Anthony Hopkins and Ian McKellen take on Shakespearean theater in Starz’s upcoming drama “The Dresser,” in which Hopkins plays Sir, an actor prepping for his starring role as King Lear with the help of his devoted dresser Norman, played by McKellen.
Even with a career as monumental as that of Hopkins, the “Silence of the Lambs” legend admits he understands feelings of insecurity on the stage, and unlike many actors, he did not always love Shakespeare — which is why he wanted to take on the challenge of “The Dresser.”
“I have an odd relationship to Shakespeare and the theater. I came into this profession by accident. I wanted to be a musician,” Hopkins said Friday at the Television Critics Association in Pasadena, Calif. “I had an uneasy relationship with Shakespeare and the theater…and with myself in the theater, so I skedaddled and came to America.”
Speaking of the Starz project, Hopkins continued, “It touched something in me. I thought, I know what it means, I know as an outsider. Doing ‘The Dresser’ was a painless revisit to somewhere I had been 50 years ago…Now, I can understand why Sir and so many great actors love Shakespeare.”
McKellen, on the other hand, has long been privy to Shakespeare, saying, “Shakespeare, once you discover him, can be right at the center of your imagination.”
However, McKellen is extra privy to “The Dresser,” which originally hailed from Ronald Harwood as a 1980 play, giving the project credit for accurately depicting an actor’s world.
“There have been many films and many plays about what it’s like to be an actor, what it’s like backstage, and frankly, none of them are very good — except this one,” he said. “This play tells you exactly what it’s like. They’re all in love somehow with the theater and it rings absolutely true. I think that’s why the play has gone on to be so successful both on stage and now back on screen.”
During the very candid conversation, both actors were asked if they’ve ever considered quitting the field.
“Did I ever want to quit? Yes, several times. Every day I think about it,” Hopkins admitted, adding that “The Dresser” helps answer the big question: why do all actors want to act? Despite the challenges of an actor’s career, Hopkins gleamed, “Thank god for it — it’s given me a tremendous life, the acting profession.”
As for McKellen, he was singing a different tune: “No. What would I do? One of the thrilling things about acting is you don’t necessarily have to stop. There will always be a little part for an old geezer in the corner of a script…The other great thing for me about acting is I get to work with young people.”
He added, “You’ve got me for as long as I’m mobile.”
Hopkins also took a jab at his age, quipping, “Now I’m as old as Lear, and they say all old men should play Lear.”
Focusing on the fact that Hopkins now has a healthier relationship with Shakespeare, McKellen jokingly pitched a reunion with his “Dresser” costar. With a laugh, he acknowledged: “I’m delighted to hear that Sir Anthony wants to come back to the stage — and we’ll organize that as soon as possible.”