Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter Will Always Be The Greatest Villain
‘A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans, and a nice chianti.’
There are very few villains who can be so easily recognised by a single line, and even fewer whose recognisable sound could both excite you and send shivers down your spine.
Sir Anthony Hopkins has played many roles during his impressive career, but he will forever be best known for his iconic portrayal of cannibalistic serial killer Dr Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, and later in Hannibal and Red Dragon.
The Oscar-winning actor has inspired generation after generation of villains in the three decades that have passed since his first appearance as the enigmatic killer, from the calm chaos of Heath Ledger’s Joker, to the elite femme fatale Amy Dunne in Gone Girl.
As soon as Hopkins read the script for the 1991 cult classic, he ‘knew intuitively’ how to play Dr Lecter.
‘I knew how he looked and sounded,’ he told Empire Online in 2014.
Hopkins took influence from three unlikely people, to put together the eerily charming character that is Hannibal; Katherine Hepburn, Truman Capote and HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Perhaps the most surprising of them all is Hepburn, the iconic American actress who was famed for being simultaneously headstrong and sophisticated. She was outspoken in her views, but didn’t adhere to the celebrity lifestyle that came with being a Hollywood actor, and so she remained somewhat mysterious to her fans.
Meanwhile, Hopkins took vocal mannerisms from Capote, who was a reclusive author, famed for titles such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood.
However, the most recognisable influence is that of Hal 9000, the artificial intelligence that controls the systems in the Discovery One spacecraft, as well as interacting with the crew. Lecter’s dulcet and elusive tones can clearly be recognised in Hal’s delicate, yet eerie voice.
When it came to Hannibal’s physical appearance, from his carefully rigid posture, to his piercing smile, nothing was accidental.
‘In terms of his physical appearance, it was [director] Jonathan Demme’s idea that he be pale and he convinced me to stay out of the sun. It was my idea to give him dark, slicked-back hair,’ Hopkins explained.
‘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.’
And his painstakingly careful craft of the character paid off. In numerous opinion pieces and polls taken in the three decades since the release of The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal has continuously come out on top.
If you’re in any doubt about the power of Hopkins’ enigmatic performance as Hannibal, the actor took home an Academy Award for Best Actor, a BAFTA for Best Leading Actor, a New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor, a National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actor and several more accolades, despite only appearing in a total of 16 of the 138-minute film.
And, yet, during those 16 minutes, Hopkins provides some of the most quotable one-liners ever voiced from a villain, such as: ‘I do wish we could chat longer, but I’m having an old friend for dinner.’
Perhaps the mark of a good villain is that he gets away with his crimes and escapes with his freedom at the end of the trilogy, but with Hannibal it goes beyond that. We want him to succeed, as he is, somehow, simultaneously a villain and a cult hero all at once.
Sadly, it’s no secret that Hannibal and Red Dragon were not as well received as The Silence of the Lambs, and yet reviews of Hopkins’ performance as Dr Lecter have never faltered.
Hundreds of villains have been and gone, but none quite match up to Hopkins’ Dr Hannibal Lecter.
Happy 83rd birthday, Sir Anthony Hopkins.
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