In Hannibal Rising , director Peter Webber circles back to the masked murderer's storyline and retraces his tale to where it all began, in Lithuania during WWII. French actor Gaspard Ulliel, in his U.S. debut, was chosen to reprise the role and, as the European thespian recalls, it was one audition that would take him to an unexpected place.
“It was a bit of a surprise that they came to me for this role. I'd never imagined working on this character – I was very excited and scared,” he says. “I knew that it was a bit risky, and it's such a popular series and character. So, I was a bit hesitant. Then I met Peter [Webber] in Paris and I watched [ Girl with a Pearl Earring ] and I was very seduced by this film.
“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. He knew exactly what he wanted, and I could see that he would help me throughout the whole experience. Also, it was very exciting to work on this character that when you start working, even for just two hours, you can't stop. It's very addictive, and we wanted to keep going.”
Even though Ulliel is new to audiences stateside, Hannibal Rising should allow the actor to crossover onto the international scene. As Ulliel tells it, acting was not the first avenue he wanted to explore in the world of cinema.
“I started really young ... I just tried out of curiosity. I had some small parts in TV films and then bigger parts – I had a very slow and regular progression. I just kept doing it for fun and around 16-years-old I decided to keep going,” he says.
“I started to read books on cinema and see old films and I developed a real passion for it. But I don't think that I had this really strong passion for acting, it was more for [filmmaking] in general. I went to [film school] in Paris for two years. The first thing that attracted me was the idea to write and direct my own film, to be able to express myself through my own films. But I just kept working as an actor, and [now] I really like it. I take a lot of pleasure [in doing it], but I hope one day I'll be able to do my own film.”
If you've read the Hannibal Lecter storyline at all then you'd know that as a child the erstwhile doctor witnessed his mother and father being slaughtered. He then suffered through the demise of his younger sister which served as fuel for the thrust of what happens later in his life (not a spoiler in the least). The string of films exploring said tale has never touched on why the character became the cannibalistic monster that he did, and Rising reveals all that the preceding films did not.
It's clear that Ulliel was fully aware of the impact of such a cinematic, pop culture icon as the good doctor. When asked if he was worried about his performance being held up to Lecter portrayals of the past, he doesn't stand on ceremony.
“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,” Ulliel says. “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 know that you will always have critics and bad thoughts [pointed] at you, but you have to accept it.”
Hannibal Rising releases in theaters Feb. 9.