Producer Dino De Laurentiis believes now is the time for audiences to see where Hannibal Lecter came from and why he turned into a psychopathic killer who enjoys meals composed of his victims. De Laurentiis convinced writer Thomas Harris that there needed to be an origin story to help answer questions audiences have often asked about Hannibal the Cannibal. It took some convincing but Harris finally agreed to pen the story. The result is Hannibal Rising, a glimpse into the life of the prolific killer as a young man.
Producer De Laurentiis sees Hannibal Rising, directed by Peter Webber and starring Gaspard Ulliel as the young Hannibal, as much more than a prequel. "You can call it a prequel, a sequel, or whatever you want, but for me, forget The Silence of the Lambs, forget Hannibal, forget Red Dragon. This is a picture that stands on its own."
Gaspard Ulliel Takes on Hannibal Lecter: Ulliel walked us through the casting process: You know, the first meeting was with one of the producers, the French producer, Mr. Tarak Ben Ammar. He came to me in a dinner in Paris and he just talked about this project. I was very excited and also very surprised that he came to me for this role. Then I met Dino De Laurentiis and they insisted on the fact that I should meet Peter [Webber] because I was hesitating to accept the project after reading the script. Because I was very scared, I think. I knew that it was very risky for me to go into this project because its so popular. I knew that there would be a lot of expectations on this film. So I met Peter in Paris and he asked for some proper auditions. We worked on three different scenes of the film and we worked for two full hours.
Why the initial hesitation? The major thing for me that was very scary was to just take on this role that is so popular. For so many people its like they own the character and its part of their lives, so I knew that they would be very picky on this new film and expecting a lot. And also coming after Anthony Hopkins is not very easy and it was a bit scary for me.
Tackling Hannibal Lecters Specific Speech Pattern: Im French so for me it was very difficult to get those subtle ways of speaking. Of course I tried to work on a special way of speaking, but then, you know, for the audition I have to admit that I watched Silence of the Lambs and I observed Anthony Hopkins the day before. But then, well not on the set but before shooting the film when I prepared the role, I think I didnt want to try to copy or imitate Anthony Hopkins. I tried to work on my own with some readings and other films. Obviously I knew that the audience would look for some similarities with Anthony Hopkins, so one part of the preparation was to observe Anthony Hopkins. But the idea was more to just pick a few details in his performance and then add it to my own character.
Ulliel was interested in meeting with Hopkins prior to working on Hannibal Rising but things never worked out. I discussed this with the producers and they said that they would organize a meeting with Anthony Hopkins and me, but he was not available at this time. We couldnt manage to do it. Anyway, I dont think it would have been helpful for me because I think every actor has his own way of working. I dont know if Mr. Hopkins would have told me how he is working on his character. I dont know if he wants to reveal that kind of stuff.
Selecting Items to Use From Hopkins Performance: Well its very subtle. There are a few things that you can clearly see in Silence of the Lambs, for example, all the eye movement and the blinking and also his stillness can be very scary sometimes. If you watch precisely every scene, the character is always in a very relaxed, comfortable position. So its just a few things like this. Its nice to have this to create your character, but you know this character is very different. Hes much younger and he hasnt experienced all the prison and the killings, so I was just trying to keep these ideas in mind and those images from the other films with Anthony Hopkins. But I was not trying to give this back to the audience in my performance because this would have been too much. My character is just a young kid and hes not as crazy as the older Hannibal Lecter.
Analyzing This Younger Version of Hannibal Lecter: You cant say hes a hero, I think. The idea was to try to give him a more human aspect and to try to show to the audience that at the beginning he was just a regular young boy, and that slowly he became what he is - and what everybody knows he is. I dont think that the goal of telling his past is to try to justify his killings or to give reasons. Its just to show how he became like this and not why he became like this.
Asked if he believed his character was justified in killing, Ulliel replied, I didnt ask myself this question because as I said, I dont think were trying to justify anything. For some people, it might be justified because he experienced very heavy things during his childhood. He is just seeking revenge, but I dont think its the right way to take your revenge. When someone kills one of your parents, I dont think you should kill him to take revenge. You can see in the film that as the character is seeking revenge, he is going to destroy himself little by little. And, at the end, he is just a monster. So I think the message is not for violence, its against violence, just to show that you can very easily jump on the wrong side in the wrong way and just kill yourself through those killings.
Putting on the Mask: Ulliel said that putting the mask on for the first time was a nice, fun moment. Its kind of magic to have this mask but thats it. You know, its not a very big scene in the film but yeah, it was fun to do. And actually I have a fun story. This mask was made of resin or something like this, and they wanted it to just fit on my face and stay on my face without the [strap], because it was supposed to have the elastic behind and we took it off. So I was trying to push on both sides to make it fit on my cheeks and I just broke the mask. We had only one, so they had to build another one. It was horrible (laughing).