Gaspard Ulliel Transforms in Hannibal Rising

Turning into the menacing Hannibal Lecter in the series prequel

It's a new era of terror - Gaspard Ulliel is the new Hannibal Lecter. He stars in the prequel to Silence Of The Lambs - Hannibal Rising.

It's the true beginning of how our favorite cannibal became the menacing killer he was. As a young boy, his family was forced into exile, only he and his sister remained. That is until a troop of soldiers found the two kids, and changed the way Hannibal looked at the world.

From the moment he escaped, his mission was to get revenge on the men who killed his sister - by any means necessary. Hannibal Rising also stars Gong Li as one of Hannibal's closest allies; she befriends him and tries to teach him right from wrong. But nothing will get in his way of getting that justice back.

Movieweb.com sat down with Gaspard about taking on this coveted role; here's what he had to say:

When you got the part, did you want to emulate Anthony Hopkins?

Gaspard Ulliel: Before the test, before the auditions, yeah, obviously. I watched Silence Of The Lambs the day before and I observed Anthony Hopkins but when I was preparing for the shooting, the idea was not to imitate or copy Anthony Hopkins. This was not very interesting for me; I don't think I'm able to imitate him, he's so amazing in those films - a very big actor. We discussed a lot about this with the director and agreed to say that this film is very different and the story is taking place in a difference time when the character is much younger and hasn't experienced all the prison and killings. So I was kind of free to create my own Hannibal Lecter; obviously, I knew the audience would want or expect some similarities with Anthony Hopkins so one part of my preparation for the role was just to observe him and try to pick a few details and mix it with my own recipe to build my own character. So, yeah, I tried to pick a few subtle details from his performance.

Did you research serial killers?

Gaspard Ulliel: I read a lot of different books on real serial killers and that was very interesting and very helpful because I could read a lot of things on their childhood and how they started to kill. It's pretty much the same things every time, it's a slow evolution and they start very early; they start with animals, torturing animals and setting fires and stuff like this. It was very helpful I think; also, I worked on the script because I had a nice background for the character in the script so I could help myself in the script and also, I read the three novels Tom Harris' novels. I could find some really relevant information sometimes. Then there was all the work with Peter (Webber) and we discussed a lot about the character and exchanged our points of views and slowly built our character. He also organized a meeting with a movement coach that was very interesting; we worked on a different way of breathing and walking and standing.

You went to an autopsy class?

Gaspard Ulliel: Yeah, in Prague; Peter wanted me to see the dead bodies. It was very nice, a very strong experience; I was a bit frightened at the beginning. When you enter the room, it's a bit frightening to have all those dead corpses and the smell is very strong; a mixture of formaldehyde and rotten meat; then you just forget all those bad aspects because you are watching something fascinating. It's great to see how everything works inside your body; it's kind of pretty in a way; like a piece of art because you have all those textures, different colors, it's a nice experience.

You wanted to go back a second day?

Gaspard Ulliel: Yeah, because when I went there it's a lesson that is during a whole month and I came in during the last week. The bodies were already completely destroyed and opened; I think that's one of the reasons why it was not that scary. It didn't feel real, the bodies looked fake; they were so destroyed that I couldn't imagine that I was just looking at a real human body so I asked if I could go on the first day of the next session to see the fresh bodies coming in and start opening them. I think this is more scary.

Why do you think this character is so well-liked?

Gaspard Ulliel: That's an interesting thing about this character; obviously, in this film, we tried to make this character a bit sympathetic and more human so we tried to keep the audience on his side but, in the other films before, it was not the same thing. The character was presented as a real monster; the audience was still admiring him and this is a weird thing because he is a serial killer doing horrible things but we still like him. I think maybe this is due to the fact that he is so intelligent, well-educated and he is always very polite, very charming and he manages to seduce the audience I think.

You didn't speak much during takes; did you stay in character after work?

Gaspard Ulliel: This happens sometimes; it happened to me in other experiences with other roles. At the end of the day, you are still the character and don't want to separate yourself from the character but when you're working on such an extreme character that is so far from reality, you can't stick to your character at night and remain in your role. Otherwise, it would just drive you mad. At night, I was myself.

What was the relationship with you and Gong like? With, the language barriers, was that an easy thing to overcome?

Gaspard Ulliel: Yeah, it was not that tough; she understands pretty much everything we say in English but sometimes she needed her interpreter to express herself but that was okay. On set, she is very concentrated, very serious and she is not that talkative, but it was a very nice experience; she is a very nice lady, very cheerful and she gives a lot to her partner during the shooting and that's a good thing for a big actress like this, she's very generous. I observed her during the first week and I could see how precise she was; she is very, very precise. I was thinking that she knew exactly which profile she should give to the camera and which look she should give at this precise moment. We can see that she has big experience behind her and she knows how to work precisely with the camera.

Would you play Hannibal again?

Gaspard Ulliel: Yeah, it's a very pleasant character to work on; very fun and interesting; it's a very complex character. Yeah, I think the idea of working again on this character is kind of appealing to me but, again, you have to see if the script is good and if the director is interesting so I can't really tell but yeah, the idea of working again on this character.

Were there any funny moments on such an intense set?

Gaspard Ulliel: Well, I don't know if it's very funny but the scene with the mask, we had only one mask; it was supposed to cover my face with elastic behind to stay on my face and the director wanted it to just fit like this [indicates close on his face] without any elastic. I tried to make it a bit smaller pushing on the sides so it would fit on my cheeks and I broke the mask so this was kind of funny but not for the producers so they had to build another one and re-shoot the scene.

In which scene do you feel your character becomes the Hannibal we all know? Was there a moment when you were shooting that you realized you were Hannibal Lecter?

Gaspard Ulliel: I think there are two main moments for me; the first time he kills the butcher. At the end we can see that it's very pleasant for him and he really enjoys it, there is the sun and all this nature around him, it's a very comfortable and pleasant moment so there he gets a glimpse of this attractive thing. Then, I think, at the end when Lady Murasaki (Gong Li) asks him to stop and leave with her and he says 'No, definitely no.' And that is the moment where he chooses to just keep on going a monster and not going back to the human side.

Were there any scenes that got cut out?

Gaspard Ulliel: We shot a moment where you clearly see the piece of cheek in his mouth and he just spat it out which, to me, was important to show the real evolution of the character and it was a very strong moment but maybe it was too violent.

What is going through you head as an actor during these violent things?

Gaspard Ulliel: You prepared for this role; I think you are ready to experience all the scenes and this is just normal for you. You're trying to feel as natural as you can, but many, many times, it was very fun to do all those killings - like a game.

Hannibal Rising lurks into theaters February 9th; it's rated R.