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Anthony Hopkins and the fine art of 'phoning it in'

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How many times have you walked out of a dark theater, disappointed by the performance of a favorite actor who clearly phoned it in? Take, for instance, Anthony Hopkins. Sir Anthony Hopkins, actually. He is one of the greats. Most famous for playing Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, the Oscar winner was a protégé of Laurence Olivier, and his performance as the undemonstrative butler in The Remains of the Day is, for my money, one of the most brilliant studies in the art of acting. But in between the roles that take your breath away, there are films like The Rite, The Wolfman, Instinct, The Edge, and Bad Company. As a hopeless fan, you can find something redeeming in all these roles, but you also wish you could ask, What happened there? Well, in Hopkins’ case, he was phoning it in. He said so himself, literally, in last week’s New York Times profile of Thor director Kenneth Branagh: “I phone it in a lot as I’m getting older.” (Hopkins maintained, however, that his role as Odin in Branagh’s superhero epic does not fall into this category of apathy.)

To some, the only response to Hopkins’ admission is: Well, duh. But there’s a part of me that is both relieved and appreciative. Relieved, obviously, because I’d hate to think he was really trying here. And appreciative because it’s nice to be told that what I think is crap is crap.

Hopkins isn’t the only accomplished actor whose legacy is secure enough that he can walk through a movie or three half asleep. As Christopher Plummer recently told EW while promoting his upcoming indie Beginners: “We still whore a little. When we have to, we do crap. Crap pays. And we do it in order to do this sort of film. The indies, the courageous ones, the ones that need powerful friends behind them — we do those for joy. We can afford to because we’ve done enough crap.”

That’s the rare strain of honesty I savor, and it’s enough to make me forgive Must Love Dogs. Of course, such bluntness is only possible after the fact, when it can be used to promote something else that clearly is not crap. Like Beginners. (Or Thor? Here’s hoping.)

What actors do you think are stuck in cruise control after a run of greatness? Do you still hold out hope that they’ll return to form, like Marlon Brando did in The Godfather?

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