In a surprise upset over the nominee many expected to be the slam-dunk winner, Anthony Hopkins won the Best Actor Academy Award on Sunday night for his performance in “The Father.” Hopkins, winning his second Best Actor Academy Award, after 1991’s “The Silence of the Lambs,” wasn’t totally expected to prevail over late actor Chadwick Boseman for his turn in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”
Along with Chadwick Boseman, Anthony Hopkins (who is 83 years old) also won the Oscar over Riz Ahmed for “Sound of Metal,” Gary Oldman for “Mank,” and Steven Yeun for “Minari.” A small minority predicted Hopkins could be the winner after he took the Best Actor award at the BAFTAs earlier this month for “The Father,” in which he plays an aging man grappling with dementia opposite Olivia Colman, who was also nominated this year for Best Supporting Actress for her performance as his daughter in the film.
The path had otherwise been straightforward for Boseman, who died unexpectedly of colon cancer back in August 2020, to win the Best Actor Oscar. He’d already picked up myriad critics’ prizes, as well as the Golden Globe, SAG Award, and many more honors beginning in 2020.
Overall in his career, Hopkins has been nominated for six Academy Awards, including last year as Best Supporting Actor for “The Two Popes.” Along with winning for “Silence of the Lambs” for his portrayal of Hannibal Lecter, he has also received nominations in the past for “Amistad,” “Nixon,” and “The Remains of the Day.”
“The Father” is written by Florian Zeller and Christopher Hampton from Zeller’s play, with Zeller making his feature film directorial debut adapting his own stage work. He’s already set to adapt another one of his acclaimed plays about discordant family life, “The Son,” with Academy Award nominee Hugh Jackman and Academy Award winner Laura Dern in the leading roles.
In an IndieWire interview with Anthony Hopkins, the iconic actor talked about why the subject of dementia (which the film uses to distort its production design as well as the actors playing different roles, to his character’s confusion) resonated. “Everyone is related to this issue,” he said. “Everyone has a father, or will have to deal with this dilemma of what to do with people you love when they suffer from dementia…We are all in the same boat.”
Hopkins said that he got the screenplay out of the blue from his agent. “It was just a perfect script,” said Hopkins, “the clarity and compactness got my attention right way. I read it, ‘Boy, God, this is it!’ I want to do it, it’s written so simply, no fanfare of Hollywood, it’s a small independent film, a French film with an English actor in it. The style is a very French film.”
Hopkins also talked about his unfussy approach to the material. He’s no method actor, as he explained, but said he just shows up to do the work. “My only theory, I don’t know very much, is you have to have confidence,” he said. “You have to be sure you know what you’re doing, like driving a car, playing tennis, or being a carpenter. You have to know the technique, learn the text. I stopped overthinking. You devour the text until it becomes part of you for those days. You follow the impulses and the director’s suggestions, and you listen.”
Zeller said of his leading star, “My admiration for what he did was immense. He went to an emotional, fragile, vulnerable place. It was not about creating the character, it was something more instinctive. What I was hoping was for Anthony to just be in front of the camera, not faking the disease, trying to be as connected as possible to truthful feelings.”
The film concludes with a harrowing scene where Hopkins breaks down in a hospice facility, crying for his mother. “It was the most challenging scene,” he said. “You have to be emotionally ripe for it.” He said that when the first take didn’t go well for him, he went back to his dressing room to prepare to give it one more try. He turned to keywords to bring up deep emotions from his childhood: “Mummy, the wind, the rain.” It’s an intense finale that Oscar voters surely couldn’t ignore.