Here’s what Anthony Hopkins’ role in the prequel Hannibal Rising could have been. While Brian Cox had previously played the role in 1986 thriller Manhunter, it was Anthony Hopkins who turned Dr. Hannibal Lecter into a new horror icon with The Silence Of The Lambs. This masterful adaptation of Thomas Harris’ book didn’t even feature Lecter as the main villain, but Hopkins’ performance was so captivating it later earned him an Oscar.
He later returned for 2001’s Hannibal and prequel Red Dragon, though he later expressed regret about reprising the role. After the likes of Macaulay Culkin and future NBC Hannibal star Hugh Dancy tested for Hannibal Rising, it was Gaspard Ulliel who nabbed the role of young Lecter for the 2007 prequel. While the movie was an attempt to keep the franchise alive and focus on the adventures of the young, surprisingly hunky Hannibal, it met with bad reviews and underwhelming box-office
Sadly, the overwhelming feeling coming off Hannibal Rising was that it didn’t need to happen at all. Explaining Hannibal’s origin only served to demystify the character, and despite his best efforts, young Ulliel was no match for the menace or charisma Hopkins brought to the part. Given that it’s a prequel, it’s little surprise Anthony Hopkins didn’t show up as Lecter, but according to Total Film magazine (via Matt Mueller), the actor was indeed approached about an appearance.
The Hannibal Rising set visit revealed producers Dino and Martha De Laurentiis initially offered Hopkins a chance to shoot bookends as the older Lecter. Apparently, they later decided this concept didn’t fit the prequel, though the article pointedly states they wouldn’t be drawn on whether Hopkins just turned the offer down. Following 2002’s Red Dragon, Hopkins penned his own screenplay that would have ended with Clarice Starling shooting Hannibal dead, but the producers didn’t opt for his take.
It seems by the time Anthony Hopkins worked on Red Dragon he was somewhat over the Hannibal role, so it’s not much of a surprise he turned down Hannibal Rising. The bookends would have amounted to a cameo that would only have been used to sell the prequel, and the only interesting thing these scenes could have done is explain his fate following the events of 2001’s Hannibal. While it might have been fun to see one final Lecter performance from Anthony Hopkins, it worked for the best that he didn’t appear. Hannibal Rising’s disappointing performance meant a direct sequel was canned, and the franchise later gloriously rebooted itself with NBC’s Hannibal series, starring Mads Mikkelsen in the title role.