Have You Asked Hannibal?

There’s a serial killer in Louisiana who kidnaps, rapes and murders women. Another may be active in the Los Angeles area. Have the police in Louisiana and Los Angeles-and presumably the F.B.I.-gone to Anthony Hopkins for advice?

Who would know more about serial killers than a British-born actor who has played the cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal Lecter in three movies? In fact, Hopkins once portrayed C.S. Lewis, so the Pulitzer Prize Committee might seek his advice before awarding the next prize for literature. Since Hopkins also turned in a very good depiction of the Apostle Paul, the much-conflicted Presbyterian Church U.S.A. might consider him for its next Moderator of General Assembly. Hopkins’s take on Pauline theology might offer some definitive insight on ordination of practicing homosexuals. Come to think of it, having played Adolph Hitler, Mr. Hopkins might be able to tell us if Saddam will abdicate or create his own version of a Hitlerian Gotterdammerung. Funny, all I see Mr. Hopkins doing is acting…very, very well.

Actors like Anthony Hopkins and even Martin Sheen are talented people. For one thing they have to memorize lines and memorization is a legitimate if lower order of learning. They also must “get into character.” Alan Alda and Mike Farrell turned in great performances as whacked-out, fun-loving anti-war physicians on M.A.S.H. Perhaps when Mr. Alda is through playing conflicted, sensitive characters, he will turn to thoracic surgery. Mike Farrell already has a career as an analyst in international relations for which he studied hard while getting down pat the role of an anti-war Army doctor in Korea…rather than in Vietnam, which the program could not quite handle during the early 1970s.

Indeed, some actors can speak on matters beyond the characters they play. For instance, Dr. Robert Vaughn, the “Man from U.N.C.L.E.” would have some useful insights into the effects of McCarthyism on Hollywood in the 1950. Dr. Vaughn wrote a fine doctoral dissertation on the topic. I’ve not noticed Robert Vaughn offering advice on covert operations and I would bet he never spoke at the CIA spy course. Likewise, Wayne Rogers, who played Trapper John in the television version of M.A.S.H earned an MBA at the University of Alabama so one might value his opinion on business matters; but I doubt he has much to add on the best way to treat sucking chest wounds. So why then would anyone listen to Martin Sheen on Iraq? Has he studied Iraq or the international strategic paradigm? Sheen plays a Clintonesque president on “The West Wing.” That qualifies him to play a Clintonesque president on television…not offer advice on strategic matters. I’ve yet to take Martin Sheen’s advice on visiting Ireland…why would I listen to him on Iraq?

Understanding that feelings are essential to art, and while actors are certainly entitled to their feelings, before they go blathering over the airwaves on matters pertinent to life and death, they should at least inform themselves with objective facts. And, while Martin Sheen, like many actors, does commercials “between movies,” if relatively few of us take their advice on what antacid or shampoo to buy, or where to spend our vacations, why would we ever care what they thought about more weighty matters of war and peace?