Monday, February 05, 2007

Hannibal Rising: Gaspard Ulliel's the New Man Behind the Mask (Q & A)

For those of you who couldn't read enough about Hannibal Lecter in the Thomas Harris book series and the Silence of the Lambs films, you'll be pleased to know that on February 9th, the fava bean and fine chianti-drinking cannibal first brought to life by Anthony Hopkins back in 1991 is set to return to theaters in Hannibal Rising. In the new flick, director Peter Webber circles back to the masked murderer's storyline and retraces his tale to where it all began, in Lithuania during WWII and the younger Lecter is portrayed by French actor Gaspard Ulliel, who's making his cinematic debut in the US. Here's a bit of what went down during a Q & A last week while Gaspard was doing press for the new film.

Q: So, filling in Hannibal Lecter's shoes, what did you think when you finally knew that you'd secured the role?

Gaspard Ulliel: Well, it was a bit of a surprise that they came to me for this role. I think, I'd never imagined working on this character-- I was very excited and very scared too. I knew that it was a bit risky and it's such a popular series and character [and] I knew that there would be a lot of from the audience, so, I was a bit hesitant. And then I met Peter [Webber, the director] in Paris and I watched his first film [Girl with a Pearl Earring] and I was very seduced by this film. And I just thought that it was a very nice idea to pick someone like [Webber] to direct Hannibal Rising which is very different from his first film. And then he asked for a proper audition and we went on three scenes of the film [for] two hours and there I could see that he was very motivated by this film, he knew exactly what he wanted and I could see that he would help me throughout the whole experience. I was very comforted with him, also, it was very exciting to work on this character and I think that when you start working, even for just two hours, you can't stop. It's very addictive and we wanted to keep going and do the film.

Q: How difficult is it to create empathy for a character like Hannibal "the Cannibal?"

GU: I had a nice script that gave a lot of human aspects to the character and then, for me, it was easier to give this [character] more human aspects to the character because it's closer to me in real life. But to give him the more mean and scary aspects, I tried to pretend as much as I could-- reading books on real serial killers as much as I could to get relevant information for [building out] my own character.

Q: You not only had a dialogue coach, but you had a movement coach as well for this. How did that work?

GU: Well, this was just one meeting, during one afternoon for a few hours, maybe just one hour, and I regret because it was very interesting but I just felt on the set that I couldn't use those tricks. It didn't feel natural to me because, I think, I didn't work enough with this movement coach to digest all of these movements and tricks so that it would feel very natural [to enact] -- I think you have to work a lot for [the learned movements] to become natural, that's the only point. But, yeah, it was very interesting to work on the breathing and the stillness and the way of walking. But you know, the idea for me as not to [add] too much because the character is still human, if I could say so, I just tried to [add] a few things that we know would later become what we know as [mannerisms of] Hannibal Lecter. So my work was just to [provide] a glimpse of his future behavior.

Q: How was it working with Gong Li who had an interpreter during filming.

GU: Well, she understood pretty much everything that was said in English but, yeah, she needed an interpreter and that's okay. She was very nice and very cheerful and we had a lot of fun. It was great to work with her [as an actor] because she has a very concentrated and serious way of working-- she's very precise and that's very helpful, I think.

Q: What was it like having all of those body parts lying around while shooting those scenes?

GU: Well, when you're on the set, it doesn't look real at all. You just say 'cut' and then the dead man get up and talks to you. (laughs) And the blood is strawberry-flavored and it's just like a game. It was very fun to do.

Q: This is a serious film in which to get introduced to the American public, did that play into your initial reservations for taking the young Hannibal part?

GU: Not really, I'm glad to be able to [be seen] in other countries, to have this international exposition is good for me as a young actor-- it was a good thing about this experience. But, of course, it's a bit scary too.

Q: What's the most important thing that you took from Anthony Hopkins' portrayal of Lecter for your enactment.

GU: I think it's not that precise, but you [do] have very important things that you can [take] notice [of] in Silence of the Lambs, for example, his stillness is very scary sometimes and so you can see that he's always very relaxed, very comfortable and all of his eye movements, blinking, are very interesting too. So yeah, I [studied] a few things like that...when you have a big film like this and a short time to shoot it, most of the work with the actors is done before the shooting, during the preparation. And so we went through a lot of different readings, discussing our different points of view and I think we created most of the character before the shooting. So when I arrived on the set, I knew exactly what Peter [Webber] wanted from me-- it was kind of precise, no improvisation.

Q: Did you ever get a chance to meet Thomas Harris at all?

GU: No, I think he's the kind of man who likes to stay at home and, I think Peter met him a few times. The only thing I had from him was a small note, a few lines, on the character that he wrote a very long time ago, I think during the first novel, and it was a kind of secret note. He passed it to me through the producers, saying that it was secret. It was very helpful at some times because-- it was very short, just a few lines -- basically, it was [about how Hannibal behaves and what he'd experienced in school and just a few things like that. But it was nice to have these signs from the creator of the character.

Q: Was it all serious during filming or did you get to have fun too?

GU: I had a lot of fun and the crew, an English crew, were always drunk but, yeah, it was fun. We shot the film in Prague, it's a lovely city. It was cold but it was fun and I think that when you're working on such a dark and savage [subject] you have to have a little fun, otherwise it would be so depressing.

Q: Was acting in your family background? When did you get into it?

GU: I just started it by chance and I started really young at eleven or twelve years old. It was a friend of a friend of my mother who was opening an agency, she was looking for young actors, so I just tried out of curiosity. And quite [quickly] I had some small parts in TV films and then bigger parts-- I had a very slow and regular progression. And I just kept doing it for fun and I think around 16 years old I decided to keep going in this industry. I started to read books on cinema and see old films and I think I developed a real passion for cinema. But I don't think that I had this really strong passion for acting, it was more for cinema in general. So that's why after school, I went to [cinema school] in Paris, for two years, and I think, obviously, the first thing that attracted me was more the idea to write and direct my own film and to be able to express myself through my own films. But I just kept working as an actor and [now] I really like it and I take a lot of pleasure [in doing it] and it's very interesting but I hope one day I'll be able to do my own film-- but it's a very, very tough job and I don't feel ready yet.

Q: The role of Hannibal's been portrayed by English actors in the past, were you ever worried that the audience might not fully embrace a French actor's interpretation of him?

GU: Yeah, well, I thought about this a lot before accepting the role and I knew that I would have some criticisms but then, I just wanted to work on this film; I just accepted the role and I just said to myself 'let's just see what happens.' [Acting] is a job where you never know in advance what's going to happen the next day and you can't really expect [anything]-- you will always be surprised. And you know that you will always have critics and bad things, bad thoughts [pointed] at you-- you have to accept it...this was a very special situation where the script was written by the creator of the whole series and the whole character, Tom Harris. So it's not as if the director had written the script with a [screenwriter] who would be able to change everything during the [shoot]. We had to keep really close to the script.

Q: What's next for you?

GU: I have another project in English with a director from New Zealand, Nikki Caro, who did Whalerider and North Country-- it's a nice, small, arthouse film about a winemaker who's going to meet his guardian angel. So my role is very different from Hannibal's (laughs)

Hannibal Rising releases nationally February 9th...

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

yay! can't wait to see your nexy film Gaspard! Have Fun :)

3:27 PM, February 24, 2007  

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