'Westworld' Cast and Crew Share Their Best Anthony Hopkins Stories

Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden, Jeffrey Wright and others reveal what it was like to work with the acting legend.
HBO

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the first season of Westworld.]

While the season finale of Westworld ended with some violent delights, it also marked at least one heartbreaking change of course for the show moving forward.

In the final moments of the episode, Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), now fully conscious and driven by the violent Wyatt personality embedded in her programming, assassinates Robert Ford, the Walt Disney meets Victor Frankenstein overlord of Westworld, played by the legendary Anthony Hopkins. It marks the end of one era and the beginning of another, an age in which the show's androids finally can fight back properly against their human oppressors, but also an age in which the erstwhile Hannibal Lecter's time on the show has come to an end, or at least changed dramatically. 

Between the sheer titanic power of his screen presence and the fact that he was one of very few series leads to appear in every single episode of the season, a Westworld without Hopkins is almost unfathomable. As much as viewers will feel his character's absence (at least in flesh-and-blood form; there's every reason to believe that Ford's actions will fuel future stories even after his death, and it's conceivable that another version of the man exists elsewhere in the park, this being Westworld and all), it's the cast and crew who are on the front lines of losing such a powerhouse performance from their already impressive roster. 

When asked about Hopkins' future on the show, co-creator and showrunner Jonathan Nolan was tight-lipped, but effusive in his praise for the Oscar winner. "I think with this show, you want to assume nothing," Nolan told The Hollywood Reporter. "We had a wonderful experience. It was one of the greatest privileges of my career so far, getting to work with Anthony for the first season."

And Nolan isn't alone. Over the course of the season, several actors, producers and directors sang Hopkins' praises in their interviews with THR. As Ford transforms from music maker to mere music, here's one last look back on Hopkins' riveting work through Westworld, as articulated by his colleagues. 

Jonathan Nolan (co-creator and showrunner), speaking about casting the role of Ford: "We were terribly fortunate that Anthony liked the script and responded to the character. It's simply impossible … there are some characters you work on where after the fact, it's impossible to imagine another actor embodying the character. Here, we wanted a character where even half a dozen episodes in, you're not sure if he's the villain of the piece, or someone more relatable and sympathetic. There's no one better than Hopkins to step into that kind of character where you have great respect and affection. You love watching him behave on camera, but you don't quite know what to make of him. Hopefully, as you said, it's clear that he's haunted by his role in this place."

James Marsden (Teddy), speaking about his first scene opposite Hopkins, which featured an entirely unclothed Marsden: "I never thought I would be spending my first scene with Anthony Hopkins, one of the greatest and one of my favorite actors of all time, in my absolute nakedness … but we sat there and Tony, as he likes to be called, launched into stories about Marlon Brando. He did impersonations of Brando. He had different theories about acting, and talked about Gregory Peck, and how everyone used to work. It was fascinating. And then you would see him basically bring himself back online when the camera's rolling, and he slips into his crazy genius acting. It was such a pleasure to watch, even though I was nude."

Evan Rachel Wood (Dolores), on her first scene with Hopkins, and how he kept changing his performance: "When Anthony and I did that scene, he did every single take differently. I thought I might be able to get clues from his performance, and then it changed every time. So I was like, 'Aw, man! It could be anything!' He blew me away with his acting. Of course, we all know Anthony Hopkins is one of the greatest performers of our time, but seeing him in person and seeing those subtleties and seeing them change every take was just like watching Da Vinci paint. It reminded me why I love what I do. It was unbelievable. I even forgot I was naked! It was that good!"

Frederick E.O. Toye (director), who directed episodes six and seven: "I was very fortunate to get to spend a lot of time with him. He couldn't have been more open and welcoming and chatty about all of his experiences. He loves, loves, loves people. He loves to talk. We became good friends. His process is … it took me some time to learn his process. His process is very analytical. We did rehearsals on a lot of these scenes, and they consisted of simply reading, and some idle chatter about the drive of the scenes. But later, we would have conversations on the phone and email conversations where we were chatting back and forth about how he put these moments in the perspective of creationism and history. In those eyes that you see where everything is done with such an incredible degree of reservation — everything you're receiving behind those eyes, it's not magic. It's real. He's thought it all through. The one thing I can say is that going back and looking at Tony's performances over the years … one of my favorites is The Remains of the Day, which is a story about a guy who doesn't talk. You wonder how he creates that character, but I realized in getting to know him, it's all there. All of the unspoken is completely spoken in his mind. The subtleties that are happening in the tiniest moments with Tony are all complete. Every moment is researched. Every thought is put in the context of history. That's why you're seeing so much power in his performances. He doesn't need to say it, because he's feeling it. It screams through the screen."

Jeffrey Wright (Bernard and Arnold), on how Hopkins slips into his character's skin: "When I'm working with him, I just see Robert Ford, with absolute clarity. He so fully wraps his entire being around language in his performance. There's such an organic relationship between his words and his thoughts. That's the thing that is most striking to me about working with him: The way he so fully and comprehensively expresses intelligence. For me, he is Ford. I don't make a distinction in the process of working with him, between him and Anthony Hopkins. That's what's fantastic about working with an actor that gives you everything. He is that."

Sidse Babett Knudsen (Theresa), on her final scene on the show, opposite Hopkins as a deadly Robert Ford: "That distance that we had between us was pretty constant in those last minutes. But when he just moves two centimeters forward, the tiniest movement made such a difference. It felt very, very organic. And I just remember when he came up and whispered in my ear. It was something that he just did. It was just … ah. Clarice never got that!"

Frederick E.O. Toye once again, reflecting on the aforementioned scene in which Ford orders Theresa's execution: "Tony had some ideas he wanted to experiment with. He has a very intricate and precise process for preparing for scenes with a lot of thought. His initial thought involved more movement, a little bit more of a corralling of the players with his movement. We had the opportunity to try it a few times, and we experimented for quite a bit of time with some variations, and Tony just felt — it really was from him — that the stillness, the specificity of his performance, would be diminished with movement. It needed to be very still. Honestly, he was trying to avoid a Hannibal Lecter approach, and he wanted to make sure that it didn't come across that way — that it wasn't a monster type of a presentation. I think what he gave was a very subtle performance, and very still."

Stephen Williams (director), who directed episode eight: "I have to say, we have become very close. Tony will confirm that he learned how to fist-bump and dance to Drake's 'Hotline Bling' by hanging out with me." As to the existence of footage of Hopkins channeling Drake? "Maybe on the DVD extras of season one."

Michelle MacLaren (director), who directed the penultimate episode of Westworld's first season: "There were a few times I was so mesmerized by the performance that I forgot to say 'cut.' He's such a lovely, delightful man. He's very much a collaborator. When you give Anthony Hopkins a note and you get to discuss something and he walks away to give it a try, it's a really exciting and exhilarating feeling. It's an honor to direct him. At the end of our first day of shooting, my first assistant director turned to me and said: 'I gotta go call my mom!' And I said: 'Me too!' (Laughs.) It was a great honor."

Evan Rachel Wood once again, on the enormous pressure she felt in killing off Hopkins' character: "I felt terrible! I read [the finale] and didn't know it was coming. It was on the very last page. I threw the script down and walked away with my mouth open for a good hour. I just couldn't believe it. When I got to set the first time I saw Anthony after I read it, I walked up to him and said, 'I am so sorry. I am so sorry I have to kill you!' And he went, 'No, no, no. It's all right. It's beautiful! It's really beautiful!' (Laughs.) He forgave me. He saw the poetry in it. I will say that shooting that scene was one of the most nerve-racking things I have ever had to do because we're using real guns. We're very safe with them and they're not loaded. But dear God, I had to hold a gun up against Anthony Hopkins' head and pull the trigger, and after every take, I would go, 'Please God, do not let this be the time that something goes horribly wrong and I am responsible for killing Anthony Hopkins. I won't be able to handle that.' (Laughs.) That was terrifying. It was horrible."

What are your thoughts on Hopkins' contributions to Westworld as Robert Ford? Sound off in the comments, and keep checking THR.com/Westworld for more coverage of the finale.

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