Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins and more
Watch Jodie Foster (“The Mauritanian”) speaking with Anthony Hopkins (“The Father”) and Riz Ahmed (“Sound of Metal”) in conversation with Steven Yeun (“Minari”).
Ramin Setoodeh: Have you ever wished you could hang out with
your favorite Hollywood stars?
male: That's the greatest gift to me about acting.
The expansion that happens is massive.
Ramin: Variety Studio invites you to listen in as today's
biggest actors talk to each other about their craft.
Anthony Hopkins: You know,working as an actor, I just have
such a ball doing it.
Ramin: With Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins,
and Riz Ahmed and Steven Yeun.
Ramin: Welcome to "Variety Studio: Actors on Actors."
I'm Ramin Setoodeh.
Our show looks a little different this year,
but what hasn't changed is the quality of the conversations
you're about to see.
Thirty years ago, Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins delivered
Oscar-winning performances in "The Silence of the Lambs,"
one of the most influential horror films of modern times.
Based on a true story,Jodie Foster stars as a defense
attorney trying to get herclient freed from Guantanamo Bay
in "The Mauritanian."
Nancy Hollander: I care about you.
Mohamedou Ould Salahi: Where do you want me to sign, Nancy?
Who am I suing today, God?
Nancy: No one today.
Mohamedou: Then why are you here?
Nancy: No reason in particular.
I just didn't want you to be alone.
Ramin: And at 83, Anthony Hopkins's career
isn't slowing down one bit.
In "The Father," he plays a mansuffering from dementia
in the final chapter of his life.
Anthony: So if I understand correctly, you're leaving me.
Is that it?
You're abandoning me.
Anthony: What's gonna become of me?
Jodie: Hi, Tony.
Anthony: Hello! How are you doing?
Jodie: I haven't spoken to you since I saw "The Father,"
which is just such an extraordinary movie.
It's such an amazing performanceand must have taken
a lot out of you, I'm sure.
Anthony: Yes, well, it was--
For me, I mainly kept it very simple, because when
Florjan Zeller offered me the part, I always attempt,
especially as I'm getting older,to really simplify the process.
I don't analyze too much.
And when you have a really greatscript, it's like a road map,
so I just followed the road map really.
It was that simple.
And because I didn't have to actold because I'm old, I'm 83 now,
and yeah, my back aches and my knees ache.
I'm not a method actor in that sense.
Anthony: What can I say? It was fun to do.
I mean, the subject was awful, but it was--when you have
a great script, you know, and a wonderful cast, it's--
it doesn't have to be hard work.
So that's what I'm saying, it wasn't hard work.
It was easy for me, and I've been around a long time.
There were moments at the very last piece when the man
I'm playing, Anthony, doesn't know who he is,
and he's with the carer in the hospital.
And somebody had hit me with devastating force
right in the chest.
This is all--I mean, we forget who we are.
We forget all our anchors.
We forget everything.
That, to me, had a powerful impact.
The truth, for me, and I think this film, "The Father,"
it opened something in my mindthat made me ponder my own life.
I thought, "I don't know how I did any of this."
I don't know why I became an actor.
I don't know why I did this.
And I looked back over my life and I think, "I did that.
This came up here, and then that.
What am I doing here?"
And I can't account for any of it.
I can't even take credit for it.
So to me, it's an extraordinaryexperience just being alive.
I'm happier now than I've ever been at my age,
because I don't know how I got here.
I had no real plans.
Part of my brain is probably very simple.
When I was younger, I wanted tocomplicate everything, but now
working as an actor, I literallyjust learn the lines, and show
up, and hope my instincts are okay.
I just have such a ball doingit, you know, and I'm so glad to
be alive and still doing it.
I hope to do a bit more.
Jodie: It does feel in some ways, you know, watching it,
watching that performance feltlike it did come from someplace
else, you know, and something that's maybe bigger than you.
I mean, sometimes I think I should just thank your parents
for having you because, youknow, you just came out that way
and in some ways the talent is not yours, you know?
Anthony: No, nothing to do with us.
So tell me about "The Mauritanian."
When did you do that?
Was that last year?
Jodie: Yeah, we did it last year.
In fact, we finished--I think we finished the beginning of
February, just as we were kinda getting the news
about the impact of the pandemic.
So when we left-- we shot it in Cape Town,
and so when we left Cape Town, we started being like,
"Wow, this is getting interesting.
What's gonna happen?"
And then lo and behold, you know, eight months went by
and I'm not sure whathappened in those eight months.
But yeah, it feels like yesterday.
It really feels like yesterday.
Anthony: You didn't go near Guantanamo?
Jodie: We shot it all in Cape Town, South Africa,
which strangely is sort of a perfect double.
We were able to do all the things that happened in Cuba,
because it's, you know, right on the water,
and it has those beautiful beaches and those
beautiful bays, but also to getthe Washington D.C.
locations and locations that look like a big city with an
incredible crew, you know, lots of great technicians and
extraordinary--just extraordinary actors.
So we got lucky.
Anthony: Yeah, you were all extraordinary--amazing.
And I mean, painful to watch as well.
The treatment in Guantanamo.
Jodie: Yeah, Mohamedou's story, it really is amazing.
And you know, you do movies fordifferent reasons, and sometimes
you do it just for the characteror sometimes because there's
something about it you need to learn about yourself.
And in this case, I think we were all there for him.
We really wanted to tell his story because he's such
an extraordinary guy.
You know, 15 years detained in prison without being told what
his charge was, you know, afterbeing abducted from his home by
a foreign country for no reason.
The fact that he emerged as a better human being, somebody
who, instead of being angry after years of torture,
psychological torture, and isolation, he became somebody,
through his faith really, thatis joyful, and isn't resentful,
and isn't angry, who is forgiving.
That's really a real testament to Mohamedou's character, came
through and was returned to us to be the man that he is.
Anthony: Yeah, something like Nelson Mandela who had nothing
but forgiveness after his release, said,
"Don't put away all bitterness,"
and that's what people have to do.
But this man is quiteextraordinary, his forgiveness.
Jodie: He really is and funny.
Incredibly funny, you know, and happy, and joyful,
and loves movies.
I think he saw--while he was in prison, he saw
"The Big Lebowski" something like 80 times, you know.
So he learned English inGuantanamo from the 20-year-old
guards, so he kinda talks like The Dude, you know?
He's just a lovely person.
And the woman that I play, Nancy Hollander, is quite an
extraordinary character too,one of our amazing civil rights
attorneys who mostly has defended people
who are very guilty.
So probably 90% of the peoplethat she's defended are guilty,
but she believes in the ruleof law and in the Constitution.
She's really kind of an American hero.
Anthony: Yeah, and that's wonderful.
Jodie: Yeah, so in "The Mauritanian,"
I worked with Tahar Rahim,
who's a young French actor who plays
Mohamedou Ould Salahi,
and the actors with me, Shailene Woodley who I just
adore, it was so much fun for usbecause we just got to witness
an amazing performance of an actor who was, you know,
not acting, but just a real transformation.
And it just felt such an--I don't know, like this little
secret honor to be able to justbe in the same room
and to serve that performance.
And it reminded me of that revelation, you know,
that first time that you get that performance.
There's a thrill, I think, tobeing with other actors, younger
people, and watching them discover some things
for the first time.
Anthony: Yes, yes, yeah.
Jodie: So it's actually been nearly to the day--it's been
nearly 30 years since we did "The Silence of the Lambs."
Hard to believe.
Anthony: Thirty years?
Jodie: Thirty years.
I had a lot of really fond memories of that movie, of the
shoot, of being in Pittsburgh, and of Jonathan Demme,
of course, who passed away recently,
somebody that I know we both loved.
Are there any specific memoriesthat you have of that time?
Anthony: I remember-- I must say this.
When I was in London in 1989, I was doing a film--
a play in London.
My agent sent a script, and he said,
"I want you to read this script."
I said, "What is it?"
He said, "It's called 'Silence of the Lambs.'"
I said, "Is it a children's story?"
He said, "No."
And he said, "Would you like to do this with Jodie Foster?"
I said, "Jodie Foster? Yeah, okay, okay."
So I was--it was a hot summer afternoon, and the script came
over and I started reading it.
And after ten pages, I phoned my agent and I said,
"It's the best part I've ever read."
He said, "Okay."
He phoned back about four hourslater and he said,
"Jonathan Demme is the director."
I said, "God Almighty."
I said--so I read the rest of the script
and Jonathan came over.
Jodie: I remember.
Anthony: We had dinner and he said--
I said, "Is this for real?"
He said, "Yeah." I said, "Okay."
He's such a wonderful guy to work with,
and I couldn't believe my luck.
I thought--and I was scared to speak to you.
I thought, "She's just won an Oscar."
Jodie: I know, we didn't get to speak too much
before the actual read-through,
so we just sort of waved across the room,
and then sat down at the table.
And as you launched into Hannibal Lecter, I really--
I felt, like, a chill come over the room, you know?
And I felt gripped and I was just too scared in a way.
It was like we were almost too scared to talk
to each other after that.
Anthony: Yeah, you know what I always remember about that?
You know, we do the scene in thecell and all that, and then we'd
go and have lunch in that big warehouse.
It was in the Westinghouse warehouse, wasn't it?
I thought, "How extraordinary.
We're all sitting here having a meal and we've just been
chomping on each other andmaking life hell for each other,
and here we are having lunch."
It didn't make any sense at all,and I thought, "It's a strange
world we live in."
And that's why it's such an amusing game that we get up in
the morning, go to a place, we put on somebody else's clothes
and speak lines that have nothing to do with us.
And you think, "What on earth is it all about?"
Jodie: Yeah, well, that idea of--
you know, that is the curiosity,
I think, that we have as actorsis to peer into somebody.
You know, what made them who they are?
Anthony: When you come down the cells--
Jodie: The corridor.
Anthony: I thought, "How do you want to be seen?
Do you want to be--do you thinkhe'd be reading, or painting,
or doing drawings, or lying down on the bed?"
I said, "I'd like to be standing here."
She said, "Standing?
I said, "I can smell her coming down the corridor."
She says, "You are weird."
She said, "Hopkins, you are so weird."
I said, "Oh, thank you."
So I knew I'd pressed the right button.
Jonathan asked me, he said, "What do you think?"
I said, "I think he's a machine."
He's like HAL the computer in "2001."
"Good evening, Dave."
So he's like a submarine.
John said, "A submarine?"
I said, "He just comes in like a silent shark."
Anthony: So tell me about Clarice,
because how did you--
because my first impression when I saw, I think, Jonathan
showed me some clips, and I remember the one when you
get into the elevator with all those big FBI guys.
And I thought, "That's it.
This is brilliant."
This is brilliant, because thereyou are, the smaller person
in this big, macho, male world, coming in as the hero.
Jodie: It is very interesting, yeah.
There are certain images that kind of get seared
into your imagination and you say, "Oh, that's--
you know, that's the character.
That's what it's about."
You know, for me, Clarice, itwas also about her voice, mostly
because she was somebody that had been scarred
by the bleeting of the lambs, you know, and the sound,
and how there was nothing she could do to help them.
And you know, she couldn't speakand she had that child's voice,
and in that way she had this kind of quietness
that she never used contractions.
You know, she said "Do not" instead of "don't," and trying
to be somebody that was more correct, and you know, more
grammatical, and that didn't come from the background
that she came from, that there was a lot of shame
that she wasn't bigger, that she wasn't stronger,
that she wasn't louder,
that in her past she had failed, you know?
I think that was the part forme, once I understood that sense
of this person trying to overcome the failure
of what they were born--
the body they were born in, I understood that she was--
that that was her strength, you know, that her handicap
in some ways, that she was just like the victims.
She was just, you know, another girl,
so it's just another girl in another town.
The fact that she could relate to those victims made her
the hero of the film.
Anthony: Well, that was a remarkable thing, because when
you're in Jack Crawford's officeand you see the photographs,
and he says, "You're gonna see Dr. Lecter," and you say,
"Hannibal the Cannibal?"
And your nervousness and politeness towards him,
you don't want to letHannibal Lecter into your mind.
And I thought, "This is brilliantly set up."
And that scene, that scene particularly, and I remember
thinking, "That's why Lecter pays you great respect,
because, ah, so Jack Crawford sent you.
And he must admire you for doing that.
Good for you, you did it.
And there's these idiots, these big
bone-headed idiots around you.
You are here.
Sorry, can I have some fun?
Going to have some fun.
Ramin: Riz Ahmed and Steven Yeun have
carved their own paths in Hollywood, and now each tackle
roles where language and culture are front and center.
In "Sound of Metal," Riz Ahmed plays a drummer who's losing
his hearing and struggling with his sobriety.
Ruben Stone: What does it matter?
It just passes.
Yo, if I disappear, like, who cares?
Nobody cares, man, seriously.
Yo, and that's okay.
That's life. That's life.
Ramin: And in "Minari," Steven Yeun portrays a Korean
dad who moves his unwilling family to an Arkansas farm.
Riz Ahmed: Steven, what's up?
Steven Yeun: Riz, how you doing?
Good to see you again, man.
Riz: You too, man.
Steven: This is the conversation, man.
This is the conversation I've been waiting for.
You're a pretty choosy actor.
When I look at your choices, they're so intentioned,
in my opinion.
And so when you look at "Sound of Metal,"
when you see that script, like,what draws you to that?
Riz: For me, I had just kind of come off the back of doing
a couple of bigger pictures like"Venom," and "Bourne,"
and "Star Wars," and stuff likethat, which were huge learning
experiences for me having come from ten years of just doing
Indie movies and never having done a studio movie.
But I was hungry to get back tothat, we're all in it together,
all hands on deck, intimatecamaraderie, intensity, the high
wire act of Indie filmmaking, and to really kind of look
for something that would overwhelm me.
When I'm not in control I feel like is when maybe I grow or
more interesting things happen with me creatively.
And so my agent gave me this script,
and it was just beautiful on the page.
I didn't realize at that time that Darius Marder was the guy
who co-wrote "Blue Valentine" and "Place Beyond the Pines,"
two movies I just love.
And I don't know if it was likethis with you when you met
Lee Isaac Chung, but it was like I just connected
with Darius so deeply immediately.
And halfway through the lunch, he was like, you know,
"I've been working this project for ten years.
I wanna offer you this role."
I was like, "Amazing, dude. I love the script.
I love you. Let's do this."
And he goes, "There's one thing.
Whoever plays this role has toreally play the drums on screen
and has to really learn sign language."
And I was like, "But I don't play the drums."
He was like, "Okay, well, how long do you need to learn?"
And so that was scary as hell, but that was the thing that
really clinched it for me.
Steven: Yeah, right on.
Riz: Talk to me about howthis came--how did this project
find you and what were your initial feelings
about taking it on?
Steven: Exactly what you said.
Like, there's something magicalabout when something feels right
but then also feels terrifying.
Like, that's kinda when you know that's the one, you know?
You know, with this one, itkinda appeared out of thin air.
And when I got to go to Korea and do "Okja," do "Burning,"
and then do "Minari," which is like, what a trip.
Like, I don't know why I get todeserve to, like, have this type
of life and all these things,but like, I'm so grateful for it
'cause, you know, the series of way that it unlocked me of,
like, starting at "Okja" to playkind of on the nose of, like,
who I was at the time.
I'm just a kid straddling both worlds, trying to service both
worlds, but failing miserably because, again,
it's just a series of reactionshe's making.
He's not deciding anything or choosing anything.
He's just reacting, trying to make someone love him
or accept him.
And then you get to "Burning," when you're playing, like,
a Korean person, but he's so globalized and worldly that he
transcends even Koreanness, and so he's just floating
above all of it in that way.
And then furthermore to, like, play "Minari--"
in "Minari" where I'm playing, you know, an idea of kind of
like a man who's purposefully choosing to untether himself
to the collective that he once was from.
And you know, I've been wearyof films that touch upon on its
surface what could be easily just left at identity.
Those things would--thosethings I judged a little harsher
because I felt this intrinsicfeeling that it was also its own
trap if I didn't tread carefully, meaning, like,
there's beauty in the identity,but I wanted always to access
something deeper about, like, the humanity that I feel
every day when I wake up.
But when I read this script, Isaac had written something so
honest and so true to the pointof view that it actually didn't
incorporate a juxtaposition to anything but itself.
It just said, "This is a point of view and a story about this
family from their eyes."
Riz: And I understand why you might apply that extra strong
filter to something thattakes place as a story on really
culturally-specific ground, and I think that's because
traditionally we can have caricatures and stereotypical
portrayals that have been, youknow, particularly of, you know,
East Asian, South Asian, Middle Eastern people,
African Americans, you know, Native and Indigenous people,
that have been really damaging.
And you start off, I think, with that stage one
of representation, which is the stereotype,
you know what I mean?
It's like I get asked to play the terrorist.
You get asked to play the Kung Fu master
or something just wild.
It's like, okay.
And there's that stage of things, and then there's the
second stage which, as you said, is an important stage.
It isn't one we wanna skip completely.
It's, okay, this is culturally-specific character,
storytelling, terrain, but it's subverting stereotypes.
It's challenging those caricatures.
It's overturning some of those dominant narratives.
And when I think about some ofthe projects I've done that have
taken place on a post 9/11 terrain, whether it's
"The Night Of," or "Four Lions,"
or "Road to Guantanamo," I'm actually really proud
to have been part of those projects that engage
with these--with some of the more stereotypical narratives
to try and overturn, correct them, and rearrange
people's mental furniture.
But yeah, at some point you also do wanna get to that,
what I call, kinda the promised land.
You know, that promised land of, like, it's not about that.
These characters aren't defined by that.
They're just people.
And hey, here's the thing, stage two and stage three
aren't mutual exclusive.
You can have something that's culturally-specific,
like "Minari," but guess what, it's not about, oh,
how are Korean people gonna--
It's about them as a family, as human beings.
And I have to say, it'ssomething that I have often had
to think about for myself as I approach roles, and filter
things, and think about therepresentation that I'm setting
forth as a brown actor, as a Muslim actor, for myself,
but I learned in a big way aboutthe deaf community and deaf
representation in this movie.
It really made me realize, like,man, we've gotta all kind of try
and be advocates for each otherbecause what I'm hearing from
the deaf community or deafviewers that have seen this film
is that they just feel so emotional
that a project like this exists.
It feels like a giant leapforwards, you know, many people
are saying in terms of deaf representation on screen.
And here's the thing, like, I learned so much from the deaf
actors and the people that Imet on the journey of this film.
They're not-- and they're so talented,
not despite their deafness, because of their deafness,
because of the specificity of their perspective,
their strength of character, their experience.
They taught me what listening really means,
with your whole body.
They taught me what communication really means
when you're not even using words.
Hopefully, you know, when we stretch culture in this way or
contribute a tiny way towardstrying to stretch culture, each
in our own way, it's a win for all of us, you know, 'cause we
expose ourselves to the richnessof these experiences and the
richness of all the talentthat sometimes gets overlooked.
Do you feel like because of who you are,
and I guess, how is "Minari" different for you
in terms of being able to bringmore of yourself to this role?
Was that a new kind of experience for you?
'Cause that's kinda how I felta little bit with this project.
Steven: The toughest part for me has been, like,
breaking through the pattern for myself, you know?
Steven: Luckily I think my one skill that I do have is,
like, I don't really look beforeI leap, and so I just kinda just
jump in and then figure it out.
Riz: Yeah, I love that.
Steven: Like you said, like, once I gave in--
and that's exactly what happened to me.
I was so afraid to approach thischaracter because there's
so much involved with it, there's so much pressure.
It's not pressure that anyone has objectively put on it,
but like, if it's new and if ithasn't been seen, like, there's
so many gates to break through in my own mind, you know?
And so when it really clickedfor me is kind of what you said
about your experience on "Sound of Metal,"
was when I was like, "Oh, I am Jacob."
Like, I'm not Jacob, but I am Jacob.
And I don't need to hide or shrink or alter myself.
I am enough, and that's what that is.
And yeah, that's kinda when it clicked for me too.
Riz: That's beautiful.
Now, something that was reallyinteresting in "Sound of Metal,"
and I actually really wanna talkto you about this for "Minari"
as well, is language.
You know, expressing yourself in Korean,
expressing yourself in--
And I just--I'm wondering, would you consider that
your first language?
Are you fluent in Korean?
Was it something you had to brush up on?
Because for me, expressingmyself in American Sign Language
really, really opened me up in a different way.
It was just this wild journey where I was like,
"Man, you can't hide.
This kind of exposes you."
So it opened up my body, and so much of Ruben is about,
you know, we had these auditoryblockers in so I couldn't hear
other people or myself speak, so it's about kinda listening
with your whole body.
And so I really feel like learning ASL connected me
to my body, opened me up in a different way,
allowed me to listen andcommunicate with my whole body,
which is such a gift.
And I'm wondering, for you, acting in Korean,
were you able to reach a deeper place,
a place in your childhood?
Did you feel connected to something else?
Did it close off certain emotions to you?
Steven: Korean was my first language, but I moved
when I was five, and so I slowly lost it over time.
And it was maintained because myparents kept it up in the house,
but it's exciting to me thatyou say that about sign language
because I deeply get what you'retalking about and that must be
awesome to add that to yourself.
Like, that's the greatest gift to me about acting, like,
if you let it happen to yourself is just, like,
the expansion that happens is massive, you know?
Ramin: We hope you've enjoyed our look inside the world
of "Actors on Actors."
Please join us again next time.
Jodie: Ooh, look, I get to see all your books.
Anthony: Here we are.
Well, my books--
Jodie: Lots of Picasso.
Riz: Hey, Steven.
Steven: Hey, what's up, Riz? Good to see you again.
Anthony: I just need to plug in here.
I think my--oh yes.
I just need to recharge here.
Riz: How's that?
Jodie: Hi, Dr. Lecter. Anthony: Hi, Clarice.
Jodie: See ya later! Bye!
Anthony: Thank you. Bye-bye.
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