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Acting on 'Instinct'

Anthony Hopkins and Cuba Gooding Jr. both have Oscars, but what else do they share? The co-stars talk about life, love and making films.

June 03, 1999|SAUL RUBIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Besides the fact they've both won Oscars, actors Anthony Hopkins and Cuba Gooding Jr. don't seem to have much in common. Hopkins is a loner and veteran actor with roots in London theater. Gooding is a gregarious rising star 30 years his junior who broke into show business by break-dancing at the closing ceremonies of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

That's why it's surprising to find them in a tastefully decorated Bel-Air Hotel suite, amid respectable platters of salmon and fresh fruit, cavorting like frat boys. There's Sir Anthony playfully wrapping his arms around Gooding's neck. "Show me the money!" Hopkins roars in Gooding's ear, taunting him with the greedy mantra Gooding made famous as the brash football star in his Oscar-winning performance in "Jerry Maguire."

Gooding laughs heartily, as if it's the first time he's heard this routine from Hopkins. It's not. In fact, this is how the pair began work every day on the set of "Instinct," the new psychological thriller from Disney in which they co-star; the film opens Friday. But the act remains freshly amusing to Gooding, so Hopkins presses on.

Still play-wrestling, Hopkins slips into an imitation of Burt Lancaster, one of his favorite actors. He clenches his teeth, bulges his luminous blue eyes and scrunches his moonlike face in a demonic glare aimed at Gooding: "Show me the mun-ay!"

"I get that line a lot when I'm in a bar and that's when I'm tired of it," Gooding says a few minutes later, still chuckling. "But when he says it, it's . . . funny."

The offscreen bonding and mutual respect are genuine enough between the actors. Hopkins, 61, has appeared in almost four dozen films and as many stage plays. He solidified his standing as one of our greatest actors with his Oscar-winning portrayal of the lip-smacking psychopath Hannibal Lecter in 1991's "Silence of the Lambs." Once a hard drinker with a reputation for an explosive temper, Hopkins says he's mellowed. Although dressed today in studied attire of an open-collared black shirt, flecked tan jacket and brown loafers, he says he prefers jeans and casual dress.

Gooding, on the other hand, looks like he's stepped out of a men's fashion ad. He's dressed to play the part he wants for his career: to be, in his words, a "$20-million player."

In "Instinct," Gooding's character, the ambitious psychiatrist Theo Caulder, jumps at the chance to evaluate Hopkins' character, Ethan Powell, an anthropologist facing murder charges for something terrible that happened in the Rwandan jungle where he had been living among wild gorillas. The scenes between Hopkins and Gooding are tense, emotional and sometimes physical--so physical, in fact, that Hopkins popped an Achilles' tendon during one dramatic encounter.

In the film, each man tries to bend the other to his will. But there are no mind games between them in real life. They readily praise each other, then offer nods of agreement and encouraging words as they take turns responding during an interview that Hopkins kicks off by saying: "I'm just warning you: Don't take anything we say too seriously."

Question: What did you know of each other before you started working together?

Hopkins: Well, I'd seen him.

Gooding: And I'd seen him. [They laugh.]

Hopkins: I thought he was just terrific. The energy. I love actors with energy. And enthusiasm. Not afraid of it. You know, so many people are afraid of enthusiasm and energy. I think it's great.

Gooding: I'm probably like every actor coming up. I just wanted to work with him. . . . I was in an interview and it was brought up how many Academy Awards you'd won. I thought you had won three.

Hopkins: I was nominated for four, but won one.

Gooding: But I thought it was three.

Hopkins: Yeah, let me think. It was three, yeah. [They laugh.]

*

Q: What attracted each of you to your parts in "Instinct"?

Gooding: This is a role that I wanted to do from the first time I read the script. And it was not offered to me. I had to fight for it. I went to the first meeting with the director, Jon Turteltaub, to see if we would jell or anything. We met in a bar, actually, in Burbank, and we sat down and I had on a Brooks Brothers suit, dressed like the character, and I was trying to study everything he was saying without saying too much about me. Because I didn't want him to have any opinion of me. He already knew me as the flashy crazy guy and I just wanted to be still.

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