COURTESY OF WEINSTEIN COMPANY
Since his debut on the big screen in 1986, Hannibal Lecter has become the embodiment of madness. He is an icon of cinema, immortalizing the psychopath like no other, save perhaps Norman Bates of “Psycho.” However, where the Bates Motel scared audiences senseless in but one film, Hannibal has terrified us in four, soon to be five.
Brian Cox originally played Lecter, toying with William Petersen as the troubled FBI profiler Will Graham in 1986’s “Manhunter.” The roles were revisited in 2002’s “Red Dragon,” with Edward Norton as Graham and the legendary Anthony Hopkins as Lecter. It was Hopkins who would come to embody the cannibalistic madman, first appearing as Lecter in 1991’s “Silence of the Lambs.” He would return to the role twice, first in 2001’s “Hannibal” and then in “Red Dragon.”
Audiences watched with horror when Hannibal the Cannibal made his grisly escape in “Silence of the Lambs.” How could a person possibly take pleasure in eating someone?
That question remained unanswered for 16 years, but now, we are going to get a glimpse at where humanity ends and terror begins. “Hannibal Rising” premieres this Friday and chronicles Lecter’s descent into insanity, from an 8-year-old during World War II to a 20-year-old medical student.
Recreating the madman was a monumental task, to which Director Peter Weber looked to French actor Gaspard Ulliel. At 22, “Rising” is Ulliel’s second English-language film.
“It’s such an iconic role,” Ulliel said.
For the first time, we see what makes a man a monster. We watch as Lecter “kills his own humanity,” Ulliel said.
A major advantage of “Rising” over other prequels is that it was written by the original author, Thomas Harris, who penned the screenplay and adaptation of the new film.
Elusive and private, Ulliel himself never met the man who created the monster he must grow into, he said. To assist in the transformation, Harris provided Ulliel with a piece of paper originally passed on to Anthony Hopkins. With only a few lines, Ulliel said, it gives its owner some basic thoughts on who Hannibal Lecter is.
Ulliel said he watched all the Lecter films, read all the books and read up on the early lives of real-life serial killers to get into the mind-set of the Cannibal. He also worked with a movement coach and sat in on an autopsy, he said, something his film persona would doubtlessly revel in a far less professional manner.
Like any prequel, “Rising” threatens to take away some of the magic vital to the myth of Hannibal Lecter. Ulliel said he has no intention of merely being a young Anthony Hopkins or Brian Cox.
Even so, Ulliel tried to emulate the two men on some level, focusing more on Hopkins’ portrayal. Fearing being compared with Hopkins, whom he believes is far more identified with Lecter than Cox, Ulliel instead tried to bring something new to the character. One of his main focuses is on the human side, the innocent part of a character usually seen as more monster than man.
Of course, a vital part of the Hannibal Lecter story is one of the most complex relationships in cinema history. After all, Hannibal is not much of a Hannibal without a Clarice Starling. To fill in the classic role, love interest Lady Murasaki is introduced, played by Li Gong (“Miami Vice”). Like Clarice, she is the one person who actually tries to understand Lecter and see him as human.
Tomorrow, audiences will not merely see man become legend, Ulliel said. “Rising” tells the tale of when Hannibal Lecter “slowly drifted away towards his darker side.”
Look for a full review of “Hannibal Rising” in the next issue of The Eagle.