I would hate to live in a world of certainty, of a closed circuit, of a windowless room, where I know for certain. Somebody said, “Be kind because everyone is fighting a great battle.” And whatever the Devil is or is not, when we turn our backs on our own frailty and our own humanity and say we know the truth, then we are in trouble.
Q: Was it more challenging to go through a character like this who has so many different extremes?
H: Well, I play a man who is seemingly good, a man of God, and the next moment I’m Hannibal Lecter or something like that. I suppose it’s a challenge, but I’m so adept at this sort of thing, I know how to prepare. I don’t have to become a priest. I don’t have to become possessed.
Q: You’ve become very adept as scaring people with an expression. How do you know when you’re scaring an audience?
H: [laughs] I dunno. I’ve asked myself that question many times. I guess I have a knack for it, but that’s not to say I’m a scary person. My wife’s not scared of me. [pause] I’m scared of her. [laughs] I don’t know… I just…
[he does the Hannibal Lecter stare]
When I was a kid, my father took me to see Dracula when I was five, the Bela Lugosi [version]. We all flirt with chaos. We all go to a darkened movie theater together to give ourselves a good scare. It’s like if you’re an alcoholic or a drug addict – we flirt with death. We pull ourselves towards the brink of destruction, and if we’re lucky, we pull ourselves back. We all have that within us. But that’s all I know. I just know how to scare people. It’s only a look. You deaden the eyes…it’s a trick. But I know it scares because I can sense inside what it does.
Look for The Rite in theaters courtesy of Warner Bros. on January 28th, 2011.
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