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How Anthony Hopkins Created And Became The Character Of Hannibal Lecter

Mark McGowan

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How Anthony Hopkins Created And Became The Character Of Hannibal Lecter

Anthony Hopkins is a highly celebrated actor in the world of film, and has the accolades to prove why he's so popular.

Back in 1991 he produced what many consider to be his seminal role - portraying Dr Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs.

Those who have seen the movie will know that it's a superb film, and often you find yourself running out of superlatives to describe just how and why it is so good.

Credit: Orion Pictures

Of course, to make his role as the psychotic cannibal convincing, it was going to take a bit more than simply memorising the lines and putting on a slightly creepy voice.

As soon as Hopkins read the script he had a vague idea in his head as to how the doctor would act, what he'd look like, how he should speak, and what he should wear.

"I read the script - and - boom! - I knew intuitively how to play him," he told Empire Online. "I knew how he looked and how he sounded."

Firstly, he imagined that Lecter would be made up of three people, a combination of Katharine Hepburn, Truman Capote and HAL from 2001: Space Odyssey.

Hepburn, a legendary actress, was outspoken and assertive, yet remained fairly mysterious due to distancing herself from the celebrity lifestyle. Capote was an author who was addicted to drugs and alcohol, but was very much a recluse, despite being in various relationships. His lover, Jack Dunphy, claimed they both lived different lives at different times. He also had distinctive yet odd vocal mannerisms, which undoubtedly had an impact on Lecter's character.

Finally, Hal, or HAL 9000, or even Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic Computer, was the final piece of Hopkins' puzzle, but was arguably the most important. Obviously there are no physical traits that can be compared, given that one is a computer, but Hal's soft, yet spine-chilling, macabre voice is one that you could imagine saying: "Good evening, Clarice."

Hal's voice. Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

With regards to Lecter's physical appearance and clothes, it was a mixture of Jonathan Demme, the director, and the legendary actor's input.

"In terms of his physical appearance, it was Jonathan's idea that he be pale and he convinced me to stay out of the sun," Hopkins said. "It was my idea to give him dark, slicked-back hair. I also wanted him to wear a very tight prison uniform. That would suggest total control. After my first make-up session, I went to the mirror and thought - 'this is it'."

Following the success of The Silence of the Lambs, Hopkins would reprise his role as Lecter in the sequel, Hannibal, and the prequel, Red Dragon. Neither film was as successful as the original but there's no doubting that the character remains as hair-raising as ever.

Featured image credit: Orion Pictures

Mark McGowan
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