RAWN to the role of Francis Dolarhyde (Red Dragon) in Hannibal because he wanted a challenge, Richard Armitage tells us that it all happened very quickly. Being a physically demanding role, he had only 10 days to get in shape. And as a method actor, he tells us just how he got into the skin of the sinister character, originally created by Thomas Harris, on Hannibal.
Going to the dark side.
This is my first time with horror, and one of my fascinations with playing a dark character is to give the character such a detailed history so that we can understand him. One of the goals I set for myself was to see if we could make the audience fall in love with this terribly dark, demonic character. If we do, then we’ve succeeded. Dolarhyde is tied to his past, so it’s also shaping the way that his present is. But his past is so deformed, as is his face, that his world is emerging as something grotesque.
Your character has a speech defect. How did you work with that?
It was interesting, because I really did not speak in the first episode. His speech is slowly evolved throughout the six episodes, until the end when he’s eulogising in a very succinct, poetic, gothic ways. I worked with a speech therapist and did some research on cleft palate and cleft palate surgery, and also trying to speak with a Missouri dialect and a cleft palate.
How did you prepare for the role?
One of the things about playing someone who is insane is that you can’t detect insanity from looking at somebody, and to reveal insanity on screen, it has to have some kind of physical manifestation, and a linguistic manifestation. Of course, I was scared to get inside his head. I have to look at the potential of the child that was taken down this path. I always felt that there was a kind of possibility of redemption through his love for Reba. But then that’s the point where I have to step outside the character and really see him as a figure of menace and discord, and let him be that. I fluctuate between loving him and condemning him.
Your views on violence on screen.
I am always very disturbed if it’s anything involving children and horror, especially if it involves demonic possession. I’ve read a few independent movie scripts that I’ve rejected on that basis. Again, this is treated very differently. Even then the context, it just has a gothic beauty to it which is quite hard to serve up and to do it well, without it just being full on blood and gore for shock effect. There’s a beauty to it.
Most challenging aspect of playing Francis.
The most challenging side of it was the horror that he inflicts on people. As a person I had empathy and sympathy for him, because I had studied his background and his childhood and his disability. And at the same time I hated what he was doing to these people, I wanted to condemn him. So that was the most difficult side.
What next, after Hannibal?
After I finished Hannibal, I went to Belgium and Ireland to play a French Norman knight in a period piece called Pilgrimage. And now I’m in Vancouver working on a true story called Brain on Fire, which is based on a girl who has a rare brain disease.
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— Aakanksha Devi