Anthony Hopkins reprises his Oscar® - winning role as Dr. Hannibal Lecter, and two-time Academy Award® nominee Julianne Moore joins him in the part of Special Agent Clarice M. Starling.
Ray Liotta (Goodfellas (1990), Field of Dreams (1989)) stars as Justice Department official Paul Krendler who is drawn into Verger's vengeful scheme with promises of money and power.
Directed by Ridley Scott (Blade Runner (1982), Jeffrey Tambor, Gladiator (2000)), produced by Ridley Scott and Dino De Laurentiis and Martha De Laurentiis (U-571 (2000), Breakdown (1997)) and written for the screen by David Mamet and Academy Award® winner Steven Zaillian (Schindler's List (1993)), Hannibal is Thomas Harris' third novel featuring the fearsome Lecter.
Scott who is known for his ground-breaking originality in such films as Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982) and Gladiator (2000) has been asked to direct other sequels - including the Alien series - but has never done so. However, he hasn't shied away simply because they were sequels.
"I'm a hunter of great material that provides me the opportunity to work with great people in every category," says Scott. "It's then my job to put my own interpretation to it and make it something unique. I've never been afraid of doing a sequel. I've just not had that combination of great material and talent that might have compelled me to do one before this."
"If this film comes up to the level of Silence of the Lambs, The (1991) I'll be very happy. But I'm very competitive, so it might even be more interesting than its predecessor. Certainly it will have its own unique style and tone."
"I've worked with so many important directors over the years, Fellini, Bergman, Milos Forman, I don't even remember them all," declares Dino De Laurentiis. "Ridley is a genius. He reminds me sometimes of Fellini because they both get a script in their hand, and create something new in every shot. There are two ways to make a movie: you make the movie like the script, shot by shot, putting together what is on the page. Or you create, day by day, a movie that is inspiration. That is what Fellini did in his time. That is what Ridley Scott does."
There were two elements that hooked Scott to make this his follow-up project to the enormously successful Gladiator (2000).
"Like all other filmmakers, one is always looking for a good story," the director explains. "When Dino and Martha gave me the novel, I was involved in shooting a big movie. I didn't think I'd have time to read a 600-page manuscript. But I read it in three sittings. I just loved the density of the story and the characters. I liked the fact that it not only takes place ten years later, but it was written ten years later and therefore it feels like something that's totally distinct from its predecessor."
The other element that was indispensable in piquing Scott's interest was the presence of one of the world's most highly regarded actors in the title role.
"I'd wanted to work with Anthony Hopkins for a long time," says Scott. "And of course, he created this character; he won the Academy Award® for playing Hannibal Lecter. I'd always felt there was a lot more to Lecter that couldn't really be gotten into in Silence because it didn't serve the story. The novel Hannibal confirmed that. The opportunity to catch up to him a decade later and explore this unmapped territory was very interesting to me."
Hopkins was equally interested in re-visiting the character - though he had been hearing about a sequel for so long that he wasn't sure if it was ever going to happen.
"For years people were talking about a sequel and I'd say, 'I'll believe it when I'm standing in front of the camera,'" relates Hopkins. "Then about a year or two ago, I was told that Thomas Harris was writing the book. But for whatever reason Jonathan Demme decided not to do it and I didn't think much more about it. When I heard that Ridley was doing it, I thought that was wonderful."
"Then Jodie Foster decided not to do it. When Dino told me about all the female stars that they were considering for the role of Starling, the name that stuck out was Julianne Moore . I don't have any power in casting but when her name was mentioned, my immediate reaction was, 'For my money, I think she's the perfect one for this part.' Then a few days later, Ridley called me and told me he'd cast her. And we were off and running."
For two-time Academy Award® nominee Moore, playing the character for which Jodie Foster won an Oscar® in Silence of the Lambs, The (1991) was a challenge she relished and she was undaunted by the inevitable comparisons.
"It's a great opportunity and I'm delighted to have been given it," says Moore. "Jodie Foster gave a brilliant performance in a really wonderful movie. But this is a different movie. The last time we saw Clarice Starling she was still a student. Now, she's a ten-year veteran of the FBI. So, that gives me a different place to start interpreting the character. She is quite a different person at this point in her life."
Other major stars were subsequently cast, including Ray Liotta as corrupt Justice Department official Paul Krendler and Italian screen legend Giancarlo Giannini as the opportunistic Detective Pazzi. International film star Francesca Neri won the role of Pazzi's wife, Allegra. And Frankie R. Faison signed on to reprise his role as former hospital orderly, Barney.
Scott recruited key crew with whom he has worked throughout the years. Among these were associate producer and first assistant director Terry Needham (Gladiator (2000), G.I. Jane (1997), White Squall (1996), 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992)), production designer Norris Spencer (Thelma & Louise (1991), Black Rain (1989), 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992), cinematographer John Mathieson (Gladiator (2000)), editor Pietro Scalia (Gladiator (2000), G.I. Jane (1997)) and composer Hans Zimmer (Gladiator (2000), Thelma & Louise (1991)).
"This movie had almost a hundred locations and it was a constant pain of moving and preparing and dressing sets," recalls producer Martha De Laurentiis. "But the locations were beautiful. Who could complain about being allowed to shoot in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence? Or President James Madison's farm in Montpelier or the amazing Biltmore Estate in Asheville?"
The film began production in Florence, Italy on May 8th, followed by various locations around Washington D.C., Richmond, Virginia and North Carolina.
"The whole second act takes place in Florence," says Scott. "I'd never actually filmed there before. It was really quite an experience. It was kind of organized chaos - traffic control was difficult and we were there at the height of tourist season. But the city was very atmospheric. And it was the perfect home-in-exile for Hannibal."
The first location in Florence was the Palazzo Capponi. One of the scenes there featured Hannibal, who is living under the identity of Dr. Fell, playing the grand piano in his apartment.
"It was a wonderful example of how flexible and open to suggestion Ridley was throughout the production," says Hopkins. "The first day, I had to play the piano and while the cameras were setting up, I was just fooling around, playing some of my own music, some music I'd composed. Ridley came over, made a comment that he liked it. And when it came time for the cameras to roll, he just got up, said 'Okay, good luck,' and that was it. That was the music Hannibal played."
Music would come into play in another scene filmed in Florence. In a courtyard adjacent to the famed Santa Croce, the production company staged an original opera.
Composer Hans Zimmer had hired a man whose talent he'd long admired, Patrick Cassidy, to come up with some original music for the less-than-five-minute opera. What Cassidy came up with was a piece called "Dante's Vita Nova."
"It was one of the most beautifully staged scenes I've ever been involved with," says Martha De Laurentiis. "It was pure pageantry. We had a choreographer named Joseph Rochlitz who created an original dance sequence for the dramatic death scene of Dante. The opera had to look like something special because a point is made in our story about how expensive and difficult to obtain the tickets were."
"Initially, we thought we would only have a few dozen extras in tuxedos and evening dress because the main shots in the scene were a pair of closeups and a shot across a small section of the audience. But at the last minute, Ridley - quite correctly - realized he needed to open it up. So, we had to scramble to hire as many local extras as we could find - people who had their own formal eveningwear. When it was all lit up, with a big formally-dressed audience, the stage draped with silk, the dancers, the vocalists, it was nothing short of amazing."
Another amazing thing was the coincidence they discovered when they selected this courtyard as the site on which they would film.
"Ironically, the courtyard next to Santa Croce had been the chapel of the Pazzi Family in the 15th or 16th Century," recalls Scott. "The Pazzi Family had organized the assassination of one of the Medicis on the steps of this chapel."
"I had no idea this was the history of the place when we saw it. I walked in and said, 'Wow, this is a good place to have the opera' and the guy who was guiding us said, 'Well, this is called the Pazzi Chapel.'"
The production moved to various other Florence landmarks, including:
* The Ponte Vecchio - Florence’s oldest bridge and home to some of the world’s finest jewelry shops.
* The Palazzo Vecchio - The seat of Florentine government for nearly a thousand years and a monument to the rule of the Medici family whose patronage led Florence to become the leader of the European Renaissance.
* The Pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella - one of the oldest perfumery-pharmacies in the world, established in 1221.
* Il Duomo - an architectural marvel, this dome-shaped cathedral dominates the central part of the city. Its construction was completed in1436.
The production finished in Florence, shooting a night scene in the Mercato Nuovo filled with colorfully dressed African vendors and an array of leather goods, fabrics and souvenirs. This is one of the most popular places for tourists to shop downtown. It is also home to the famed statue Il Porcellino, the wild boar that, legend has it, can insure a return to Florence by rubbing his nose. It was this pig that, contemporary legend has it, inspired Thomas Harris to introduce one of the most frightening elements in the novel.
Cast and crew left Italy on June 6 and flew to Washington, D.C. Filming took place there over the next six days at Union Station, which, in addition to being a major transportation hub, is a popular shopping plaza. However, the set contained a couple of things that regular D.C. commuters were not used to seeing.
"Ridley wanted a carousel in the scene," recalls production designer Norris Spencer. "So we found one, took it apart and reassembled it at one end of the main floor at Union Station. At the other end of the main floor was something that had not been there when we originally scouted this location: a 30-foot high replica of a dinosaur skeleton. We probably could have shot around it but when Ridley saw it, he rather liked it. So, we incorporated it into the movie."
Tyrannosaurus Sue, the largest dinosaur of its kind ever found, makes her movie debut as a natural history exhibit in Hannibal.
"It was actually quite useful," relates Scott. "There was a nice touch of irony in having Hannibal standing right next to this savage prehistoric predator as he is talking to Clarice on his cellular phone while she's looking all around, trying to see where he is in this vast auditorium."
The production moved to Richmond, Virginia where seven weeks of shooting would take place. Among the key scenes filmed there was a shootout in which Starling and her FBI cohorts attempt to apprehend a lethal gangster in the middle of a crowded fish market.
For this scene, Moore drew upon some of the FBI training she received at the bureau's headquarters, south of Richmond, in Quantico, Virginia, prior to starting filming.
"This movie was the first time I actually had to fire a gun and look like I knew what I was doing," says Moore. "At Quantico, I worked with an FBI agent named Melissa Thomas. I learned the slightly bent-forward stance they use and how to shoot two-handed. There's a very particular way they train. I also learned situational responses and went through other kinds of tactical conditioning."
From Richmond, the company moved to Montpelier, Virginia where a barn on the estate of President James Madison was used to house 15 performing hogs.
"We picked these out of about 6,000 pigs that we'd looked at because they were the biggest of this breed," says animal wrangler Sled Reynolds. "They're Russian boars and we found ours at a farm in Winnipeg. We have three who are trained to attack - not really to bite but to grab and toss. And these guys are strong."
The first time stunt coordinator Phil Neilson got in there with them, he anticipated having to do a little more performing than turned out to be necessary.
"I was all padded up and I layed down, kinda half expecting I'd have to push off with my foot or something to make it look good," says Neilson. "Well, I weigh about 250 and that boar grabbed me and tossed me about six feet in the air like I was a stuffed toy. The next time I went in with the heavier metal padding."
From Montpelier, the company made the last leg of its journey to Asheville, North Carolina - home of the largest private home in North America, the Biltmore Estate.
This privately owned mansion, on which George Vanderbilt - heir of the railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt - began construction in 1889 took six years to complete. With its 8,000 acres of forests and gardens, the Biltmore Estate has grown into one of the region's most popular tourist attractions, welcoming nearly a million guests a year. For purposes of the film, the library and tapestry rooms were closed to the public and transformed into the estate of Mason Verger.
"When it came time to find an appropriate house for Mason Verger, who was from a family of great wealth, I remembered the Biltmore estate," says Scott. "I had seen it before with a view towards doing a project called RKO 281 which involved William Randolph Hearst. There was a similarity in sheer scale between Verger's place and Hearst's Castle - 'Xanadu,' as it was called in the Orson Welles' movie. And it was a wonderful place to film."
The interior was suitably daunting to convey Verger's wealth and the grounds were spacious enough to serve for most of the exterior driving shots. Filming was completed after a few days of exterior scenes around the lavish grounds on August 25.
When Thomas Harris began the long-anticipated book that would become Hannibal, he kept it so secret that even producers Martha De Laurentiis and Dino De Laurentiis, were kept from knowing any details while the author summoned his dark creation from that part of the imagination in which it had been incubating for nearly a decade.
"Every six months or so, Dino or I would pick up the phone and call Tom," recalls Martha De Laurentiis. "We'd ask, 'How's it going? Do you have any idea when the book is going to be delivered?' We, obviously, knew all along he was writing this sequel. But Tom keeps very much to himself during this process. He's very much a 'closed set.'"
"So, we'd keep guessing where he was in the process - and where Hannibal was going - from where Tom was in the world. He'd rent an apartment in Paris and we'd wonder, 'Hmm, is that where Hannibal is - or did Tom just go there to get a change of scenery to continue his writing? We were like FBI agents trying to find clues."
They finally learned that Harris had given Hannibal a home in one of his own most beloved cities, Florence. When the book was finally published in July 1999, the world was treated to a glimpse of not only the beauty and culture of Florence - but also its traditions of blood-letting and betrayal. And, of course, all these elements were indigenous to the character Anthony Hopkins embodies on screen.
"In Florence, I wanted to play him as a man who's bored by his retirement from public life," says Hopkins. "He's a little world-weary. Then, suddenly, he hears that they're after him again, and he thinks, 'Good. Back into action.'"
The international appeal of so magnificent a menace has known no modern equivalent. Perhaps not since the genius of Shelly or Stoker brought the undead to life has so terrifying, yet magnetic a monster appeared in literature.
"We like Hannibal Lecter because, like a contemporary Nosferatu, he is essentially charming and seductive at the same time he is terrifying us," says Scott. "As with all the great monsters of literature, there is a perverse curiosity that makes us want to know what makes them tick. Hannibal's appeal is less mystical than some of these others. He exists and functions in our lives - which makes him all the more frightening. With Hannibal, there is a strong possibility he is walking on the street right next to you."
In his Academy Award®-winning turn in Silence of the Lambs, The (1991), Hopkins found the key that unlocked just enough of the murky secrets in this character that audiences couldn't wait to experience more. The actor believes that there are qualities in Hannibal that are universally identifiable.
"I suppose Jungian psychoanalysts would say it's the shadow that we have in all of us," muses Hopkins. "Or maybe it's his certainty, his calmness that we probably envy. Some of the most colorful figures in classical literature, Iago, Richard III, Faust have those qualities. They're so brilliant. They have no doubts. They have no uncertainty. That's what makes them charismatic: they're always in control."
For an actor to hand over control to a director, their relationship must be founded on trust and respect. There was an abundance of both between the veterans on this movie.
"Anthony is one of those intuitive natural talents who seems to keep forever growing in his capabilities, which makes working with him a real pleasure," explains Scott. "And Tony truly understands this character. There is a very sensitive comprehension and even compassion toward human nature in Hannibal that makes him both more sympathetic and more dangerous. Tony instinctively grasps that."
There was never a question of who would play Dr. Lecter. There was, however, a big question about who would play Clarice Starling. Scott knew the type of woman he was looking for and he found it in Julianne Moore.
"When you meet an actor who is as capable and talented as Julianne, it is a great find," says Scott. "Every move she makes is a constant surprise. This is what directors hope and pray for. She had the honesty, sincerity and strength of character that I was looking for in Starling. I knew almost immediately she would be wonderful in this role."
Like Hopkins, Moore praised her director's confident, collaborative style. She also delighted in the discovery that Scott's approach to filming Hannibal was never predictable.
"Ridley's incredibly detail-oriented in knowing precisely where he wants every item in a room to appear in his frame," says Moore. "But working with actors, he gives you a lot of creative liberty. There were a million different tones in this movie. One day we'd be doing stuff that's action-oriented. Another week we'd do an intense interview scene, like with Frankie R. Faison or someone. Then Ridley would move us into something tense and suspenseful. It was a big challenge but that constant changing of pace also made it a lot of fun."
The relationship that had its seed in Silence of the Lambs, The (1991) comes to full flower in Hannibal and Moore understood the duality of her character's feelings about it.
"Lecter has a sort of admiration for her because she is so steadfast in her pursuit of him," the actress explains. "And she has a real respect for him, what a dangerous person he truly is, so, the courage of her pursuit is even more admirable. But her strict sense of right and wrong, compels her to, at one point, become his protector. This intense morality may even be what makes her most appealing to him."
Morality has no place on the agendas of the two characters who force Starling into an unusual alliance with the criminal she is trying to capture.
"My character, Paul Krendler, works for the Justice Department but he's collaborating with Verger to lure Hannibal out through Starling," says Ray Liotta. "If she's in distress, maybe Lecter will come to her rescue. So, I'm the guy who gives her distress; I make her life miserable. And Hannibal doesn't like that very much."
In Krendler's final confrontation with Hannibal, Liotta confronts an actor's dilemma.
"In most scenes, you can relate to something, some emotion, some experience, that helps you through it," he explains. "But this one scene is total imagination. That's where it's comforting to know you have a great director, where you really feel like you could just fall back and whatever you do, you know you're in good hands."
Scott has taken actors through unusual tours of the imagination before: Harrison Ford falling in love with an android in Blade Runner (1982), aliens emerging from actors' abdomens in Alien (1979), even a suicide pact as a final adventure in Thelma & Louise (1991). For him, the movie is always about surprises. And he saw something that surprised and delighted him in Hannibal.
"The film incorporates, as does the novel, a lot of wit," Scott says. "That's what really attracted me to the book. It wasn't just a story about darkness and detective work. It has some very humorous characters and situations."
While the darkly comic aspects of the book had an appeal for him, Scott is quick to note that the relationships between characters are what make a story work.
"In Silence, one of the strong underpinnings that emerged during the story was the growing respect and civilized exchange between two human beings who couldn't have been farther apart in terms of their positions in life - that is to say, serial killer and FBI agent," Scott concludes. "In a strange way, there's a parallel between these two beings in that they are both superb practitioners of their businesses and both are lone wolves, without significant relationships in their lives. Because of these similarities, I get a feeling of kindred spirits. And that dynamic is what fascinates me."