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Production notes, photos and promotional video © 2007 MGM, The Weinstein Company
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THE CAST OF HANNIBAL RISING

Casting the central role of young Hannibal was critical to the film. Producer Dino De Laurentiis describes how they searched for a long time to find the right person: “We couldn’t find a face with the right kind of mystery. We needed a young guy who looked like he could kill, but also someone who could be charming.”

Gaspard Ulliel had already completed A VERY LONG ENGAGMENT when he came to Dino De Laurentiis’ attention. “I saw the face of this young star and I thought this is it!

We met with Gaspard in Paris, Peter did a screen test with him at my house and it was all up there on the screen, his intensity, his look. I remember I said ‘Gaspard, you were born to be Hannibal Lecter!’”

Peter Webber was just as certain: “It comes down to a gut feeling. I watched Gaspard’s screen test and I thought, this is the only person that I am compelled to watch for two hours. There’s something very special about him. He’s got something dark.” This instinct was confirmed as they began preparing the character together. “We sent him to a morticians because I wanted him to really understand how it feels to work with dead bodies,” explains Webber. “He enjoyed it so much that he wanted to go back for a second day! It was at that moment I realised I’d made the right decision. There is just something that little bit damaged about him, which is just fantastic!”

Ulliel was aware from the first that he would be judged against previous incarnations of the role. “To walk in Anthony Hopkin’s footsteps is a very daunting prospect,” he admits. “I watched the other films a lot and looked at how he moves and performs- how he blinks his eyes. I learnt many things from watching his performance, but I soon realized that the job was not to imitate him exactly, even if it was right to take some of the small details from his performance and add them to this character.

“I had to try and find the character within me and make it different,” he continues. “We are dealing with a different person. He’s much younger, he hasn’t experienced the same things, he hasn’t been hardened by his time in prison at this stage. I was also interested in the real evolution of the character. We see him discover his dark side through his medical training as well as through his first murders. There is a crescendo during the movie as he finds killing and eating people addictive. So, by the end of the film, I am getting closer to Anthony Hopkin’s way of thinking and speaking as Hannibal and I take more from his performance.”

For Ulliel, the biggest challenge was the relationship between Hannibal and Lady Murasaki. “In the three previous Hannibal films, you see Hannibal in lots of different situations, but rarely in contact with a woman in this way, having those kinds of feelings. It appears like a romance, but it is much more. He learns a great deal from Lady Murasaki and there is a real exchange. She helps to build his character and is the only comfort to him through his childhood. I wanted to bring over this complexity of feelings. I was prepared for the killing scenes, as I’d thought hard about them. It was the first thing I worked on. The more simple scenes are somehow harder for me - to come back and use simple dialogue and actions for the everyday Hannibal.”

Ulliel prepared for the role with his own research into the character’s motivation and found that Hannibal had an unusual psychology for a serial killer. “I read the three books by Thomas Harris and I also read a number of books about serial killers that were written by criminal profilers. They were hard to read, really shocking, but interesting too. Hannibal behaves in a different way than most serial killers, whose attacks are often linked to sexual meaning and feelings. There is usually some element of sexual relief, which is absent from Hannibal’s killings.”

Webber also helped with the research, Ulliel continues, “Peter gave me some DVDs of films which illustrated the atmosphere he wanted. He also had me look at some Asian samurai sword movies as there are some scenes in this film which are very Japanese in context.”

Ulliel was guided through the challenging murder scenes by the careful preparation and choreography of stunt coordinator Lee Sherwood. “I start putting the fights together on day one,” Sherwood explains. “I also get the actors involved, because every one of them will have their way of doing something, they’ll want to do it left-handed or right-handed or they’ll want to move in a way that they feel fits with their character. We get them involved in the action at the very early stages and I must say that the actors on this film have all been very, very good to work with.”

Playing the mysterious Lady Murasaki is Gong Li, China’s most famous actress. Gong Li made her name working with the renowned director Zhang Yimou on such films as RED SORGHUM and RAISE THE RED LANTERN. She continued to perform in internationally acclaimed Chinese films throughout the 1990s, recently moving to Hollywood in MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA. Producer Martha De Laurentiis is enthusiastic about their star: “Gong Li is able to emote in her face, in her eyes, she doesn’t need words. She’s the kind of film actress that you only come upon once in a decade, someone who has great depth of intelligence combined with incredible ability as an actress, as a film star.”

Following her acclaimed performance in MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, Gong Li is at ease playing another Japanese character: “The most important thing for me is the character of the woman; whether she is Japanese or Chinese is not important to me. It’s all about the character that I am playing and in this case how strong and interesting a woman she is.”

“She is a very mysterious woman,” she continues. “She is lonely but also strong. She is able to gain so much strength from her culture, for instance in the way that she worships the armor of her ancestors every day. She has her good side as well as her bad side. She understands Hannibal and what they have in common is a painful background. She knows that Hannibal has suffered a lot in his childhood and she has also suffered. She tries to use her good side to bring him out of his darkness. The problem is that it is too late.”

Like the rest of the cast, Gong-Li feels proud to be part of the iconic Hannibal legacy: “I have seen all of the other Hannibal films. My favorite is SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, especially the performances of Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins. I just really appreciate how they use their eyes to convey so much. I really like this film and have seen it many, many times.”

Peter Webber almost lost Gong Li because of scheduling difficulties. “Gong Li was shooting MIAMI VICE which overran and we had to change our schedule,” says Webber. “It caused all sorts of problems but it was worth the wait. Every minute that she is on screen is a moment of truth and beauty. She’s so subtle but so strong. She is an actress who is at the top of her powers.”

Amongst the other members of the powerful cast is versatile Welsh actor Rhys Ifans (ENDURING LOVE, VANITY FAIR) who plays Grutas, the leader of the army deserters that kill Hannibal’s sister. “I think the other men in the gang are victims of the war but Grutus is a psychopath,” says Ifans. “He doesn’t have any remorse at all about killing the little girl, whereas the other guys might. He relishes handing out punishment and pain. It is a dark world, but Peter gives it a grace. It starts as a war film and then it goes into film noir. I think it is a graceful film and that’s obviously due to Peter and also Ben Davis the director of photography. It is beautifully lit and there are a lot of really wonderful shadows to step in and out of, it feels good.”

He is equally positive about the casting of Hannibal: “I think the choice of Gaspard is brilliant. You could not, and should not, be looking for a young Anthony Hopkins, but Gaspard has certainly brought to it the sense of mischief that Hopkins had. I think this is the key to Hannibal Lecter. He is charming and a man of taste and he certainly does have that kind of aristocratic air about him, which is very scary.”

NEXT
THE LOOK OF HANNIBAL RISING

The look of the film was always going to be hugely important in conveying the tension and trauma of the story. Director of Photography Ben Davis, whose credits include IMAGINE ME AND YOU and LAYER CAKE, was responsible for translating Webber’s ideas into a visual style.

ARTICLES AND INTERVIEWS:

1. SYNOPSIS
In RED DRAGON we learned who he was. In SILENCE OF THE LAMBS we learned how he did it. Now comes the most chilling chapter in the life of Hannibal Lecter – the one that answers the most elusive question of all - why?

2. Dino De Laurentiis, Producer
Hannibal Lecter is a cultural icon. Possibly the most famous anti-hero ever created. Brilliant, charming and evil, he grips the popular imagination like no other villain. His creator, the reclusive American writer Thomas Harris, introduced him to the world as a minor, though significant, character in the menacing novel Red Dragon published in 1981.

3. THE CAST OF HANNIBAL RISING
Casting the central role of young Hannibal was critical to the film. Producer Dino De Laurentiis describes how they searched for a long time to find the right person: “We couldn’t find a face with the right kind of mystery. We needed a young guy who looked like he could kill, but also someone who could be charming.”

4. THE LOOK OF HANNIBAL RISING
The look of the film was always going to be hugely important in conveying the tension and trauma of the story. Director of Photography Ben Davis, whose credits include IMAGINE ME AND YOU and LAYER CAKE, was responsible for translating Webber’s ideas into a visual style.

 
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