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Facing Up to a Killer Reputation

'Silence of the Lambs' slayed audiences and critics, but the sequel team wasn't intimidated--just mindful that a follow-up can be an original too.

February 04, 2001|WILLIAM KECK | William Keck is a regular contributor to Calendar

Though they share little screen time, Dr. Hannibal Lecter is never far from Clarice Starling. She feels him with her always--challenging her confidence, distracting her from the tasks she's been assigned. Lecter's shadow extends across the Atlantic from Florence, where the refined, cannibalistic menace now resides, having developed a love of Dante and a craving for Italian.

Julianne Moore--the "new" Clarice in director Ridley Scott's film adaptation of Thomas Harris' novel "Hannibal"--has a shadow of her own to escape: the omnipotent presence of Jodie Foster, winner of the best actress Oscar for her powerful portrayal of Clarice in the 1991 American classic and best picture winner, "The Silence of the Lambs."

Calling on a cell phone from the set of "Evolution," a sci-fi adventure directed by Ivan Reitman, Moore wastes no time declaring her intent to distance herself from her predecessor. "I'm a little uncomfortable with this line of questioning," says Moore, as talk turns to Foster. "Just because it ends up talking about Jodie's performance and my performance, which I don't want to do."

How can we not? "The Silence of the Lambs" exists as a revered, deeply disturbing gem--the kind of film that continues to sicken and titillate audiences years after they first watched it. To attempt a sequel is not only a box office risk. If it fails, "Hannibal" will be another in a long line of failed sequels, films that only served to underscore the greatness of the original.

Attempts in the past to recapture the brilliance of a classic film have seldom been glorious (though there are such rare exceptions as "The Godfather Part II."). More commonly we are presented with schlock like the blasphemous "'Exorcist II: The Heretic" and "The Evening Star" (which might as well have been called "Terms of Endearment 2: The Heretic"). The prospect of a sequel, while always exciting, is rarely fulfilling.

It is safe to assume that Foster, along with her Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme, had their reservations about the legitimacy of "Hannibal" as a worthy successor to their masterpiece. In 1999, Demme bowed out, with word leaking that he objected to the story's violent content. Then Foster followed, citing her preference for directing the yet-to-shoot "Flora Plum." That left Anthony Hopkins to forage for flesh on his own as Lecter--the key returning player from "The Silence of the Lambs" team.

With the film opening Friday, moviegoers will be able to decide for themselves if Foster and Demme made the right decision or if they'll be kicking themselves when the $80 million MGM film is celebrated at next year's Academy Awards.

We spoke with Moore, Hopkins, Scott ("Gladiator") and acclaimed screenwriter Steven Zaillian (the "Schindler's List" scripter and David Mamet are credited with "Hannibal"; Ted Tally did the Oscar-winning "Silence" screenplay) about their concerns and challenges in attempting to craft a sequel to an icon. They responded separately to the same questions:

Question: How did you first become involved in the project?

Hopkins: I was sent a copy of [the novel], as was Jodie and Jonathan Demme. So I read it, and I thought it was very interesting--kind of outlandish. Then I phoned Jonathan, and he seemed very happy. He was talking to Thomas Harris, they were getting on fine. A few weeks later I heard that Jonathan was pulling out. I think he was troubled by some of the ending of the book. I thought he and Thomas Harris would work it out, but they didn't.

I remember thinking, "I hope Jodie does it," but I had a funny feeling that maybe she wouldn't, and surely enough she turned it down. She's a very strong woman with a great sense of integrity about her life. I don't think she wanted to sell out. People are very wary of doing movie remakes, but I didn't care, really, one way or the other.

Moore: I was in London doing press for "The End of the Affair," and I got a phone call that Ridley wanted to meet me in L.A. I was surprised. It kind of came out of left field. I'd been sent the script and really liked it, but I knew that he was thinking about a lot of people. I flew there. We met in a hotel room. . . . It was very, very quick.

Scott: Three weeks before the end of "Gladiator," I'm standing in the arena, surrounded by Romans at 9 o'clock at night, and Dino [De Laurentiis] walks in with [wife and producing partner Martha De Laurentiis] and, funny enough, Jon Bon Jovi [the team was working on "U-571" at the time]. He had a manuscript under his arm and said, "I want you to read this."

Zaillian: About September '99, Dino called me, and I said no. I actually said no several times. It was unfamiliar territory for me. Unfortunately, Dino's not completely fluent in English and doesn't know the meaning of the word "no"--even though it's the same in Italian.

Q: Any reservations about signing on?

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