Hannibal's Coming to Dinner Again


Wednesday, February 7th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


NEW YORK (AP) — Imagine that your favorite restaurant has reopened under new management. The cuisine is different, the hostess unfamiliar and the decor a little exotic.

You miss the old place, until you notice that the same old chef is behind the stove, simmering and grilling, and your favorite waiter ambles over with a crooked smile.

Now it might seem rude to flee.

In a similar way, the producers of ``Hannibal'' also hope you'll stay.

Their sequel to ``The Silence of the Lambs'' has a new director, screenwriter and female lead, but they hope you'll sample the fare nonetheless.

This time, director Jonathan Demme, screenwriter Ted Tally and Jodie Foster are out. Replacing them are director Ridley Scott, screenwriters Steven Zaillian and David Mamet, and Julianne Moore as FBI agent Clarice Starling.

But two key ingredients remain: Thomas Harris, who provided a new menu with his best-selling follow-up novel, and Anthony Hopkins, who's back for another feast as the urbane cannibal, Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

``I know the expectations of the audience,'' says Hopkins, who won the 1991 best-actor Academy Award for playing Lecter and sent theatergoers into the night making fava bean and Chianti jokes.

``I did make a conscious decision not to repeat the same tricks of 'The Silence of the Lambs' — to introduce bits and pieces of his character, but not to go on playing the same old, 'Ahhh, Clarice ...''' he says, momentarily slipping into character.

Moore, on the other hand, faced a different dilemma. Her character had already been broken in by another actress who had done such a good job that she'd also been rewarded with an Oscar.

``My biggest concern always, whenever I take any kind of role, is am I going to be able to do the part justice?'' Moore says. ``That was particularly the case with this, because it was played to perfection by Jodie Foster.''

Two others who weren't in the original also grabbed meaty parts: Gary Oldman, as a former victim of Lecter's, and Ray Liotta, who plays Starling's boss.

Liotta got the job after buttonholing the director outside a Los Angeles gym.

``To work with Anthony Hopkins playing this part is like working with Martin Scorsese doing a Mafia movie,'' says Liotta, who starred in Scorsese's mobster masterpiece ``Goodfellas.'' ``It's their forte. What can be better than that?''

The new $80 million movie begins 10 years after Starling and Lecter last battled wits. He's laying low in Italy, while she is souring on the FBI and its bureaucracy.

But as the title implies, this time there can be no doubt who the real star is, says Dino De Laurentiis, who produced the film with his wife, Martha, and Scott. The monster is front and center.

``When people ask me, 'Dino, this is the sequel of 'The Silence of the Lambs' — I say, 'You're wrong!' This has nothing to do with 'The Silence of the Lambs,' except for the same character.''

The De Laurentiises owned the screen rights to Harris' work and would fly to Miami every few months to nudge Harris along as he wrote ``Hannibal.''

Another six months, he would tell them. Years would past.

Finally, in 1999, Harris called. ``Dino, I did it!''

Only one sticking point remained: the ending. Apparently only Harris liked the idea of Starling and Lecter, once wary foes, now falling in love and sharing a decidedly non-vegetarian meal.

With Harris' permission, the movie's ending was altered. The producers then scrambled to get a new team together as defections mounted. Yet even without Foster, Hopkins was happy to reprise his role.

``I got the message that she wasn't going to do it,'' he says. ``I had a hunch that she wouldn't. I don't know Jodie that well, but she has an integrity about her life and whatever decision was made I'm sure was made for the best reason. My only reaction was, 'Oh. OK.' So I let the others worry about it.''

Usually, sequels to big moneymakers stink. But even skeptics can point to a few that surpassed their originals. (Think of ``The Godfather Part II,'' ``Aliens,'' and ``Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.'')

And, to be completely accurate, ``Hannibal'' isn't the second film to feature Lecter chewing up the scenery: That's ``The Silence of the Lambs.'' Hannibal actually made his debut in Michael Mann's 1986 ``Manhunter,'' played by Brian Cox.

Such technicalities didn't make it any easier for Moore, the Oscar-nominated actress of ``The End of the Affair'' and ``Boogie Nights.'' Could she play Starling, the feisty West Virginian ``not more than one generation from poor white trash''?

``You just have to apply yourself and try to do your best,'' Moore says. ``All I can do is do my job, which is start from ground zero and figure out where to go with it, like any other movie.

``It's not like we did a remake of 'The Silence of the Lambs' and Ridley and I stepped into it,'' she adds. ``I think because it's been 10 years, I didn't feel like it was No. 1 and No. 2. I think we felt they were very separate movies.''

Fans tend to agree.

Chris Stiles, a 21-year-old student in Reseda, Calif., has hungrily followed developments along with other self-described Lecterphiles.

``I'm guessing the changes will just make the movie more of a roller-coaster ride,'' says Stiles, who runs a Web site called Hannibal's Palace. ``I'm a fan but this movie comes up a lot, at work and school and stuff. People want to see it.''

Moore thinks she knows why — and it isn't to watch her character.

``For one reason or another, Lecter has resonated with the public. It may have less to do with the actor and this character than with this character and the public,'' she says.

``Actors are there for the audience to project their self onto the screen. Audiences don't go to see actors — they go to see themselves. And he's the monster we wish we could be.''

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On the Net:

Official site: http://www.hannibalmovie.com

Hannibal's Palace: http://www.geocities.com/hannibalspalace

Loving Lecter: http://mischanet.net/llf—main.html

A Pound of Flesh: http://listen.to/lecter