Homicidal maniacs have been charming us for years. So what is it about Hannibal Lecter that's so appealing? ANTHONY HOPKINS, the murderous psychiatrist himself,
tells The LiSt. Words: Miles Fielder
IN HOLLYWOOD THERE'S A PHENOMENON called ‘The Anthony Perkins Psycho Curse‘. in which an actor’s career is blighted by playing memorable monsters. Perkins’ career was overshadowed by Norman Bates. and what happened to Andy Robinson. superb as the Scorpio killer in Dirty Harry? Sir Anthony Hopkins has played a few monsters in his time - Captain Bligh. Hitler. Nixon — but his portrayal of Dr Hannibal Lecter in the 1991 adaptation of Thomas Harris’ novel The Silence Of The Lambs made his Hollywood — and therefore international — film career. The role also secured Hopkins an Oscar (and he‘s been nominated twice since. for The Remains Of The Day and Nixon) and has made him a multi-millionaire; his fee for Hannibal is $20 million plus a cut of the profits. Hopkins‘
'The appeal is the erotic female archetype warrior taking on the minotaur.’
Lecter has. like Boris Karloff“s Frankenstein’s monster and Bela Lugosi's Count Dracula. entered the popular imagination.
‘We all like the bogeyman.’ says Hopkins. looking more like your favourite uncle than a bogeyman. ‘I suppose Jungian psychoanalysts would say it’s the shadow we have in all of us. Or maybe it's Lecter‘s certainty. his calmness that we envy. The dark characters in literature — Iago. the Phantom of the Opera. Richard III — have those qualities. They‘re so brilliant. They have no doubts. They have no uncertainty. That‘s what makes them so charismatic: they‘re always in control. Lecter is an archetype. he is a mythical figure. and so is Clarice Starling. She‘s a hero-warrior in the wonderful form of a female. She's very. very erotic and challenging. That‘s the appeal for audiences: the erotic female mythic archetype warrior takes on the minotaur.‘
Hopkins stops himself with a little self- deprecating laugh: ‘I won‘t go any deeper than that.‘
Leaving aside Hannibal's well- documented development problems — the reclusive Harris taking a decade over the book. Jonathan Demme and Jodie Foster turning down the sequel — did Hopkins have any problems getting back into the role after a ten-year break? ‘I just learn the lines. get the feel of it.‘ he says. ‘My methods are fairly simple. Say we are filming in the Palazzo Veechio. the heart of Florence with a blood— stained history and the art of Michelangelo. Well. you’re already there. You don't have to do anything. That‘s a typical situation of any movie. Also. you let the audience do the work. So when I say [here Hopkins slides into a chilling Lecter voice. a trick he played on Silence Of The Lambs audiences] “Hello Clarice" over the phone [to an unsuspecting
20 THELIST 15 Feb—1 Mar 2001
Starling]. the audience is already anticipating that.‘
In person. Hopkins seems the reverse of the manipulative genius. Lecter. ‘l was so limited as a child.‘ says the actor. who has been described as shy and retiring. ‘I wasn't very bright at school.’
But Hopkins is also friendly. candid. self- mocking and funny. He loves British humour: Carry On films. Morecambe and Wise. Tommy Cooper [he happily slips into his famous and uncannily accurate Cooper impersonation and tells a couple of cheesy jokes]. Also Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy: ‘the everlasting amateurs'. he calls his favourites.
Perhaps some of Hopkins’ personality traits have found their way into Lecter. because. ten years on. he has made the part his own. Hopkins pitches this older Lecter differently. ‘ln Florence. I wanted to play him as a man who's bored by his retirement from public life. He‘s a little world- weary. Then. suddenly. he hears that they‘re after him again. and he thinks. “Good. Back into action".‘
The older Lecter is mellower. he displays a sense of (gallows) humour. and though his infamous appetite is far from sated. it has been refined. Most notably. Lecter is more driven by the beauty and the beast romance with his FBI antagonist. Starling. introduced in the first film. In Hannibal. Julianne Moore plays the older. wiser. strikingly confident Starling. ‘My only contact with her.‘ says Hopkins. ‘before we get together in the final scene. are the letter writings and on the phone: “Hello Clarice. Hell-low . . That‘s the romance. the sexual connection‘s there. the dark. romantic obsession.‘
The question everyone‘s asking now is will Hopkins play Lecter a third time‘.’ Hannibal producer Dino De Laurentiis says there will be another film: he would after opening weekend US box office takings make Hannibal the most profitable R (equivalent of 18) rated film ever. Hopkins isn‘t committing to another starring role. though he has agreed to a cameo as Lecter in a new version of Harris' Red Dragon (previously filmed by Michael Mann as Manhunter). Meanwhile. Hopkins puts paid to the erroneous rumour that he has retired from acting with two more films: an adaptation of the Stephen King novel Hearts In Atlantis and a remake of the Faustian tale The Devil And Daniel l’Vebster (no. he doesn‘t play the devil). Whether Hopkins will end up typecast like Perkins. Karloff and Lugosi remains to be seen. So far. though. there's no sign of The Anthony Perkins Psycho Curse.
Hannibal opens Fri 16 Feb.