Anthony Hopkins might’ve made Hannibal Lecter into the iconic character he is today, but not many people know that he’s not the original actor to portray the cannibalistic serial killer. That distinction belongs to Brian Cox. The 73-year-old performer was the first to bring the demented doctor to the big screen back in 1986. Manhunter, based on the novel Red Dragon by Thomas Harris, fared poorly at the box office, but has since become more appreciated by critics and fans alike.
A lot of what Anthony Hopkins did with his Oscar-winning role in The Silence of the Lambs can be attributed at least in part to his predecessor. While Cox appreciates what others have done with the character in the subsequent decades after his initial performance, he does take issue with the direction the franchise has gone in.
In particular, he feels Lecter has been given too much of the spotlight recently. Cox believes that the strength of the series lies in the mystery of the murderer, who’s all too often given too much depth and backstory nowadays.
“The problem has always been, to me, that Hannibal Lecter works in relief. 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.”
Continuing on, he said:
“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.”
Unfortunately, NBC’s Hannibal show was cancelled back in 2015, though there is hope for a revival down the road. In the meantime though, fans will just have to enjoy the three portrayals that have all made the character so memorable.
While Cox may be the least well known of the bunch, his initial take on the warped cannibal helped his successors visualize what such a madman would look like. Hopefully, whoever decides to make a project with Hannibal Lecter next will heed his advice and return the serial killer back to his dark, enigmatic roots.