I had an entire post written about a memory from my college days that somehow evaporated after two drafts, and I’m not in the mood to redo it right now. Instead, I wanna talk about Anthony Hopkins.
Anyone who follows my thread on Facebook saw my post the other day about Hopkins winning the Oscar on Sunday, and how he’s apparently the first openly autistic person to win it. That blew my mind – WHAT?!?!? Upon reading the article, Hopkins was apparently diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome in 2017, at about 78 years old. He admits to being very high-functioning, but somehow he had flown under the radar his entire life. Almost eighty years. He says that he did poorly in school, he couldn’t concentrate well, and that for most of his early life he just figured he was stupid.
Imagine that. Feeling that something is wrong with you because you’re not like your peers in some way. Feeling inadequate, unable to connect or to accomplish what others around you are doing with relative ease. Sir Tony simply resigned himself to the fact that he probably wouldn’t go far in life. And yet, when he found something that he loved – the theatre – he threw himself into it with incredible focus and drive. He states that, since he knew he was “stupid”, he would have to work even harder to have any chance of success in the field.
As a result, he trained himself to train himself. He disciplined himself to learn his lines thoroughly, backward and forward, with no room for error, because he felt he didn’t have any. The result is an acting style with a delivery that sounds incredibly natural, never forced, and an actor with an intensity that few can top. Silence of the Lambs is the obvious example, but take just a moment to examine his performance as Odin in any of the Thor movies. The man has gravitas. In the first Thor in particular, Chris Hemsworth sounds sometimes like a bad Shakespearean actor, and I think it was possibly intentional for that film. Swaggering, pompous, over-inflected and grandiose, and again, while I do think it was on some level a choice, check out Hopkins. Tony. Barely. Moves. He raises his voice in maybe two places. But his eyes are rock steady, his body never flinches, and you have no doubt of Odin’s POWER. This guy gives Zero. Fucks. And every single word out of his mouth flows out with confidence, ease, and no need to be pushed. He believes what he’s saying, because the actor is in complete control, and since the actor is in control, the character is in control. It’s impressive.
And Sir Tony does this in every. Single. Thing he’s in. Even a more over the top character like Van Helsing in Coppola’s Dracula just sounds so damn natural when he talks, even when he’s rattling off, “Oh, you drive a stake through her heart and you cut off her head”, It’s so casual and matter-of-fact it almost seems like a throwaway. Hopkins rarely fails to give a less-than-stellar performance, and I’ve admired him for years, ever since Lecter first stared into my soul.
And now, I admire him even more after discovering his autism. Because, without even being aware of it, Sir Tony had to learn how to overcome his own inherent challenges to become one of the most effective communicators in the business, in the world. I have a feeling that he probably has always had trouble making eye contact (a common tic in autism), and as an actor he had to learn how to do it, and that is what gives his eyes their intensity, their focus, their power. I remember learning as a child that eye contact was one of the most important parts of communication, and I made a point of looking into people’s eyes, not only as I talked to them but also as I listened to them. It’s what people expect, and if they don’t get it, they think they’re not being listened to. It’s a common issue with Aspies, although Duncan only has this issue if he doesn’t want to talk about what you want to talk about. When he’s leading the conversation, he looks right at you. Eye contact signals engagement, and he wouldn’t do it when he was in virtual school.
In-person school is going great, however. Every day when I pick him up, I get a thumbs up from his teacher, and he’s starting to tell us things about his day. You gotta ask, but he’ll tell you now. He’s had a new best friend every day for three days in a row, so he’s becoming more and more social with his classmates (you’re his bestie if you’ll play zombie hunt with him), and he’s engaging more and more with more than one person at a time on the playground. He still has his aide, but on Wednesday he did all of his classwork by himself, with no aide and no extra prompting. He’ll tell you he still hates school, but his actions speak differently.
At home he’s getting better, too. His tantrums are decreasing, and his questions are increasing. He has two favorite books at the moment: 1001 Kid Jokes, and my own childhood copy of The Charlie Brown Dictionary, which he’s reading front to back. He can’t read it cover to cover because he’s torn the covers off. We had new friends over for dinner last night, and their five year old girl Winslow became his next new bestie, and they played for hours. It was wonderful to see.
Duncan’s journey is just beginning. There will be hurdles, for sure, but he’s a happy, healthy five year old, and he’s doing well so far. And Sir Tony’s openness about his own autism and his obvious success give me hope that, not only can Duncan be happy and successful, but so can so many other kids on the spectrum, if they’re given the opportunity to focus on something they love, and the love and strength it takes to help them along the way.
While I’m a little bummed that Chadwick Boseman (RIP) didn’t win the Oscar on Sunday, I’m grateful that Sir Tony did just because of what it proves to me and to the world about autism. Not every kid on the spectrum will necessarily thank the Academy, but they can do so much more than we think they can. We just need to make sure that their spirits aren’t broken. Sir Tony’s definitely wasn’t, and he didn’t even have any of the resources that these kids do now.
I can’t wait to see what Duncan becomes. And if he ever thanks the Academy, I hope he takes me and his mom with him to the show.