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Hopkins seeks the 'devil' inside, in new film

British actor Anthony Hopkins gets to battle with the devil in his latest movie, a film in which he plays a possessed priest - but insists it's good to face up to one's inner demons.

In "The Rite" the veteran star plays Father Lucas, tasked with teaching a young US priest studying exorcism in Rome about Good and Evil - but who ends up needing the devil cast out of himself.

The film, which opened in the United States on Friday, is based on the book "The Making of a Modern Exorcist" by American author Matt Baglio, and is directed by Mikael Hafstrom.

"It was not the exorcism itself that drawn me to it. You don't make films about subjects, you make films about characters. It's a coming-of-age story about finding yourself, finding your way in life," Hafstrom said.

Seventy-three year-old Hopkins, whose past thriller roles include notably Dr. Hannibal Lecter in "The Silence of the Lambs," said he read a lot of books to prepare for the clerical role.

"I wanted to make this priest a real human being, in part by making him impatient and irascible. I didn't want to play him as a soft kind of one-dimensional man," he told reporters at a Beverly Hills hotel.

His character is initially skeptical about the "truth" sought by California priest Michael Kovac (played by Irish actor Colin O'Donoghue), who eventually has to save Father Lucas in a powerful exorcism scene.

"The power of Michael Kovak is that he has a deep faith. But he believes in the truth. Anything that is extremely fundamental which knows the truth is something to be wary of," says Hopkins.

"That's where the devil resides, I assume."

But he quoted psychoanalyst Carl Jung as calling for a facing up to one's demons.

"Jung said: 'If you don't face your shadows, then you'll be ripped to pieces.' Confronting the shadow in yourself is healthy."

Brazilian actress Alice Braga, who plays a journalist fascinated by exorcism who accompanies the young priest to Rome, pays tribute to Hopkins.

"He's very generous and kind as a man and an actor. I learned a lot. He's so passionate and committed. He researched so much and he digs into each word he's saying, that it's impossible you don't learn from it," she said.

"Looking at him was an acting class. It was a phenomenal experience. He changes at every take. He never stops searching, never stops trying something new."

Hopkins says he prepared carefully for the exorcism scene. "I spent at least two hours a day, sometimes three hours a day, depending on how much work I had to do, going to the lines systematically, over and over and over.

"Not performing it, but letting it go into my mind. And the ideas started coming to me."

But he is also disarmingly modest about his research methods as an actor.

"When you're an actor, it's quite a smart move to gather as much information as you can, so I read a lot of books, and I'm still reading," he said.

"It's quite enriching. I put a lot of information in my head so I have a point of reference. All I know is that I don't know anything, all I know is that I'm not certain!"