Anthony Hopkins Revisits "Uneasy Relationship" With Theater in 'The Dresser'

"Everyday I think about quitting [acting]," the actor said at TCA, when he also discussed the "insecurity" that drove him to leave his theater career behind.
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Anthony Hopkins got his start doing theater, but it's been decades since he returned to the stage. Until now.

In the upcoming Starz and BBC movie, The Dresser, based on the acclaimed stage play, Hopkins appears as Sir, an actor starring in a touring theater production of William Shakespeare's famed play King Lear. With an hour to go until the curtain rises, Sir's dresser Norman (Ian McKellen) must help him prepare to go on despite the many obstacles in their way.

"I had an uneasy relationship with myself and the theater so I skedaddled and came to America," Hopkins told reporters Friday at the Television Critics Association winter press tour.

Hopkins attributed his rough time in the theater, which ended when he left the Royal National Theatre "under a dark cloud," to insecurity, fear and anxiety. However, The Dresser was able to pull him back. "I was intrigued about what peculiar nature it is that makes actors want to act?" he said. "Why do they, night after night after night, repeat the same performances over and over?"

Despite the nerves, Hopkins said The Dresser was a "painless" revisit to the theater world and one that gives viewers an answer to his burning question. "You have to be half mad to survive that kind of life," he said with a laugh.

Although he says acting has given him "a tremendous life," Hopkins admits he's thought about leaving the profession behind for good. "Everyday I think about quitting and then they come up and offer me a job, and I say, 'OK," he said. "Actors can't say no."

McKellen didn't share the sentiment. "No, what would I do? Its one the thrilling things about acting is that you don’t necessarily have to stop, there will always be some little part," he said. "Not to still be in touch with the world of theater and film and television would be irreparable to me."

Added McKellen with a laugh: "You've got me for as long as I'm mobile."

Although acting is a topic that has been explored time and time again on stage and screen, McKellen says The Dresser gets right what other projects have gotten wrong. "I think every actor recognizes themselves and their past in this play," he said. "It rings absolutely true."

The Dresser premieres this summer on Starz.