Original Hannibal Lecter Actor Brian Cox Reveals the Problem With the Franchise

When most people hear the name "Hannibal Lecter," they immediately think of Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs, a performance which earned him an Academy Award for Best Actor. Years earlier, Brian Cox starred as Lecter in his live-action debut with Manhunter, an adaptation of Thomas Harris' Red Dragon. Despite that film's many accomplishments, it failed to make Lecter a major pop culture figure, while Silence of the Lambs inspired a number of follow-up films starring Hopkins, including a new adaptation of Red Dragon. Cox recently shared that, while he appreciates what other actors have done with the character, the strength of the series comes from Lecter's mystique, a fact which all other projects seem to have missed.

"The problem has always been, to me, that Hannibal Lecter works in relief," Cox detailed to ComicBook.com. "When you start focusing on him, you give away his mystery. The great thing about Hannibal Lecter, when I played it, was he was a mysterious character. You didn't know where he was coming from, so that meant that he was even more dangerous, because of his mystery. And of course, Tony [Hopkins] was wonderful, and he did a wonderful job on it, but the scripts became more and more about, 'Who is this guy Hannibal Lecter?' And I think the strength of Hannibal Lecter is that we don't know who he is, that the audience has to make their own conclusions. They have to draw their own conclusions in a way, and I think that's much more interesting."

Much like in Silence of the Lambs, Manhunter saw Lecter offering his insight into the psychology of a serial killer, with the focus of the mystery being the "Tooth Fairy" murderer. Lecter still wasn't a major figure in Silence of the Lambs, with Hopkins managing to win the Oscar despite having only 16 minutes of screen time.

Another iconic performance of the character came from Mads Mikkelsen in the TV series Hannibal, which ran for three seasons on NBC.

"I was very happy, and I am very happy, to be, as it were, the first, because I didn't fall into any of those traps, because I think after a while, it gets overblown," Cox confessed. "Mads Mikkelsen is a wonderful actor, and Tony Hopkins is a genius actor, but I realized, in retrospect, that I was the lucky one, because I didn't have the burden of trying to make that character go a distance, which to me, I'm not sure it benefited the character, to be honest with you."

Cox's effectiveness with the character came not only from his performance, but the lack of audience familiarity with the character. Following Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal Lecter became one of the most horrifying movie villains of all time, setting up certain expectations for the viewer.

'My thing is not to expose, but to let the audience discover," the actor detailed. "I've done big blustering roles, but the much better roles for me, and Lecter is a great character from that point of view, because he seems so prosaic, and it's his very prosaicness, which makes him quite horrible. But if you play it like, 'Clarice, I'm here waiting for you.,' I think that's unnecessary. But that's a choice. And it certainly worked, and he did very well."

Cox joked, "The only envy I feel about Tony in that way is he got the money. When I figure what I was paid for that and what he got paid subsequently, there's no comparison."

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Fans can next see Cox in Season Two of Succession, which premieres on Sunday, August 11th. Stay tuned for details on the future of Hannibal Lecter.

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