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INT: Gaspard Ulliel

02.07.2007

Gaspard Ulliel may not be a familiar face to many here in the states. He recently appeared alongside Audrey Tautou in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT. In France , he has appeared in LE DERNIER JOUR and LA MAISON DE NINA. But this week many will know his face as the young Hannibal Lecter in HANNIBAL RISING. In the film directed by Peter Webber, he gives a wonderful performance as a man who begins to discover his desire to kill. Although here, he is given a more sympathetic treatment with Hannibal ’s murderous ways beginning with the need for revenge.

He recently stopped by The Four Seasons in Beverly Hills to talk about working with his beautiful co-star Gong Li and the fun of hanging out in a morgue. When he sat down, he was kind enough to arrange the microphones in a line so we can all get a good recording. It almost reminded me of something that Hannibal would do. But Gaspard is in no way a vicious predator, he is charming and an all around cool dude. He seemed very sincere and incredibly polite… Mr. Lecter would be pleased.

Gaspard Ulliel

When [the producers] were casting the part, they didn’t want to go with Anthony [ Hopkins ] for obvious reasons. When you got the part, did you want to emulate him and did you look for certain things and certain movements?

Before the auditions… before the tests… yeah… Obviously, I watched THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS the day before and I observed Anthony Hopkins. But then, when I was preparing for the shooting I think the idea was not to imitate or copy Anthony Hopkins. This was not very interesting to me and I don’t think I’m able to imitate him. He’s just amazing in those films, and a very big actor.

And we discussed this a lot with the director and we agreed to say that this film is very different and this story is taking place in a different time and the character is much younger and hasn’t experienced all the prison and the killings. So I was kind of free to create my own Hannibal Lecter. Obviously I knew that the audience would expect some similarities with Anthony Hopkins so one part of my preparation for the role was to observe Anthony Hopkins and pick a few details and mix it with my own character. So yes, I tried to pick a few subtle details in his performance.

The press kit said that the everyday scenes of Hannibal when he is not doing the murders were harder for you than some of the more intense choreographed murder scenes. Is that true?

Well, yes. When you have less intense physical [performance], you have to express more things your eyes. So it is harder I think for an actor when you have less dialogue and less physical language.

So do you enjoy doing both?

Yes, of course.

What kind of research did you do into serial killers?

I read a lot of different books on real serial killers and this was very interesting and very helpful because I could read a lot of things about their childhood and how they started to kill. It’s pretty much the same things all the time. It’s a slow evolution and they start very early usually. Usually start with animals, and torturing animals, starting fires, and stuff like this. It was very helpful I think.

Also I worked on the script because I had a nice background for the character in the script so I could help myself with the script. And also I read the three novels – Tom Harris’ novels. I could find some really relevant information sometimes. And then there was all the work with Peter [Webber] and we discussed a lot about the character through the scenes and our point of views and slowly build our character. He also organized a meeting with a movement coach that was very interesting.

We worked on different ways of breathing and walking and standing. And also he sent me to an autopsy class in Prague . He wanted me to see the dead bodies. It was nice. It was a very strong experience. I was a bit frightened at the beginning. And when you enter into the room it is a bit odd to have the dead corpses and the smell is very strong. It is a mixture of formaldehyde and rotting meat. And then you just forget all those bad aspects because you are watching something fascinating. It’s great to be able to see how everything works in your body. It’s kind of pretty in a way. It’s like a piece of art because you have all those different textures, different colors. It’s a nice experience.

You said you wanted to go back a second day?

Yeah, the first time, when I went there, the lesson was during the whole month and I came during the last week and the bodies were all completely destroyed. I think that’s one of the reasons why it’s not that scary. It didn’t feel real. The bodies looked fake; they were so destroyed that I couldn’t imagine that I was looking at a real human body so I asked if I could go on the first day of the next session to see the fresh bodies coming in and start opening them. I think it’s more scary.

What about the smell though? Did that overcome you?

Well no, during the first two minutes it’s a bit hard but you forget you know, get used to it.

Were you a fan of horror films when you were young?

When I was young? Not really. I’m not a big fan of horror films or gory films but I can understand why we like those films, it’s a nice feeling to be scared sometimes.

Why do you think this character is so well liked?

Well that’s a very interesting thing with this character because obviously in this film we try and make this character a bit sympathetic and more human. So we try and get the audience on his side. In the other films before, it’s not the same thing. The character was presented as a real monster and the audience was still admiring him. This is a weird thing because this is a serial killer doing horrible things. But we still like him and I think maybe this is due to the fact that he is so intelligent, well-educated and he is always very polite [and] charming and he manages to seduce the audience I think.

This is such and intense role and Gong Li said you didn’t say much on set. Did you keep in character after work? Was it hard for you to leave him behind at the end of the day?

Well, this happens sometimes, well it happened to me on other experiences, other roles at the end of the day you’re still in your character and you don’t want to separate yourself from the character. But when you’re working on such an extreme character so far from reality you can’t stick to your character at night and remain in your role otherwise it drives you mad. So no… At night I was myself.

I wanna go a little bit on that as well. The relationship with you and Gong Li, it seemed to be very strong on-screen and off-screen with her language barrier and with you, was that an easy thing?

Yeah, it was not that tough. She understands pretty much everything we say in English but then of course sometimes she needed her interpreter to express herself but it was okay. And you know, on-set she’s very concentrated, serious and she’s not that talkative. But it was a very nice experience, very nice lady, very cheerful and she gives a lot to her partners during the shooting and that’s a good thing I think for a big actress like this. She’s very generous.

Did she teach you anything or did you observe anything that…?

Well, I observed her during the first week and I could see how precise she was, she’s very, very precise. And I was thinking she knew exactly which profile she’d give to the camera and which look she should give at this precise moment. And we can see that she has big experience behind her that she knows how to work precisely with the camera.

Your character is like king of the frightening characters, so what frightens you?

Nothing. [Laughter]

Come on…

Blood.

Real blood?

I don’t like to see blood. That’s true.

Wrong movie then…

Well, it’s fake blood.

So real blood really kind of creeps you out?

Well not when I eat it but… [Laughing] no really, I can eat steak tar-tar and meat. I really like meat. But when I hurt myself and I see a lot of blood, I can get… you know.

Would you play this character again?

Yeah, it’s a very pleasant character to work on. It’s very fun, very interesting too. It’s a very deep and complex character. And yeah, I think the idea of working again on this character is kind of appealing to me. But then you know you have to see if the script it good, the director is interesting but yeah, the idea of working again on this character…

Where would you like to see it go?

I don’t know. You have to ask Tom Harris.

Hannibal Lecter is an iconic villain in this culture. Is he the same in France ? Does he have that notoriety there?

Yeah. It’s the same. He’s very popular in France .

Were there any “lighthearted” moments on the set being that it’s such a serious film?

Well there is a funny moment, well, I don’t know if it’s really funny but the scene with the mask. We had only one mask and it was supposed to come on my face with elastic behind [it] to stay on my face. And the director wanted it to just fit like this [miming mask] without any elastic. So I tried to make it a bit smaller by pushing it on the sides so it would fit on my cheeks and I broke the mask. [Laughing] So this was kind of funny but not for the producers. So they had to build another one and they re-shot the scene.

What was it like working with the other guys, you’ve got Kevin McKidd and the others as the guys you are after? What was that experience like?

Well it’s nice to have such a wonderful cast. I really like Kevin McKidd, he’s a great guy. And Rhys Ifans too was very fun to work with. It’s very nice, I think for a young actor like me to work with big actors and big actresses [it] can be helpful and it can push you up in some scenes.

What was it like to work with swords?

It’s the only scene for which we had physical preparation. So we worked for a whole week with a Kendo teacher.

What goes through your head when playing out the violent scenes, do you say to yourself, ‘oh my God, why am I doing such violent things’?

I don’t think you say to yourself, ‘oh my God, why am I doing violent things.’ Because you prepared for this role so then I think you’re ready to experience all the scenes and this is just normal for you and you try and feel as natural as you can. But many, many times, yeah, it’s very fun to do all this killing. It’s like a game.

What’s next for you that we can see you in?

It’s a film that I’m going to start shooting in April with New Zealand director Niki Caro; she did NORTH COUNTRY and WHALE RIDER. It’s a nice small art-house film about a wine maker that is going to meet with his guardian angel. So it’s a very different role for me, I’m doing an angel [Laughter].

Let me know what you think. Send questions or comments to jimmyo@joblo.com.

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Source: JoBlo.com

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