SCMP Friday, March 2, 2001

A sophisticated psycho


Unlike Dr Hannibal Lecter, the character whose name gives the itle to the newly released film Hannibal, Brian Cox harbours no ill will. So what if Anthony Hopkins won an Oscar for a role Cox created in Manhunter, the first Lecter movie, adapted from Thomas Harris' Red Dragon. Cox has the satisfaction of knowing he played Lecter as the character was first described by the author - as ''a pure sociopath''.
''I just thought he was fascinating, a mysterious kind of character,'' says the 54-year-old Scottish actor. ''He was very different from the character he became - the in-your-face monster.''
Cox - a Shakespearean actor whose numerous screen credits include Braveheart, The Minus Man and LIE, the Sundance sensation in which he plays a child molester - drew his Lecter from two disparate sources: a Scottish serial killer named Peter Manuel and - here's a shock - his own then-16-year-old son.
''I've always been fascinated by that kind of thing, the mass-killer psychology,'' Cox says. ''Lecter, like Manuel, has no moral parameters. He's a monster, but clever and very, very bright.'' Cox also saw an aloofness in the character, what he calls ''that English public schoolboy sort of thing, that dismissive quality. I copied that from my son, who grew up in England and, unlike his blue-collar father, is very middle class''.
Though he says he respects both Harris and Hopkins, Cox doesn't like what has happened to Lecter with The Silence Of The Lambs and Hannibal.
''He's a franchise now,'' Cox says. ''After Silence, he became this iconic figure who was taken to the extreme and given more conventional motivations. I was more interested in him when we didn't know what his motives were.''
''That,'' the actor adds with just a hint of his native burr,'' was really chilling.''
Lecter's growing appeal? (Silence continues to be a hot item on tape and DVD; the director's-cut DVD of Manhunter has been released recently.) ''I think it's voyeuristic,'' Cox replies. ''He appeals to our more primeval side. We all have a dark side. I always say we're on a sliding grey scale.''
Cox says he's not resentful that it was Hopkins' and not his time to snag an Oscar with Lecter. ''I live in the present. I have no regrets about not getting the role in Silence. I did my shot. I was damned good. I don't think my career hangs or falls on Hannibal Lecter. The only thing I regret is the money.''
Film is edited by Mathew Scott ( ).