Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins admits he has a weakness when it comes to acting: William Shakespeare.
During his long and acclaimed career, Hopkins has appeared in productions of “Othello,” “Antony and Cleopatra” and “King Lear,” yet he’s always had what he calls “and uneasy relationship” with the Bard.
Hopkins had to face his qualms again for the production of “The Dresser” for Starz. He plays a legendary stage actor in a performance of “King Lear” in a small English regional theater during World War II that must endure bombs falling, sirens wailing and a missing star. His dresser, Norman (Ian McKelleyn✔), must scramble to keep the production alive until the actor returns.
The movie is based on Ronald Harwood’s classic play that hasn’t been adapted for TV in more than 30 years. Emily Watson, Sarah Lancashire and Edward Fox round out the cast.
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Although it is being presented in the same format as a made-for-TV movie, executive producer Colin Callender says it is more like the classic days of television when programs like “GE Theater” and “Playhouse 90,” where they were made to present a play in as close a manner to a stage production as possible.
“I think that when we went to Ronald Harwood and said we wanted to do this, we said, ‘We don’t want to adapt it for the screen. We actually want to do your play and make it for television.’ And that is indeed a very rare thing to do these days,” Callender says. “It’s just a way of bringing extraordinary writing to the screen, because it gives actors of the stature of Ian and Tony to play roles that frankly aren’t available in the movies anymore.”
The viewer gets to watch as the action, from the backstage chaos to the stage presentation of Shakespeare’s play.
Hopkins was never comfortable doing full productions of any of Shakespeare’s work because he never felt like he had the skills to play the roles properly.
“I came into this profession by accident, really. I wanted to be a musician. So I came into this as an outsider,” Hopkins says. “I think it may be a streak in most actors, I can only speak for myself, of deep insecurity and insecurity, fear, anxiety thinking I’m not up to it.
“I couldn’t do it and I lost my nerve. And I should have gone back, I suppose, but I thought, enough. I can’t do this. There was something in my nature, something made me restless. I left the national theater as a dark cloud. I said, ‘To hell with you all.’ That was my nature then. It’s not like it today. It’s mellowed a lot.”
One of the reasons Hopkins was willing to take another chance was the casting McKellen, who has .the deepest regard for.
McKellen already had a slight edge on playing the character of Norman since he had appeared in “King Lear” on stage. The dresser is supposed to have an intimate knowledge of the production.
“Just to feel that Lear had seeped into me and controlled me for a year of my life is a good preparation,” McKellen says. “Like Anthony, I wasn’t best pleased with my own Lear, although it made it to a film for TV, and that’s not too bad.
“But it is a play I would like to revisit. I noticed a number of actors have returned to Lear particularly those who played it when they felt they were too young.”
McKellen tells Hopkins that maybe his return to Lear is through “The Dresser.” Hopkins smiles and says it may just be that he’s now the age of Lear and that makes the work easier.
- 9 p.m. Monday, May 30, Starz