"Sir, Sir, look this way, Sir," the huge contingent of press photographers yelled as Sir Anthony Hopkins arrived for the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Los Angeles dinner at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel on Wednesday night.
"You never get used to the title," admitted Hopkins, who received his knighthood in 1992. His wife, Jenny, teased, "I suppose it does make you feel you have to behave a little bit better," while noting that back in Britain, Hopkins is referred to with unstuffy affection as Sir Ant.
"He's survived fame and success with modesty and great generosity," said Helen Mirren as she presented the actor with BAFTA's Britannia Award.
Affection for Hopkins was apparent throughout the evening. The actor--who terrified audiences with his Oscar-winning performance as the cannibal Hannibal in "Silence of the Lambs"--received endless hugs and kisses from friends, admirers and even strangers.
"I got to pose for a photo with Sir Anthony, and he's a jolly, lovely guy. He put his arm around me and gave me a squeeze and I gave him a squeeze back," Heidi Hammond told her husband, Jeremy, as she returned to their table after collecting the evening's raffle prizeof a vacation in Wales, Hopkins' birthplace.
The Welsh theme was reflected by harp music, with bagpipes added for good measure.
Roddy McDowall made the formal introductions at the table that included the evening's co-chairs: Marion Rosenberg and Davina Belling, Angela Lansbury and husband Peter Shaw, and Jeffrey Berg, who, responding to British Consul General Merrick Baker-Bates' toast to the President of the United States, toasted "Her Majesty the Queen."
Liza Minnelli, accompanied by Billy Stritch, performed a trio of what she dubbed "acting songs" by Charles Aznavour to honor Hopkins, who she described as possessing "a promise of kindness even when he is playing a ghastly villain."
"It's rare to see emotion live like that," said "Interview With the Vampire" director Neil Jordan of Minnelli's dramatic renditions, including her cross-gender delivery of "What Makes a Man a Man?"
Jordan and his "Vampire" co-producers, Redmond Morris and Stephen Woolley, were on hand representing Ireland.
There were some Americans in the crowd--Dick Van Dyke, Rod Steiger, Lauren Bacall and Stacy Keach. The British contingent included Joan Collins and her son Sascha Newley, Hilary Mackendrick, Pat and Michael York, John Schlesinger with costume designer Ruth Myers, and Kate Burton, whose father, Richard, was born in the same Welsh town of Port Talbot as Hopkins.
"I've always felt a bit of an outsider," Hopkins said, "but I want to make amends for that, because tonight I do not feel like an outsider; I feel enveloped by affection."