December 12, 2011 12:00 PM

At his painting studio perched on a Malibu cliff top, Anthony Hopkins unwinds by playing Janis Joplin, pulling out a palette of vivid oil paints and getting to work. “I come from a country where everything is gray,” says the Welsh-born actor, famed for his Oscar-winning role in The Silence of the Lambs. “I came out here in 1973 and loved the color. I thought I was in paradise. Still do.”

For Hopkins, 73, a hobby that started as doodles on movie scripts is now a passion. His paintings, which fetch up to $150,000, have been shown in galleries from London to Hawaii. Busy onscreen with the upcoming thriller Solace and a sequel to Thor in the works, he’s happily not starving for his art. “I don’t need to make a living,” he says. “I do it for sheer pleasure.”

The star credits his wife, Stella, 55, for “opening this part of my life.” After seeing his doodles, she suggested he make small paintings as party favors for guests at their ’03 wedding. “She has more confidence in me than I have in myself,” he says.

Hopkins’s interest in art began as a boy. “My mother painted on the wall of my bedroom-Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, flowers. I remember the smell of the paint she used.” At 9, he took lessons from an art teacher who dated Richard Burton. He soon met the actor. “I was painting boots on a pirate, and in came this guy-I will always remember his eyes-and he said, ‘I like the boots.'” (His mother also bought him a piano, another lasting passion. A piece he composed for the ’07 film Slipstream appears on conductor Andre Rieu’s new album And the Waltz Goes On.)

Hopkins says the bright images he paints are often inspired by his movie locations. And lucky costars may go home with a Hopkins original. “If I am working with actors and I like them, I will give them a painting,” he says. “I just say, ‘Please don’t sell them on eBay!'”

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