Anthony Hopkins stars as Ted Crawford in Fracture.
In Fracture, Sir Anthony Hopkins is not quite as evil as his iconic cannibal Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Nonetheless, as Ted Crawford, a man who appears to have killed his wife, the actor gleefully engages Assistant D.A. Willy Beachum (Ryan Gosling) in the same kind of mental game of cat-and-mouse that Lecter so gloriously ran with Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) in The Silence of the Lambs. The Welsh native, who turns 70 this year, began our interview by explaining just how diabolical the construction of the Fracture narrative turned out to be.
Q: Did you approach your character, Ted Crawford, from the point of view that he was a criminal mastermind?
Hopkins: No. He’s a little weird to shoot his wife. She’s having an affair, he could have divorced her. But to kill her is a bit… strange. I think he does it as a peculiar mental exercise to see if he can perform the perfect crime. And I suppose there are people around who’ve done things like that; a case in point was Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, the motiveless murder. I think there’s something Jean-Paul Sartre or Albert Camus about it, as they wrote about people who do things for no reason. Or Shakespeare’s Iago, in Othello, who just malignantly destroys people’s lives - and at the end it’s all because “I can, and I choose to!” I think Crawford is made of the same material. He’s very smart, but it’s the smartness and intelligence of someone who is really quite disturbed.
Q: So it isn’t a broken heart then that motivates Crawford?
Hopkins: No, I think it’s based on pride and rage that his wife could be false to him. It’s like Othello, saying “false to me!?” That’s his flaw. And I think with Crawford, his weakness is his pride, his narcissism, his arrogance. I knew a director whose mantra was, “I never make mistakes.” He was a horrible man, a horrible human being. He worked a lot in television and he was a sadist, always bullied people who couldn’t fight back, like the makeup artists. And I had a big fight with him, I wouldn’t put up with it. He said he never makes mistakes - but the mistake is that he never works now; he’s been unemployed for years. You pay the price. So I think this man, Crawford, he’s made his own rules and really believes he has no weak points.
Q: What attracted you to the script of Fracture?
Hopkins: My agent told me he really thought I should read the script, and told me Greg Hoblit was directing. And I thought, well, that’s good, because I really loved his movie Primal Fear [the 1995 thriller starring Edward Norton and Richard Gere].
I know it’s another villain like Hannibal Lecter - he’s cold-blooded and he’s smart, but it’s not the same and it’s the structure of the script that I responded to. When I read a script, I can tell that it is good even by the way the dialogue is spaced out on the pages, if there’s not too much stage direction in it and they’re not over-explaining it. I liked the grammar of Crawford’s speeches, which didn’t leave room for improvisation. I put a couple of words in here and there, like “old sport.” But it’s like the plays of Harold Pinter: the dialogue is very precise and you don’t need to improve upon it. And that’s why I enjoyed this.
Q: What was it like to play a character that is so far ahead of both the audience and the main character played by Ryan Gosling?
Hopkins: Glenn Gers wrote the Fracture script backwards to achieve this sort of effect, and I did not know that at the time. But that’s how they used to write the TV series Columbo. I did a TV movie called Guilty Conscience with Blythe Danner and Swoozie Kurtz and it was written by Columbo creators [Richard] Levinson and [William] Link. And I asked one of the writers some years later, “How do you write these?” And he said, “Well, we write backwards. We start at the end and work back to the beginning.” And I thought that was interesting because Fracture has a similar formula. I’m a fan of this sort of “twist” movie, like Jagged Edge, Presumed Innocent or Sleepers.
In Columbo, you always had some rich guy who killed his wife or committed the perfect crime, usually played by some suave actor. And then along comes this complete fool, Peter Falk, in this broken-down car, and he doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing. But the audience knows he’s going to solve it. And I think that’s the way Ryan [Gosling] approached it. Not to play it per se like Peter Falk, but the same sort of thing: a broken-down lawyer who has a bad car, bad apartment, isn’t that well-dressed, but he’s hoping to get his guy.
Q: What was it like to work opposite Ryan Gosling?
Hopkins: He’s a wonderful actor, very smart, intelligent. He was concerned about the end of the movie, because of the forensic elements and the legality of it all. I get lost in that stuff, so I let him and Greg and Glenn figure it out. They did a re-shoot of the ending, and I think it’s even better.
When we made the film, I had seen The Notebook, but not Half Nelson, which [Ryan] had made just before we started filming. He’s a bit like James Dean, I guess. Very naturalistic, he takes his time. He is the up-and-coming big star, you know, and it was great to work with him.
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