Put the chianti on ice... Lecter's back again
With four films to his name, Hannibal Lecter is the most popular serial killer in the movies. And Anthony Hopkins, who played him in three of those films, has made him a definitive screen monster.
But every actor has their limits, which is why Hopkins has had to make way for rising young French star Gaspard Ulliel in Lecter’s latest adventures, Hannibal Rising, which covers Lecter’s formative years in Europe.
Ulliel is one of two actors portraying Lecter in the film, from the ages of 15 to 20.
On an attic set tucked away in Barrandov Studios, outside of Prague, the 21-year-old actor is trying on a Japanese Samurai mask that deliberately echoes the iconic face muzzle Hopkins wore in Silence Of The Lambs – one of many nods to the previous films in the franchise.
Ulliel tenderly strokes the ghoulish facade before sticking it on his face and staring ahead in a sinister trance.
Hannibal Rising sets out to explain the deep, dark secrets that turned Lecter into notorious serial killer Hannibal the Cannibal. “It was daunting,” admits director Peter Webber, whose first film, Girl With A Pearl Earring, makes him an unlikely choice to direct a horror-thriller.
“It’s very different saying ‘Action!’ and Colin Firth and Scarlett Johansson just stare at each other meaningfully across the room, to saying ‘Action!’ and a plane crashes into a tank.”
In the opening scenes of the movie, set in Lithuania towards the end of World War Two and also shot near Prague, Hannibal’s parents are killed when a German dive bomber crashes into a Soviet tank.
Authenticity was crucial to Webber, and he refused to go digital, ordering his production team to recreate the plane-tank conflagration for real. “We were using real high explosives, real tanks, real soldiers. There’s very little that’s fake.”
As for Lecter, his tragic childhood gets worse when a gang of looters, led by Rhys Ifans, find Hannibal and his younger sister Mischa and… well, let’s just say the six men responsible for Mischa’s horrible fate get their comeuppance when Hannibal grows up.
Unsurprisingly, there are several murders in Hannibal Rising – and all of them are based on real crime scenes that Lecter’s creator, Thomas Harris, covered as a young reporter. “They’ve been embellished,” says Webber, “but the basic facts are taken from reality.”
Webber says he definitely made the right choice by casting Ulliel as young Hannibal. “He’s a little bit damaged himself,” says Webber. “He was able to peer into this abyss of evil and darkness and that enabled him to bring the role to the screen much better.”