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(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Sir Anthony Hopkins has been knighted by Queen Elizabeth and has played Richard I, Richard Nixon, monarchs, statesmen, geniuses and heroes - and, of course, one of the most notorious movie villains of history.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS")

SIR ANTHONY HOPKINS: (as Hannibal Lecter) Good evening, Clarice.

SIMON: Hannibal Lecter...

(SOUNDBITE OF BACH'S "GOLDBERG VARIATIONS")

SIMON: ...the criminal mastermind who - let's just put it this way - does not catch and release his prey, all while Bach plays on...

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS")

SIMON: Hannibal Lecter is making his own music now. The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra of England performed original classical music written by Anthony Hopkins, last year in the United Kingdom. A recording of those live performances was recently released in the U.K., and it rocketed to the tops of the charts. The album is called "Composer."

And Sir Anthony Hopkins joins us from our studios at NPR West. Sir Anthony, thanks so much for being with us.

HOPKINS: Pleasure being here. Thank you.

SIMON: You've been writing music for some time, I gather.

HOPKINS: Yes, ever since I can remember. Well, certainly 50, 55 years - improvising on piano, and writing bits and pieces on manuscripts over the many, many years. You know, I just did it for the sheer fun of it. And my wife, Stella, she said, you should take this and write it and - you know - orchestrate it, and get it performed by a major symphony orchestra. And I said, no, no, no. She said well, why are you so dismissive of it? She said, do it. So I did.

SIMON: Let's listen to a track from this new album, and this one is called "The Plaza."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "THE PLAZA")

SIMON: Now, what's the story of this piece of music?

HOPKINS: Well, it comes under the heading of 1947. I mean, most - all this music comes from my childhood. My father used to take me to the Plaza Cinema, and I used to see all those MGM musicals with Carmen Miranda and Harry James, and - I would say, all those great musicals. And that was a lasting memory for me, all that kind of bright Technicolor.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "THE PLAZA")

SIMON: You growing up in Wales - and I gather piano was your entry to the arts.

HOPKINS: It was. My mother bought a piano for 5 pounds - an old cottage piano - and I started music lessons. She, of course, wanted me to become a concert pianist, and I had different plans. I just wanted to be a composer. And then I became an actor by default, really. I just - got a scholarship to the kind of college of music and drama, hoping to take a scholarship in music. But I ended up as an acting student, so I stuck with that for the last 50-odd years.

SIMON: When do you think you wrote your first piece of music - do you remember?

HOPKINS: Yeah. I remember. It's 1955 - and it's on there in another piece, called "Margam."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "MARGAM")

HOPKINS: Margam is the place I was born.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

HOPKINS: And it's full of farmland and fields and woods, and there was a lake and the seashore. So it's very evocative of my memories.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "MARGAM")

SIMON: This is a very lovely piece of music.

HOPKINS: Thank you. There's some orchestra coming in - a moment, I think.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "MARGAM")

SIMON: Do I have this right, that Richard Burton was nearby?

HOPKINS: Richard Burton was born in a place called Pontrhydyfen, up in the valleys, in the coal-mining valleys of Port Talbot. Margam is a little, rural community outside Port Talbot. I never knew Richard Burton. I only went and asked him for his autograph.

SIMON: That's what I've read, when you were 15.

HOPKINS: Yeah, I went to his house. He used to come back to Wales, and there was this great movie star. And he signed my autograph and he said, do you speak Welsh? I said, no. He said, you're not a true Welshman. He was teasing, but he scared me. And I remember thinking; I want to be like him. I just want to be famous. I didn't know what to do because I wanted to escape from the desert of my own mental - whatever it was - emptiness. And so I became an actor.

SIMON: To escape the desert of your own...

HOPKINS: That's right.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Really?

HOPKINS: Yes, I did because, you know, I think when you're a boy - or girl, whatever - at a certain age, when you're becoming conscious that you're inadequate in school, which I was; you know, it's a lonely feeling. And I feel isolated - and you feel bullied and all the rest of it. Well, I was pretty strong, so nobody bullied me, so I could look after myself. But I did feel isolated. And I look back on it all now as the greatest gift that I could have been given because it forced me - it was the rocket fuel that sort of drove me to do something with my life.

So I wanted to become famous, in a way, to have my revenge on all those people that laughed at me. Of course, they're all dead now and here I am, living in sunny California.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HOPKINS: So life and destiny are very peculiar. I think God - and whatever God is - has a great sense of humor. And here I am, composing at the age of 74, so...

SIMON: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "BRACKEN ROAD")

HOPKINS: I wrote this in 1964, in fact. I was walking across the fields up Bracken Road, and I heard this sort of music coming from a window. That is a memory that stayed with me. I wrote lyrics, originally, for this.

SIMON: Do you remember them?

HOPKINS: Do I mean nothing to you anymore? All the time in the world could never be time enough to change the course of things - that was the title, I think; and it's all the time in the world could never be time enough to change the course of things. We may never meet again.

Anyway, that's the lyric I had.

SIMON: (Singing) We may never meet again.

HOPKINS: (Singing) We may never meet again. We will never smile together.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "BRACKEN ROAD")

SIMON: Is there anything in your acting experience which serves you when you write music, in the sense that individual instruments seem to get spotlighted?

HOPKINS: Well, it's the reverse, really. I use music when I'm learning lines, if I'm just working on a script. I'll put a CD on, and whatever it is, really. And I don't play classics all the time. I love country-western. I love - Dolly Parton is some of my favorites. Waylon Jennings...

SIMON: Dolly Parton?

HOPKINS: Yeah. Waylon Jennings, people like that. I love those.

SIMON: Have you met Dolly Parton?

HOPKINS: Yeah, I did meet her once at a party - twice, in fact. I met her and she was just terrific. She (imitating accent) - hi, how are you? She was just beautiful.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMON: I wonder if she does an Anthony Hopkins impersonation.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMON: You're playing Alfred Hitchcock in a film that's coming out.

HOPKINS: Yes.

SIMON: I mean, I have to ask. Does that begin with putting an enormous pillow under your belt?

HOPKINS: Well, yes, I have one of those things. I'm not going to put on the weight for that. But he was a fascinating character, very complex man. And I actually met him once, with my agent, in a restaurant.

SIMON: There in Los Angeles?

HOPKINS: In Los Angeles many years ago, about 1979. 'Cause my agent knew him well and he'd just been knighted at the time and he - Sir Alfred. He said, (mimicking Alfred Hitchcock) hello George, how are you? This is my client, Tony Hopkins; (mimicking Alfred Hitchcock) I'm charmed, I'm sure.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HOPKINS: Now, he was just Alfred Hitchcock, sitting alone in this restaurant with a large glass of brandy - and not looking too well, but a great personality. I'm so honored to have met him.

SIMON: Let's return to your current album, though, if we could. We have the waltz, "The Waltz Goes On."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "AND THE WALTZ GOES ON")

HOPKINS: Yeah, I wrote this many years ago. I was in the theater in Liverpool, the Liverpool Playhouse and they had an old, beat- up piano the night I made this up. Somebody says, you should do something with it. And then Andre Rieu - my wife sent it as a half-chance to see if he would like to perform it, and I thought that was very courageous of her. She - well, what can they do, put you in jail?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HOPKINS: So I got a call from Andre Rieu. He said, hey, I'd like to play your piece of music. I said oh, my God. It's about life goes on, whatever we do. We die, but the waltz goes on. That's the title of it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "AND THE WALTZ GOES ON")

SIMON: Do people always come up to you with recipes for fava beans?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HOPKINS: Yeah. Sometimes they ask me to do that fava bean lines, you know. And I say yeah, OK. But not so much now. I became rather resentful. I thought, well, is this all I'm going to be remembered for, is Hannibal Lecter? But as the years go by - a marvelous, great part to play, but I've done many other works since then.

SIMON: Sir Anthony, a pleasure. Thanks so much.

HOPKINS: Thank you very much. Thank you.

SIMON: Sir Anthony Hopkins, speaking from NPR West. His new album, "Composer."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "AND THE WALTZ GOES ON")

SIMON: You can hear more from the album "Composer," and Sir Anthony Hopkins on his first - somewhat less stellar - stint on the U.K. pop charts, on NPR.org.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "AND THE WALTZ GOES ON")

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