In a NZ exclusive Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman talk to Karl Puschmann about their powerful film THE FATHER
The New Zealand Herald– The night after watching The Father I woke up panicked. It was still dark and the faint amber glow from my young daughter’s night light in the room across the hall threw uncertain shadows against the wall.
While my mind knew it was merely my dressing gown lazily hanging off the door handle and not a sinister figure lurking in the dark, could my mind really be trusted? Did I know what I thought I knew or was what I knew not what was going on at all? And, if that was the case, then how would I even know?
The truly frightening answer was that I wouldn’t.
This is the fear that Olivia Colman and Anthony Hopkins’ new film The Father instilled. The thought of being trapped inside the fragility of my own decaying mind. A prison made of changing walls, unknowable guards and only fleeting fragments of coherent freedom.
It’s a remarkable and powerful film and one I’d been hesitant to see. A film about a woman caring for her dementia-stricken dad did not sound like my idea of a good time. Even with its superb cast.
But I was drastically wrong. The Father is unlike any medical drama you’ve ever seen. Far from being a weepy Bluesfest – although bring tissues, you’ll need them – it instead plays out like an intense thriller. You’re never sure who or what can be trusted or, indeed, what is even real as events, rooms, people and sense of time all slip and slide into and out of each other.
And at the centre of it all is Hopkins’ character, also named Anthony to add a meta-layer of confusion to the whole thing, working through the mystery of who stole his prized watch as the world shifts around him and as his daughter Anne (Colman) cares for, or perhaps conspires against him.
“I’d never seen this subject matter from this particular point of view,” Colman tells me over Zoom. “You, as the audience, are experiencing the confusion with Anthony.”
“It was a surprise when I got the script,” Hopkins adds. “You’re going through an ordinary day and a script arrives and your agent says, ‘Read it, it’s kinda good.’ Well, I started reading it and thought, ‘Oh God, this is great.'”
Hopkins was in, “thrilled to do it”, he says, but the producers were finding that getting the cash together to make a movie about dementia, no matter how darkly thrilling, was proving a hard sell. Until, all of a sudden, it wasn’t.
“They had to go through the mathematics of getting it financed because it’s difficult to finance films,” Hopkins says. Then, with a small chuckle, he says, “And then Olivia got the Oscar.”
After winning Best Actress at the 2019 Academy Awards for her performance in The Favourite, Colman was in demand. But, she says, the story here was too good to pass up.
“I remember going, ‘Oh… oh, shit! That’s what it’s like.’ Because I had no idea what was happening,” she says recalling how she felt the first time she read the script. “Is he in that room? Did she just leave?… I thought it was brilliant and I wanted to be part of it.”
“And then I heard it was Anthony Hopkins and, well, it was an absolute ‘yes’,” she beams.
The movie has garnered critical acclaim and a whopping six Oscar nominations, including incredibly well deserved nods for Hopkins and Colman in the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress categories respectively.
But it’s not just a terrific film. It’s bigger than that.
“The Father provides a lot of opportunities to help educate Kiwis in terms of dementia,” says Lisa Burns, the GM of marketing and fundraising at Dementia Auckland. “We struggle with the stigma of this condition and what this film does is open up an empathetic opportunity for people to get a better understanding of what it’s like.”
Currently, 70,000 New Zealanders are living with dementia, so many that it’s been labelled a silent epidemic. As the population ages that number is forecast to explode to 170,000 Kiwis in the next 30 years.
Burns, who lost her grandmother to dementia, describes the film’s depiction as powerful and confronting due to the realistic portrayal of what life’s like for both the person suffering from the illness and their carer.
“Disorientation of time, place, people are common signs of someone with dementia,” she says. “It’s an interesting experience as a viewer going through that confusion – what’s real, what’s not real?”
Hopkins says his startling performance which sees him, at times, be accuser, victim, charmer and aggressor, borrowed aspects from his parents in their older years, although neither suffered dementia, but generously credits most of his work to the script.
“My father didn’t have dementia but he’d be irascible, impatient. Didn’t want any fuss. But it’s in the lines. When Olivia comes into the room and I say, ‘What are you talking about? I don’t need to be looked after!’ Well, that’s easy to play because it’s written,” he smiles. “‘I don’t need to be looked after!’ It doesn’t take a genius to reinterpret that. It’s written down for you.”
Perhaps, but it’s impossible to not be affected by his performance and the film. With the movie now in cinemas, I ask what they personally kept from their characters and the film.
“Well, I’ve actually kept two chairs from the set, does that count? ” Colman laughs, proving herself every bit a delight as you’d hope.
“You did?” Hopkins, chuckles, tickled at the thought.
“I did!” she grins, “But that’s not what you meant is it?”
It wasn’t, but it’s an unforgettable answer.