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A conversation with a cannibal

How a bright young man transforms into a vicious killer with an appetite for human flesh is the premise behind Hannibal Rising, the newest film in the ongoing chronicles of Hannibal Lecter. A prequel to the trilogy of films which starred Anthony Hopkins as suave serial killer Lecter, Hannibal Rising, which opens today, features up and coming French actor Gaspard Ulliel in the role of young Hannibal. Recently, the 22-year-old actor discussed the film with college newspapers across the nation.

The Oracle: Would you be willing to reprise the role of Hannibal Lecter in another film, and have there been any talks to that effect?

Gaspard Ulliel: Well, for the moment, no. I’ve never heard of such a thing, but in this film, I think the ending is kind of open for another film eventually. The producers never talked about this to me for the moment. I think it is up to Thomas Harris. If he is willing to write another book, we might do another film, and of course, I would love to work again on this character because it’s such a great role, such a complex and deep character. I would love to keep working on this guy, but then it depends on the script, the director, and the other actors. I can’t really tell, but the main idea of working again as Hannibal Lecter is very appealing to me.

The Oracle: How involved was Thomas Harris (author of the novels and screenwriter of Hannibal Rising) during production, and did he offer any advice on your performance?

GU: Unfortunately, no. I never met him. I never talked to him, even over the phone. He is kind of a secret man that likes to stay at home. I think he never gave any interviews during his whole career. So the only link I had with him is – it’s kind of a cute story – is a piece of paper that he passed to me through the producers of the film with just a few lines on the nature of this character, and he asked me to keep it a secret. It’s just something that he wrote a long time ago when he was writing the first novel. This paper was passed on to Anthony Hopkins as well. It was a nice thing to have, this small text about the character, and I felt that was very helpful. I know the director met Thomas Harris twice, but that’s it.

The Oracle: Were you a fan of the Hannibal Lecter series before being cast in the film, and which is your favorite Hannibal Lecter story?

GU: Well, when they came to me with this project, at that time I had only seen Manhunter (in which Brian Cox played Lecter) from Michael Mann and The Silence of the Lambs from Jonathan Demme. I hadn’t read any of the novels, and then, of course, I read all the novels and watched all the films. I think my favorite novel is Red Dragon and my favorite film is The Silence of the Lambs. I really like Manhunter, too, but I think for me, the best of all is The Silence of the Lambs.

The Guardian: What was it like stepping into the role of Hannibal Lecter?

GU: Well, a bit scary, of course, because coming after Anthony Hopkins in such an iconic role is not an easy thing. And of course, for a French actor like me, it was a bit frightening to go on that role. You know, when I did the audition with the director, Peter Webber, we worked for two hours on two different scenes of the film, and I could see that he would help me throughout the whole experience. I was feeling very confident with him. Also, it can be funny to say this, but working just two hours on this character was very addictive. I just wanted to keep going.

The Guardian: Is there anything in particular that you hope audiences get from this movie?

GU: I hope they’ll just have a lot of fun. Also, I think some people might feel some different feelings for this character, new feelings that they didn’t have in the previous films. I don’t think it’s a message film, but still we can try to maybe compare some themes in the film to recent events and to our daily lives. I think that this movie clearly shows that violence leads to violence, and this character is not making the right choice by seeking revenge like this. I think he just kills his own humanity. The director, Peter Webber, likes to compare this film to what happens in the Middle East today. He says that when we turn on the TV, we can see on CNN all these violent images and all this human blood and flesh, and so this is a kind of his response to this.

The Diamondback: Was Anthony Hopkins your inspiration for this character, or did you try to make him your own?

GU: Well, obviously, I knew that there would be a lot of people looking for some similarities with Anthony Hopkins’ performance and Anthony Hopkins’ character. We discussed a lot about this with the director of the film, and we agreed to say that this one is very different. It’s another story, taking place in a different time in a different country, and the character is much younger. He hasn’t experienced all the killings and the prison yet so he could be very different. I think this character is way more na’ve and innocent in a way. So I think I was kind of free to create my own character, my own Hannibal Lecter, and I still tried to pick a few details in Anthony Hopkins’ performance – especially in The Silence of the Lambs – and mix them to my own recipe to make my own character.