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"I talk to some important directors," says Red Dragon producer Dino De Laurentiis, 83, in his thick Italian accent. "Everybody is scared to do Red Dragon because Manhunter is good movie. But Hannibal Lecter is a two-dimensional character in Manhunter." Screenwriter Ted Tally (who also adapted Lambs) wasn't intimidated. "I didn't have any interest in re-creating Manhunter, which to me was kind of like a Miami Vice episode," says Tally. "I love the book." His script, which explores all the characters' psychological underpinnings, helped get the esteemed cast on board: Edward Norton as Will Graham, Ralph Fiennes as the serial killer and Philip Seymour Hoffman as a tabloid reporter who expires, memorably, in a speeding, flaming wheelchair.
Red Dragon opens with a scene borrowed from the Lambs novel, in which Lecter serves a musician to his unwitting dinner guests, and ends with an oblique reference to Starling. Lecter's cell from Lambs has also been re-created by production designer Kristi Zea. The references didn't come cheap, since the movie rights to Lambs still belong to MGM. This time, Universal avoided litigation by offering MGM a share of Red Dragon's box office.
The question is, With all three of Harris' Lecter books having been filmed at least once, what happens to the franchise? The secretive author is not expected to write another Lecter novel anytime soon (if ever). "He takes several years to do a book," says Harris' agent, Mort Janklow. "I have no idea whether his next project is going to have Hannibal." Hopkins says he's through playing the role: "I've done my act, and I've got no more to show."
But Hopkins also tells friends how much he loves playing the part. And De Laurentiis has approached Tally about writing yet another Lecter screenplay--with or without a Harris book. "In Hollywood you can never say never," says Tally. "But what would it be? Hannibal Lecter in an old folks' home? As an elementary school kid? As a fetus? I don't know. Dino says, 'Maybe we'll do a television series!'"
Tally laughs, but at least one person close to the author (he declined to be interviewed) says Harris may be willing to work with a screenwriter. Universal production exec Mary Parent chooses her words carefully: "There have not been hard conversations [about that prospect]." Don't be surprised to find Lecter eating lunch in this town again. --With reporting by Heather Won Tesoriero