Skiff staff writer Kimberly Burton had the chance to interview Gaspard Ulliel, the star of “Hannibal Rising.” Ulliel plays a teenage Hannibal Lecter in the newest prequel to the Hannibal movies. French actor Ulliel has also starred in the 2004 international film “A Very Long Engagement.” This is Ulliel’s first major American film.
Q: What was it like stepping into this role?
A: It was scary. Coming after Anthony Hopkins is not an easy thing. It is also frightening, being French. It (the character) is very addictive.
Q: Did you use Anthony Hopkins as inspiration?
A: We agreed this film is very different – another story, another time. This character is way more naive. I was free to create my own character. I mixed it to my own recipe to build my own character.
Q: Where did you find the humanity in the monster that is “Hannibal”?
A: I had a nice script. I tried to add a more personal touch and to show the good aspect of a human being.
Q: What process did you do to prepare?
A: I watched all the films and read the novels. I found important information in the novels. I read written interviews from real killers and how they started to kill. I traded ideas with the director and trained with a movement coach. I worked on my breathing. I was sent to an autopsy class at a medical school in Prague.
Q: Now knowing how this character began, do you sympathize with the character more? Is he as much of a villain as he was before?
A: Yeah – in this film, we might feel more sympathy. He’s not as evil as we would think. He was just a regular kid who drifted slowly to his darker side. I can’t explain why the audience is seduced by this character. This is weird. The audience is seduced and charmed by these types of characters. The man is a mixture of the best and worst aspects of humanity. He is savage, perverse, insane, violent, talented, witty, charming and polite. It’s weird.
Q: What about the movie made you want to be a part of it?
A: The role was very attractive and working on such an iconic character … It is as fascinating to work on such a role.
Q. On IMDB.com, it says your dream has been to direct a movie.
A: I started acting at 12, completely by chance. A friend of a friend of my mother opened an agency. I started for fun and curiosity. I developed a passion for cinema and not so much for acting. The idea of expressing myself through my own work is appealing. I studied cinema in Paris for two years. I am taking more and more pleasure in acting. It’s a tough job. As I grow up, I learn it’s a long process. I don’t feel really ready for this yet.
Q: How do you feel your career/reputation will be affected in terms of French filmmakers?
A: They’ll throw stones at me. Just kidding. This character is popular in France. It has changed some things in my professional life. In my private life, this may change things. A lot of people will recognize me on the street maybe.
Q: Were you apprehensive about how this movie will be received?
A: In France, critics are not important. In this time of large audience film, the critics aren’t as important.
Q: Do you prefer playing the lover, as in your role in “A Very Long Engagement,” or do you prefer playing a complex killer? How are they similar/different?
A: Both were very interesting to do. In both, the character is drifting from reality. “A very Long Engagement,” at the end, there is a craziness, and the same is for “Hannibal.” The characters require understanding the more psychological aspect.
Q: Are there people you’d like to work with for English-speaking roles?
A: In America, especially in independent cinema. I would say Scorcese and Clint Eastwood. They are both interesting for me, as they do both commercial films and intellectual intimate films. In France, you either have a big commercial film or arthouse film but no middle film.
Q: What was the hardest part connecting with him?
A: To understand how someone can eat human flesh. This was hard for me. It was not an easy role as it was a complex and deep character. I had to be inside the mind. I wasn’t completely free to create the character and had to connect it with older characters.
Q: For how many weeks were you shooting the film?
A: The whole film was shot in Prague. It was freezing cold. The shooting lasted for three and a half months. I was working six days a week.
Q: Are you a horror movie fan? How does this compare in terms of horror movies?
A: I’m not a big horror movie fan. I watch some, but it’s a nice feeling to be frightened in a cinema. I like to be scared in a cinema. This film is different because it doesn’t look alike to the other films – different setting, different time – and the character is different. You have more gory action scenes then in previous films.
Q: Is there anything that you hope audiences get out of the film?
A: I hope the audience has a lot of fun. I think some people might have some different feelings for the character. Violence leads to violence. This character kills and destroys his whole humanity. Peter Weber compares this to the Middle East and the violence there.