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Hopkins displays ‘The Rite’ stuff

If one believes in Evil – yes, with a capital E – then the charmer that Anthony Hopkins has played three times now, a Chianti-swilling, sweetbreads-savoring psychopath by the name of Hannibal Lecter, could be Evil’s poster boy.

But Hopkins, who has channeled mad menace in films both good (“The Silence of the Lambs”) and bad (“The Wolfman”), is not so sure that Evil of the biblical kind exists.

This weighty question came up in reference to “The Rite,” opening today, a somewhat brainy thriller in which Hopkins – now 73 and, to his own amazement, still working as much as ever – portrays an exorcist.

In his rectory in Rome, Hopkins’ Father Lucas, an unorthodox Jesuit, goes nuclear on the Devil and his satanic underlings, grabbing hold of the possessed, spewing incantations, daring the demons to reveal themselves.

The film centers on the relationship between him and a young deacon (Colin O’Donoghue) who isn’t sure, after all, that there is a God, or a Devil. Couldn’t these troubled souls be suffering from dementia, or schizophrenia?

Hopkins says he used to be an atheist, but now, “I don’t know what the hell I believe. I think there’s something at the back of everything. … And I think the film presents an interesting debate, and I respect people’s beliefs, whether they’re atheists or believers.”

“The Rite,” directed by Mikael Hefstrom, is not your standard-issue head-spinning, projectile-vomiting “Exorcist” affair, although it does inhabit dark, creepy cinematic space.

Hopkins was wary of the project at first (“I didn’t want to play another spooky part”), but met with the Swedish director (“1408,” “Derailed”) and liked his thinking.

“He wanted to stand back a little and not make it a gory, weird movie, but just make it very real, and I said, ‘That suits me fine.’ ”

There was a real exorcist, a priest, on hand to offer counsel during the production, Hopkins says.

Hopkins paints and composes when he’s not working, but he’s been working a lot lately.

He had a central role in Woody Allen’s “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger,” shot in London, then went to Rome and Budapest for “The Rite,” then back to L.A., where he suited up (in 30 pounds of Old Norse armor) to play Odin, “god of all things,” in the adaptation of Marvel Comics’ “Thor,” opening May 6.

Next up, says Hopkins, is “360,” a reworking of “La Ronde” to be directed by Fernando Meirelles (“City of God,” “The Constant Gardener”), with Ben Foster and Rachel Weisz.

And although there’s no green light yet, Hopkins is very high on playing the title role in “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” a portrait of the famous, and famously eccentric, director and the making of “Psycho.”

“It’s a very interesting take,” Hopkins says. “(Director) Sacha (Gervasi) wants to do the dark side of Hitchcock – which he says I’d be good at playing.”


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