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HOPKINS, ANTHONY: HANNIBAL

LESS IS MORE LIKE IT
As Jenny Cooney Carrillo discovers, Anthony Hopkins is less than he seems. Less complicated, that is, less self-important and less intense [than Hannibal Lecter, at least]. Must be his English understatement...

Itís a second helping of one of the most chilling roles of all time for Anthony Hopkins, the Welsh boy made good who returns this month to inhabit his famous character, Dr. Hannibal Lecter. But donít expect to get into too much philosophical debate about the character that earned an Academy Award for the 63-year-old star ten years ago in Silence of the Lambs.

This time Ridley Scott is behind the reins, along with Julianne Moore stepping into the role of agent Clarice Starling. Recently made a U.S. citizen, Hopkins seems happy with his solitary life in the up market Los Angeles suburb of Pacific Palisades while his wife of 27 years, Jenni, remains at their home in London, content with visiting him every few months. With a little more weight and a little less hair, the jovial actor looks older and tired. But then he flashes those piercing eyes at you and you catch yourself wondering for a second if itís Tony or Hannibal staring back at you.

So, is there anything you wouldnít eat?
Earlobes! (laughs) Iím actually a vegetarian, almost completely now. Iím not a connoisseur of food. A cheese sandwich is about my speed. I canít even cook, canít boil an egg! Iíve got no interest in food, I eat in restaurants all the time.

Now that you are a U.S. citizen, do you think there is any chance youíll live in England again?
All Iím concerned about is what Iíll have for dinner tonight (laughs). No, I donít think that far ahead. Life is a game. I love it in California, itís a good life and Iíve always enjoyed it. British tabloids said that I was a traitor. I didnít realize we were at war with America, but seriously I donít think beyond today.

How did you feel about Florence as a setting for Hannibal?
Itís interesting in Florence that while it was the greatest centre of renaissance art it was also one of the greatest centres of bloody torture and hangings and brutality. These were quite a mixed-up bunch of people and out of all that horror came great art. It was an interesting juxtaposition to use with Lecter and Hans Zimmerís music resonated with all that peculiar human paradox of horror and art which was wonderful.

Your wife Jenni recently said you make light of your work but that it really consumes you when youíre doing it. Do you agree with that?
I do make light of my work. I try to anyway. I learn the lines, show up and donít bump into furniture. But I suppose during the periods I do work I spend most of the time learning the lines and focusing on the script and it does consume me. Then I show up on the set and do it. But that still feels relatively easy and simple, especially with a good director like Ridley Scott.

Did you always want to make a sequel or at what point did you decide to do it?
I never thought anymore about doing a sequel after Silence of the Lambs except when people asked me, Ďwhen are you going to do a sequel?í and Iíd say, ĎI donít know, ask Thomas Harrisí. Then eighteen months ago my agent called and said Thomas Harris has written the book and they sent me the draft of the book and I read it and thought, great! And then Jonathan Demme phoned me and said he wasnít going to do it and then (producer) Dino De Laurentiis roped in Ridley Scott and they worked on the script and gave it to Jodie Foster and then I heard sheíd turned it down and I thought, Ďwell maybe it wonít get made after allí, and I didnít really care because I had no expectations of it ever getting made all that time anyway. Then Dino told me they were going to go ahead and he told me there were a few people reading for Jodieís role and Julianne happened to be one of them. I asked my agent if I had any power of casting and he said, Ďnoí, but Ridley called me up and asked me about working with Julianne Moore in Surviving Picasso and I described what she was like. I told him Iíd never met Helen Hunt or the other women he was considering and I told him how much I liked Julianne and told him how good she was in that film. Then to my secret delight, Dino called up and said it was Julianne! So then we turned up in Florence and did it!

How did it actually feel when you stepped back into that character of Hannibal?
There is a photo of me in the press kit standing by the canal or river, and that was the first day of shooting. I remember I went over to Ridley Scott and said, Ďthis is weird after all this time to be standing here as Hannibal Lecterí and he said, Ďyeah it must be weirdí and I remember that day, having to mail a letter and playing the piano on my first dayís filming and he films very fast. And lo and behold sometime later Iím sitting here and the film has been completed. That does interest me. The editing interests me and the scoring interests me. Iím very interested in the marketing of the movie but Iím not interested in the result. If I have a fascination for anything itís for the actual amazing process of putting a movie together; the computer graphics and all that. But the results are beyond me and have nothing to do with me. I do one job, which is speak the lines, show up and wear funny hats, kill a few people and then go home! But itís interesting how these genius editors come up with these great ideas. I was so shocked when I saw the filmís opening because it wasnít in the script. Then they decided they wanted to introduce Hannibal very early in the film but the story wouldnít let them so they introduced his mask, just to get the audience there. They are great psychologists, editors and directors.

At the end of the movie, there is a suggestion of another sequel. What do you think?
Iíd be too old to do another one! Especially if I have to wait for Thomas Harris to write another book. Dino De Laurentiis wants to remake the first book that introduced Hannibal, Red Dragon, in which Brian Cox played him in that movie. Dino is very persuasive and Ted Tally is going to write the script so maybe I will, maybe I wonít. I will have to wait and read the script.

Itís easy to understand why Hannibal generates horror or fear but itís more difficult to figure out why he generates such fascination? Have you thought about that?
The only thing I can think of is when you go on the roller coaster, you pay 75c or whatever it is to get a fright. You watch people on the roller coaster screaming and they get off at the end and they laugh. I remember seeing Spielbergís film Jaws during a matinee here in New York when it first came out and I thought it was funny and then everybody jumped out of their seat when the woman was chewed up. But it didnít mean to say that because we were all watching a woman getting eaten that we were all demented or sick. We go to watch a movie because itís like a false dream, a false reality and we give ourselves a fright there. I take it children like ghost stories and fairy tales about the old dark house and you always know what is going to happen. And thatís what Hannibal is about, giving yourself a fright.

What do you think about the debate that itís wrong for people to like Hannibal?
You canít take it all too seriously and be so intense about it. You can come up with all sorts of moralistic questions but either you like it or you donít. I donít know what all the fuss is about. Some people make a great big song and dance about it and I guess theyíve got a problem but if they like the movie, fine, if they donít, go home. Itís just like television; youíve got a choice - switch it off if you donít like it. So I donít know what the fascination is. Iím glad people are fascinated because itís given me some extra work and helps me pay the mortgage but in the end, itís only entertainment. Itís not brain surgery Ė no pun intended, really!!!

Do you think in some ways, Hannibalís behavior can be justified because he is knocking off people who deserve it?
Heís like Dirty Harry, Clint Eastwood. Clint is a wonderful actor. Is it morally right what he does, blowing people away with a Magnum? But people go and see it because like me I was fascinated with these movies and spaghetti westerns because he is an icon, he represents something, he delivers justice. Like Burt Lancaster in Lawman was called The Widow maker, because he comes in and kills all the bad guys. Lecter is a kind of dispenser of justice for the bad guy. After all he is really protecting the love of his life, Clarice, and anyone who messes with her is in big trouble. So he really is a dispenser of justice; a kind of raw, ugly justice, but he does it with relish.

The end of the book confirms the idea that evil beats out good and Clarice runs off with Hannibal. The end of the movie, on the other hand without giving too much away, is very different and does not let evil conquer at all. Which ending did you prefer?
I liked the end of the book and didnít have any problem with it. I think Jonathan Demme and Jodie Foster had a problem with that and that may have alerted the studio to start changing it. I liked the bookís ending and thought it would have been interesting if she had ended up with him because I donít think she is submitting to evil but submitting to another force. I told Ridley I didnít care what ending we shot, I didnít have any feeling about it. They did shoot another ending, a couple of them, and one where I gave her a long, lingering kiss and say goodbye and then another ending, the one youíve seen, which Thomas Harris wasnít happy with until heíd seen it a couple of times and finally bought it.

Itís interesting that you keep insisting that you just show up and say the lines yet we all know youíre a wonderful actor. What really happens when you get on a set and start acting?
I donít deliberately try to make light of it. I have a mixed feeling about acting because finally itís not anything more than just acting. Itís literally not that serious. I canít get involved in all the politics of acting. Maybe Iím stupid but when actors talk about acting on the Actorís Studio show, I wish I could be as clever as them but Iím not. I honestly donít know what Iím doing but I literally learn the lines and show up and do it. It works for me but it may be pretty shallow. I admired actors like Burt Lancaster and Robert Mitchum who made it all so simple. We live in such a high-tech age of computer and I took great delight in destroying my computer. It just kept letting me down and overheating and giving me wrong information so one day I just quietly snapped it in two and threw it away saying, Ďyouíre not going to dominate meí. We live in such a crazy age you canít even make a simple phone call anymore. I talked to an operator on the phone the other day and I said, Ďare you real or just a robotí and the same thing with acting. There are so many fears for the cinema and directors talking about other directors long dead and I donít honestly care about dead directors. Iím not trying to be clever or funny when I say that but I just show up and say the lines. It sounds like a cop-out but I honestly canít get involved with all the analysis of it.

Published February 15, 2001

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