One of the reasons Anthony Hopkins wanted to play Hannibal Lecter one final time in Red Dragon was to fix an aspect of the iconic character. While Hopkins was already a very respected actor, it was playing Dr. Lecter in 1991’s smash hit The Silence of the Lambs that made him a household name, and kept him an A-lister for every decade since. Aside from the risk of typecasting, getting to play a role that becomes permanently etched in pop culture as a reference point is a rare gift for an actor.
Hopkins has actually done that a second time, proving to be the perfect choice to play Odin in the MCU’s Thor films. Still, it’s Hannibal “The Cannibal” that Hopkins will always be best known for, and thankfully, he doesn’t seem bothered by that in the least. While three other actors have played Hannibal onscreen, Hopkins will seemingly always be the one people first think of, thanks to The Silence of the Lambs‘ status as one of the greatest horror/thriller films ever made.
However, it’s worth noting that Hopkins’s second portrayal of the character, in 2001’s Hannibal adaptation, isn’t nearly as well-regarded. Of course, that’s less to do with Hopkins’ performance, and more to do with how differently Hannibal is written. Hopkins noticed that issue as well, and with Red Dragon, wanted to improve on it.
Red Dragon: What Anthony Hopkins Wanted To Fix About Hannibal
As one might imagine, after the mixed response to Hannibal, Anthony Hopkins wasn’t necessarily raring to play his signature role again only a year later. While producer Dino de Laurentiis had joked about recasting the role, it seems unlikely that actually would’ve happened, as seeing Hopkins’ take on the Red Dragon story was arguably the draw. Once Hopkins had agreed to come back, he made it clear to both director Brett Ratner and writer Ted Tally that he wanted Red Dragon‘s Hannibal Lecter to be much more Silence of the Lambs, and much less the Hannibal movie.
While Hopkins enjoyed working with Ridley Scott on Hannibal, he later said he thought audiences had become too comfortable with the character, to the point where he was seen as a likeable antihero instead of a sadistic villain. Sure, he does some terrible things in Hannibal, but he’s basically the protagonist, at least just as much as Clarice Starling. The audience roots for him the whole film, even when he’s feeding Paul Krendler his own brains.
Hopkins wanted to make Hannibal scary again, and used being opposite nemesis Will Graham as fuel for that, since Will was the one who got Hannibal locked up. Hopkins sought to make Red Dragon‘s Hannibal disturbingly still, and yet with a clear quiet rage burning underneath. This version of Hannibal wasn’t about to say “okey dokey” again anytime soon. While Red Dragon isn’t in the league of Silence of the Lambs, most would agree it improved on Hannibal, and was a much more fitting portrayal of Dr. Lecter, meaning Hopkins accomplished his mission.