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Anthony Hopkins' secret? Obsess over the right things, don't worry about the rest.

Detached Dedication

Actor Sir Anthony Hopkins is notorious for making it all sound easy. He's played characters with significant historical weight, roles such as Pablo Picasso, Richard Nixon and Adolf Hitler; yet when asked what his secret is, Hopkins responds by simply saying, "It's just a job. I show up, say my lines, then go home." The truth of the matter is Hopkins is a consummate professional, and an obsessive one. "I study the script meticulously, maybe a little obsessively," he says. "This might sound very painstaking, but I go over each scene hundreds of times — aloud. I like sitting in front of the script and marking it. Two-hundred-fifty times. I guess it's a phobic obsession. But if I get up to 250, I know that I know. It's my quirk; my one eccentricity." Last month, this quirk paid off once again. It may not sound as illustrious as winning an Oscar for "Silence of the Lambs," or an Emmy for his portrayal of Hitler in "The Bunker," but Hopkins can now add the VA Film Award to his shelf. The award was presented to Hopkins at the Thirteenth Annual VA Film Festival in Charlottesville. Hopkins has been working in Richmond on "Hearts in Atlantis," his 93rd film. The occasion gave film buffs, acting students and others the opportunity to learn a little more about the man they'd known only from his characters on the silver screen; roles he seems to play with such ease. "With regards to playing Nixon, yeah, I read a couple of biographies, and there's so much recent film coverage lying about. He's so clear in our memories. Naturally, I watch a lot of interviews, documentaries, just to get a physical study of the man, how he lives, and try to guess at his psychology. By the time I get in front of the camera, it's become me. It's become part of my nature." Acting has been Hopkins passion since he was a teen. "When I was 15, I met Richard Burton. He was on the street. He had a shiny sports car and was with a beautiful woman, and I went up to get an autograph. It was amazing. And when he drove off, I remember thinking, 'I want to be just like him.' I guess it sent a signal to my ego, because I became an actor — not immediately of course." Fame didn't come immediately, either. American filmgoers might have remembered him briefly in 1977's "A Bridge Too Far," and again in 1984's "The Bounty," but it wasn't until his role as Hannibal Lecter in 1991 that he became a household name. He was 53 at the time and was calmly confident in his craft, something the now 63-year-old actor finds rare among his co-workers. "I've worked on films where everyone's running around like their heads have been cut off. And that's the one thing I do ask of the director: relax. It's not brain surgery we're doing. It's just a movie. Whether it's "Titus," or "Mission Impossible 2," it's just two hours of entertainment." This laissez-fare attitude also exists in Hopkins' personal life. "I suppose I hide away by just not being part of the action of the professional world. I don't have one actor friend. I enjoy being with them, but I couldn't go out to dinner with them — because it's boring! So I live a very normal, quiet life. I have my friends, and we meet for coffee in the morning. They are non-actors. I live a life," he says. "I try not to get pulled into all the nonsense that goes on. Occasionally, my agent will call and say 'Do you want to go to the Oscars?' and I'll say 'Yeah.' And just before I'm getting my jacket on, I think 'What am I doing?' But it generally turns out to be

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