It is said that first impressions are lasting impressions. For me this was definitely the case with Clarice Starling’s bone chilling first meeting with Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a scene I will never forget. Michael Chekhov defined the psychological gesture as “a movement that would embody the psychology and objective of a character, executed inwardly during performance.” (Solomon, p.17) Since Anthony Hopkins has acknowledged the power of Chekov’s Psychological Gesture, it is not surprising that we can see Chekov’s influence through Hopkins work. Throughout this blog I will unpack the actions chosen by Hopkins, during Hannibal’s first meeting with Clarice, which portray his psychological truth.
When Clarice first meets Hannibal, she’s nervous as she anticipates her encounter with a cannibalistic serial killer. When she finally views him, he’s standing erect, confident, composed, with his hands on his sides, he’s relaxed with a partial smile on his face. This action was a choice made by Hopkins that reveals the true essence of his character. The other inmates Clarice walks past seem deranged and disturbed. Some are apathetic, others are confrontational, uttering unspeakable words to Clarice. Hannibal on the other hand is a complete contrast to these individuals, he’s polite, composed, charming, and even offended by the others offensive remarks. He seems as if he doesn’t belong. We know as soon as we lay our eyes on him, that Hannibal is not your typical serial killer.
It evident through Hannibal’s actions, that power and respect are important to him. Hannibal politely tells Clarice to take a seat, however he stands himself the entire time. This shows Hannibal’s desire to hold authority over Clarice. Hannibal’s gaze is a bodily adjustment that reveals the essence of his character. He always has a sharp gaze on Clarice and rarely blinks as he makes eye contact. When he’s being particularly evil his gaze widens and pierces through Clarice. Hannibal’s sharp gaze reveals that he is confident and unapologetic of his words. It also indicates his need to look deep within others and analyze them. He also displays charm through his eyes, particularly when he winks as he turns the page.
As the meeting progresses Hannibal becomes increasingly impatient with Clarice. This is evident when he states that the last time someone tested him he “ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti” while making an unnerving hiss, almost snake like noise. This is no coincidence as Hopkins adopted the gestures of cats and snakes to achieve Hannibal’s physical state. Similarly to cats, Hopkins makes smooth, light movements and we particularly see this influence when he sniffs Clarice. The hiss was improvised and is a testament to Hopkins being true in the moment and acting on whatever his impulses were. Hopkins physical state was so authentic that one would assume his actions were second nature to him. A Practical Handbook for the Actor states “The best sign that an action is working and that an actor is really living in the moment is when his impulses begin to express themselves through the body uncensored by intellect”. (p.54) Hopkins truly embodies this description as is evident through his improvisations.