Sir Anthony, how do you react when people call you a living legend?
I feel flattered and I tell them to call me Tony. I am no legend. I am just a lad who had a hell of a lot of luck in life.
Okay, for you to be this humble after 60 plus years at the top of your game as an actor and performer makes you even more of a legend. You are Hannibal Lecter, after all, one of cinema’s most iconic characters …
All right, then. But I am no legend. I still need to brush my teeth in the morning and put my pants on just like everybody else in life. Fame is a dangerous animal. The minute you start thinking you’re something special, you’re finished.
You are still as busy as ever, and you don’t shy away from big franchise films with new technologies, like Transformers 5, either. How do you adapt to this new world of technology, when you have to act in front of machines and green screens?
Oh, we actors just play pretend. There’s nothing to it. You learn your lines, and then you go for it. It’s not that different than anything else I do. It’s all about guts, really.
What motivates you to act these days? It’s not like you still need to work.
I really enjoy it. It keeps me out of trouble and it keeps my brain active. I couldn’t sit around not doing anything in my life. I would die. I know that for sure.
You turn 80 at the end of the year, right?
Yes, exactly. 80 years old. And I can still find employment. As long as that is the case, I will keep working. There is nothing I’d rather do than stand in front of a camera and act. It’s one of the greatest gifts ever given to me. And it feels good.
In the past you have said that after you finished a movie you were afraid you would never be hired again. Has your attitude toward this changed?
Yes, I feel a little bit more at ease these days. But it took a long time. Let’s be honest, I don’t have that many years ahead of me.
Do actors have to stay hungry?
Yes, they do. I think that’s essential for their work life. If they don’t, they become complacent, and to be honest, I think it affects their work negatively. Hungry actors want to achieve great things. I still want to achieve great things. On the other hand, every minute of our day is mapped out these days, so it’s even more important to enjoy life, take a break and look around – and not to expect too much. I can do that.
Is that your secret to success?
It might be. I never expected too much in my life. And it turned out to be quite all right. I can’t complain, I will never complain. I don’t believe in entitlement or arrogance. It’s not my cup of tea.
Are there too many entitled young actors out there today?
A lot of times I feel there are. But then I sound like a disgruntled old man, and I don’t want to be that guy. I have met a lot of very professional young men and women, but I have also met some who weren’t behaving the way they should.
What do you do when that happens?
I watch and observe for a while, and then I speak up. I ask them if they enjoy coming to work and acting that way. I ask if they would want to be treated the way they treat others on set, and I’m not just talking about actors, but the entire crew, the caterers, drivers, lighting technicians, everyone. Everyone deserves to be treated decently and fairly as fellow professionals.
You are not just an actor. You also paint and compose. What does music mean to you?
Oh, a great deal. I like George Gershwin, Chopin, Franz Liszt, they just don’t play that kind of music anymore today. It makes me sad. I feel it belongs to a different world at times. And when I compose, I feel the miracle of being alive, happy and I always try to enjoy every moment of it. And I like that everything slows down, which is a good feeling for an elderly man like me. It’s almost like an inner voice telling me that everything is okay, that life is peaceful in this very moment.
You strike me as a person who never stops learning, is that true?
Yes, it is. And I’ll tell you why. We can access parts of our brain that we don’t bother to use much. You hear people complain a lot that everything is difficult, nothing is easy anymore. That’s a big mistake. I think it’s good that things are difficult, that there isn’t a simple solution for every problem.
I tell actors: Learn your lines, learn them over and over. They tell me that it’s boring. I tell them only if they keep learning over and over will they really understand the true word of knowledge. It shouldn’t come easy, it shouldn’t be a quick fix every time. If you make it difficult on yourself the reward will be even bigger once you truly understand something. It takes discipline …
Everyone on the team deserves to be treated decently and fairly as fellow professionals
How did you learn discipline?
I never felt smart in school. Then I found acting and realized that if learned, stayed disciplined and took care of my health, I might have a shot at it. I worked hard all my life, heck, I still do.
What was the most difficult time in your life?
I used to drink a lot. It nearly killed me. But I stopped. Life is difficult. Personality problems can be difficult. I learned a process to overcome problems without alcohol.
Which process is that?
I try not to take everything so seriously anymore. That makes my life easier. Also, I’m at an age when you lose friends and that makes you realize mortality is real.