Anthony Hopkins‘ portrayal of Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs “was one for the ages,” recalls N.Y. Daily News critic Jack Matthews. “With only 16 minutes of screen time, he turned the creepy psychotic genius into the most indelible screen villain of all time, a standing made official four years ago when Hannibal was No. 1 in the American Film Institute’s poll of the 100 top villains. (Second and third place went to Norman Bates and Darth Vader.) Lambs even won Hopkins the 1991 Academy Award for Best Actor.
“Hannibal Lecter has Hopkins — as much as his creator, author Thomas Harris — to thank for his notoriety. Hopkins’ performance in Lambs was electrifying, one of the rare occasions where a movie actor gets under the skin of an outsized literary character and makes him larger, more frightening, more dangerous, more real, and yet — here’s the key — irresistible.
“What was it in that hiss, in the menacing evenness of his voice (‘Good eveninggg, Clarice’) that sent chills up our spine and drew us to him at the same time? It’s great acting, of course, but it’s more. I think audiences could see through the character to the joy and playfulness of the actor inside. Hopkins knew he had the role of a lifetime, and we could tell he wasn’t letting it go by.” — from a piece in which Matthews is looking to talk about the forthcoming Hannibal Rising (Weinstein Co., 2.9) without talking about it.