Then Hopkins becomes reflective, as he often does when thinking about acting. “I’ve often wondered, ‘When one is acting in a film or being an actor, what is that all about?’ You get out of bed in the morning, you put somebody else’s clothes on, you put on makeup, and you go out on a set and you act. I watch actors today and think, ‘What are they all doing? I’ve seen this before.’ Whoever it is, what is the fascination with all of this? Why do people do it?”

He may not have the answer, but he certainly has enough of an understanding of the profession to do it as well as anyone ever has and to pass on what he’s learned. “I’ve worked with some students at UCLA recently,” he says. “What I find interesting about acting students is to see them actually opening up like oysters and helping them find their true beings. We all have to wade through our own jungle of junk that we’ve inherited from our childhoods. I’m riddled with doubts all the time, and I had to work on myself, and I try to pass this on. One young woman did a phenomenal job as Lady Macbeth, which I directed and videotaped. Another two students had a scene where one began cursing at the other, but she was shouting her curses. I said, ‘Hold it, hold it. You don’t need to do that. Just say it. That’s more powerful. You don’t need voice.’

“There was one woman doing Shakespeare -- Henry the IV. She was a lovely looking girl. I said, ‘Don’t move anything. [Just] because you are acting, you don’t have to get emotional. Save yourself all that effort. If the scene is emotional, don’t play it emotionally; just play it dead straight. Watch people like Brando. The best actors do nothing, and all the power is there. Resist it. Don’t force it.’ I love seeing them evolve.”

Hopkins’s own evolution may be veering toward comedy; at the time of our meeting, he’s preparing to begin filming a Woody Allen film that will be released next year. “God knows what that’s going to be like,” he says, laughing. “I’ll just mosey in there and do what [Allen] tells me to do. It’s set in London. I’m playing a guy with hair transplants. He’s in his 70s and trying to keep his end up.”

It’s good to see Hopkins talking about his new acting projects and about the exhibitions of his paintings and the concerts that are being lined up. He has gone through what Dante described as “the dark woods” and has come out on the other side in fighting shape. Throughout his life, Hopkins has often been in a battle with himself. But never has he disappointed on-screen.

Before we part, I’m tempted to ask him about the project that has ostensibly brought us back together, but I don’t. Fate has a way of playing out whatever will be. Instead, I ask him if he knows what will come next. “I’m doubtful,” he says, “because the world’s in such a mess and always has been. I guess it’s just here inside us. It is us. And the very mystery of life -- bird, cat, dog, man -- what is the purpose of any of it? To be conscious is an extraordinary, baffling mystery. Why now, at this second in 15 billion years, are we here? Why not yesterday? The mystery of time tells me there is something that is magic, beyond anything our finite minds can comprehend. Whenever I get doubts, I play the piano and I think, ‘It’s great to still be alive and have a brain that functions.’ ”