Anthony Hopkins' Oscar®-winning portrayal of Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs earned the psychopathic psychiatrist a place in the hearts - and nightmares -- of millions. According to a recent Entertainment Weekly poll, Hopkins has made Lecter the most popular villain in movie history. "Only a handful of roles become a part of pop culture," noted producer Dino De Laurentiis, who has been making films for 60 years. "Hannibal is one of them. "
That fact was dramatically demonstrated again last year with the release of the film adaptation of Hannibal, the third novel in Harris' series. "Lecter is a character people want to see," observed producer Martha De Laurentiis. "And seeing Anthony Hopkins play Hannibal is irresistible. "
Screenwriter Ted Tally was actually a bit startled by the intensity of the audience's reaction to Lecter. "He is a mad man, he is a killer and he is a cannibal, completely without remorse or conscience," said the writer. "But people respond to him. They find him seductive. Also, I think there's a part of all of us that likes watching an anti-hero, someone who can get away with doing and saying things we could never get away with. "
Hopkins agrees. "What's so fascinating about Lecter," he said, "is that he is the dark side of every human being. Hannibal makes people face up to their lies and their shadows and the dark sides of themselves. "
Another aspect of the cinematic success of The Silence of the Lambs was the re-release of the novel Red Dragon. Author Thomas Harris wrote a new prologue for this edition, which suggested the roots of a relationship between Graham and Lecter. Although the novel had previously been adapted for film as Manhunter, Dino De Laurentiis wanted to get more of the novel onscreen and to restore the novel's ending in a new film adaptation. He was also eager to take advantage of Harris's new prologue - and to expand upon it.
"For the first time," said Dino De Laurentiis, "audiences get to see what Hannibal was doing before he was brought down, who brought him down and how!"
For Tally, the idea of adapting Red Dragon was both exhilarating and intimidating. "One of the attractions for me was the thought that here you have a trilogy of books about this striking character by Thomas Harris. When Dino asked me if I was interested, I thought yes, let's complete the trilogy with this great actor. "
And so the job began. "One of the first things we did," said Tally, "which Dino and Tom Harris both thought was important, was go back in time to the moment where Will Graham was attacked and create a feeling of a past relationship between him and Lecter.
"Hannibal Lecter is not an easy character to write," Tally continued. "He is so smart, so witty and so crazy that it is hard to go there imaginatively as the writer. It's a real challenge to write a character who is smarter than you, and he is much smarter than I am. "
Tally was also intent on giving the audience insight into the character of Francis Dolarhyde and the relationship between Dolarhyde and Reba McClane. "Dolaryhyde is a great creation by the novelist - a rich, strange character. "
Hopkins was initially doubtful about playing Hannibal a third time. "I wasn't quite sure," Hopkins admitted. But his hesitation disappeared when he learned that Tally was writing the script.
Tally's screenplay also attracted the attention of director Brett Ratner. After establishing himself with the action/comedy hits Rush Hour and Rush Hour 2 and the romantic comedy The Family Man, Ratner was eager to tackle a new genre and aggressively pursued Red Dragon with producers Dino and Martha De Laurentiis. "Brett was very convincing," said Martha De Laurentiis. "He brings a lot of spirit and a fresh energy and honesty to the material. And he's been able to face any situation - beginning with Dino!"
Dino De Laurentiis, winner of the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 2001, has produced such diverse films as Bitter Rice, War and Peace, The Nights of Cabiria, Barrabas, Death Wish, The Bible, Waterloo, Serpico, Three Days of the Condor, Ragtime, King Kong, The Bounty, Tai-Pan, Dune, Anzio and Conan the Barbarian. He received Academy Awards® for Best Foreign Language Film for La Strada and The Nights of the Cabiria; both films were directed by Federico Fellini. Collectively his films have received 30 Oscar® nominations and 59 foreign awards, most notably three Golden Lions, a Palme d'Or and three Golden Globes. With his wife Martha, he has produced such films as Crimes of the Heart, Bound, Breakdown and U-571.
He has also nurtured Thomas Harris' stories from the beginning and was determined to bring a truer representation of the book to this adaptation of Red Dragon.
The veteran producer and young director quickly found they had much in common. "Dino is instinctive, visceral and responds to people," said Ratner. "He's successful because he's a risk taker. "
Ratner was taking a risk, too. Although he was living his dream by making Red Dragon, he felt intense pressure every step of the way. "Making this movie is the hardest thing I have done in my life," he said. "Not only do I have to stand in line behind Michael Mann, Jonathan Demme and Ridley Scott, but I have an ensemble cast - each with a different method of working. "
Of course Ratner's not complaining about landing a dream cast. "Ted's brilliant adaptation of the book allowed me to get the people I wanted in every role. "
Ratner established rapport with his actors quickly, beginning with Hopkins. "Brett brings a lot of what Jonathan Demme brought, which was abundant enthusiasm and energy," the actor noted. "He does a lot of takes and I'm never happy with that -- it took me two to three days to get used to his style of working. He's like a hummingbird, all over the place, but he knows what he wants and he knows what he sees, so I trust him. Whether blessed or cursed with great energy, I think that is what he brings to this project. He's a real filmmaker. "
The director's grasp of the material and his perception of who Lecter was at this point in his life reinforced the actor's trust. "Brett realized we weren't going to reinvent the wheel," said Hopkins. "Hannibal is who he is, and Brett understood this. "
Or as Ratner put it: "Hannibal is the same guy in Red Dragon that he is in The Silence of the Lambs, but at a different time in his life - at the beginning of his incarceration. He has yet to find the level of stillness he may have had in Silence. At this point, he is more intense, more insane and much angrier. "
Lecter had always been a charming man, but that charm was often deadly. Behind bars, he is a caged tiger - cunning, dangerous and sick of suffering fools. His hunting skills are intact - he knows when to pounce, where to strike and how to mortally wound. He is hungry for flattery, vengeance and a worthy opponent. If he decides to help Will Graham, the FBI investigator who put him behind bars, he will extract a price.
Ratner knew that the role of Graham demanded an actor who could stand toe-to-toe with Hopkins. As Ratner saw it, "You have Hannibal on one side of the cell and Graham on the other side, each simultaneously hating and admiring the other. "
He found his Graham in Edward Norton, an Academy Award® nominee for his performances as a neo-Nazi in American History X and as the mentally disturbed defendant in Primal Fear. "I was overjoyed," said Hopkins. "He's quite a stunning actor. "
Norton was intrigued by many aspects of the assignment, particularly Tally's depiction of the relationship between Hannibal and Graham. "You could say that Will Graham is in the Clarice Starling seat," said Norton, "but he's not the novice that she was - he's not out of his league with Lecter. Their mutual hatred coexists with a great deal of intellectual and professional admiration. Despite the fact that they have become each other's nemesis, they have a bizarre kind of personal affection for each other. "
Casting the part of Jack Crawford, Graham's long-time friend and the FBI's chief investigator on the Tooth Fairy case, was an easy call for Ratner. "I went to Quantico to see some of the guys who do what Crawford does," said Ratner, "and there were maybe four or five Harvey Keitels there. I couldn't see anyone else doing it. Harvey breathed life into this character. He made this his own. "
Serial killer Francis Dolarhyde occupies the third side of Red Dragon's tense triangle, linking Lecter and Graham. Obsessed with visionary British artist and poet William Blake's illustrated Auguries of Innocence, Dolarhyde is consumed by the concept of transformation - as he "transforms" his victims, he, too, is transformed. He knows Lecter would understand what he sees when he looks in the mirror - someone who was once a man but is now becoming something more. The tabloid press may call him The Tooth Fairy, but he knows the killer inside himself as The Red Dragon.
Ralph Fiennes, who received Academy Award® nominations for his portrayal of SS Commandant Amon Goeth in Schindler's List and the mortally wounded pilot in The English Patient, portrays the tormented killer.
"Dolarhyde is a multifaceted character," said Martha De Laurentiis. "Ruined from years of humiliation at the hands of his grandmother, he is constantly fighting an internal battle between himself/Dolarhyde and the Red Dragon. "
The filmmakers wanted the audience to witness this struggle. "Because you understand what caused Dolarhyde's insanity and how he came to be a killer," said Ratner, "you can empathize with him. "
The character who most clearly sees and touches the human side of Dolarhyde is the blind woman, Reba McClane, portrayed by Emily Watson. "You want these two to find each other," said Martha De Laurentiis. "She has a tremendous handicap, as does he, although his is more internal. Part of Red Dragon is watching this process unfold. "
Although Reba recognizes something in her friend "D" that others don't see, she is literally blind to another part of him. "Reba can't see him," said Fiennes. "To her, he is this shy, silent presence, and she is trying to make feel more relaxed and confident. But the audience knows he is something else. "
Her impact on Dolarhyde is enormous. "This girl offers him something he can't articulate emotionally or rationally," said Fiennes. Under her influence, he tries to forsake the force that has been driving him deeper into the insanity of the Red Dragon persona.
It was this transformation that ignited Ratner's passion for the project. "When I got to this point in the script, I knew I had to direct the movie," he recalled. "The fact that Dolarhyde had the strength to try and rid himself of the Dragon for Reba is incredibly powerful. "
Along with Ratner and his stellar cast, Red Dragon attracted an exceptional production team, including cinematographer Dante Spinotti and production designer Kristi Zea. As production designer and second unit director on The Silence of the Lambs, Zea brought an intimate knowledge of Hannibal Lecter and his surroundings to Red Dragon. Following the release of The Silence of the Lambs, her designs for Lecter's cell were donated to the American Museum of Moving Image in New York. The filmmakers retrieved the plans to recreate the cell for Red Dragon. "If you're going to bring Anthony Hopkins back as Hannibal Lecter," said Zea, "you'd better be consistent with the cell. "
Zea's sets for Red Dragon helped forge a link to Lecter's past. She designed the interior of his home after studying pictures of Sigmund Freud's living space. But it's still distinctively Lecter's. The character's impressive collection of art and antiques is punctuated by a floral arrangement made of eggplant, blood oranges and fava beans.
Like Zea, Academy Award®-nominated director of photography Dante Spinotti had also worked with Ratner before. "Brett likes to shoot movies in a traditional style, placing the focus on the actor's faces," said Spinotti. "Red Dragon is a story told through the power and energy of the acting and I didn't want to detract from that. "
Spinott also had previous experience with the Lecter character. The Italian-born cinematographer's career in American film began when Dino De Laurentiis hired him in 1986 to shoot Manhunter. When the opportunity arose to shoot another film adapted from the same source material, Spinotti was ready. "Manet, Monet - I can't remember which one - they painted the same picture 18 times," he said. "Manhunter was one movie; Red Dragon is a very different film. Every movie speaks a different language. "
Dino De Laurentiis described the language of Red Dragon another way: "There was an image that Thomas Harris mentioned to me that I thought was so important. He said, 'As I was writing this book, I was walking on the beach one afternoon. I was looking out over this crystal clear ocean, and it was turquoise and beautiful. Then, suddenly, I saw a great agitation in the middle of the ocean - in the distance, but close enough that I could actually see that something was eating something else. And that is like this story,' Thomas said to me. 'Everything is fine on the surface, and underneath, it's all this carnage. '"