The novels and subsequent films borne from the mind of Thomas Harris have provided the horror genre with some of its most compelling and terrifying characters. Though Dr. Hannibal Lecter hordes most of that attention and fascination, the Francis Dollarhyde character (Manhunter spelling) seems to fly under the radar. For those who have seen Manhunter, however, the chilling specter of the Tooth Fairy has been permanently seared into memory.
Thirty years after its release, iHorror spoke with the Manhunter actor who first brought Dollarhyde to life on screen, and in this writer’s opinion, Tom Noonan’s portrayal towers above those of Richard Armitage (Hannibal) and Ralph Fiennes (Red Dragon). A tremendous statement considering both of the aforementioned performers offered fantastic takes.
Noonan took a few moments from filming Syfy Channel’s 12 Monkeys to chat with iHorror about the physical and mental demands that accompanied the Dollaryhyde role, a behind the scenes reveal about a habit Noonan developed during filming, being “compellingly present” as an actor, and Manhunter director Michael Mann’s occasional reminder, “Francis, just don’t forget the audition.”
Manhunter was the first of the Hannibal Lecter movies. It’s been followed since by The Silence of the Lambs, Red Dragon and the Hannibal television series. What about the characters and universe created by Thomas Harris resonate so deeply with people?
I’ve seen Silence of the Lambs and like it, but none of the other stuff that you mentioned have I seen. I’ve seen Manhunter once, maybe twice, so my experience of the whole world you’re talking about, I’m not that in touch with, but I never read any of the books, either. I never read “Red Dragon” or “The Silence of the Lambs.” I think a lot of (Manhunter) works because of Michael Mann and Michael Mann’s relationship with me and his wanting me to make the part personal, like a human being. That’s really the only sort of real connection that I feel comfortable talking about because the rest of it, I’m not that familiar with. For me, again, what made the movie work was that Michael really encouraged me and supported me in being not a terrible person, somebody who really wanted to do good and wanted to be a decent person and was dealing with the normal things everybody deals with like loneliness and pain. But not as a monstrous person, which makes him so scary.
Without having read “Red Dragon,” what kind of prep work went into your portrayal of the Tooth Fairy?
To be completely honest, I’ve almost never done research on anything I’ve ever done. That includes movies that I’ve written about specific things that I could have done research and made it more accurate, I tend not to do that, I tend to leave it to my imagination. Like when I did Manhunter, I didn’t read any books about serial killers, it just didn’t make me feel very good, it made me feel like I was a bad guy. The other thing is that when I do a movie, I don’t read any scenes except the ones I’m in and the ones I’m in I only read my lines. I try really hard to keep with myself and not be affected too much by what people call “character” or even story. I mean my job as an actor is to be compellingly present and a lot of the ideas of research and preparation and even reading the script again is counterproductive to being personal in a movie. Even if there are lines in a movie that make no sense to me because I haven’t read the rest of the script, I never ask and say “Why is he asking where Bill went?” It doesn’t matter to me. I sort of like when things don’t make sense and I don’t know what the people are talking about.
Tell us about the audition to land the role of Francis Dollaryhde.
I had a 10:30 appointment, I think, to meet with Michael to read the script. I’d done a couple of sort of creepy parts and done a play called Buried Child where I played sort of a monstrous person, and I didn’t fell really close to that kind of stuff, so I was almost on the fence about reading for the movie at all. But I was really nobody in my acting career, it was really not going anywhere yet, so I thought “What the hell.” So I went in at 10:30 in the morning to read for Michael and he kept me waiting till about noon or longer, which really pissed me off. There were a lot of other people coming in who I know he considered “more important” than I was or the casting people felt, so I was like “Fuck this shit.” I didn’t even want to come in on this and now they treat me like this shit, so he finally called me in.
I think they wanted everyone in the movie to be from Steppenwolf Theater Company, I think they had a real interest in that because all those people went ahead of me. I’m a New York actor and I feel very competitive with Steppenwolf, so I finally go in around noon and I’m really not happy. Michael Mann can be sort of an intimidating, scary person, but I was so angry and I didn’t give a shit that I came into the audition room and Michael came over and started talking to me and I said “Listen man, I’m here to read. I’m gonna read and then I’m gonna leave. Don’t talk to me.” And he said “Well, okay,” and there was a casting person who was reading with everyone and she’s now gone on to be very successful, but at the time I think it was one of the first gigs she ever had. She started to read with me and I could tell she was afraid of me. The way I came into the room and the way I was reading, which was really calm, and I got really close to her. The more scared she got the better I felt and the better I felt, Michael got up and started walking around the room behind me and it felt great and I could tell that he was getting what I was doing. At that point, I knew I was going to get the job.
There was a long period of time where I turned it down a bunch of times because of the money, which at the time my agent felt was insane, again I was nobody, I had done a couple of small parts in movies. I was a weird, tall guy who was older, I started acting when I was 28, I was lucky that I was getting this job. It took a while, but I eventually worked out a deal with them. And Michael, it’s hard to explain, but he was just very supportive and very encouraging, but I don’t think I’ve ever had a real conversation with Michael. I don’t think I’ve ever talked to him more than a sentence or two, he never directed me very much. Once in a while he’d say to me, “Francis, just don’t forget the audition.”
Is it somewhat delicious to play a villain, particularly one of Dollarhyde’s magnitude?
I don’t think I think in that grand of terms. Here’s a little back story. Michael came to me when we first started prepping for the movie and said “Is there anything I can do to help make it a little easier for you to do that part?” I didn’t feel like I needed anything, but since he offered and I wanted to act like a cooperative actor I said it would be really great if I didn’t have to meet any of the people in the movie who are trying to kill me or any of the people that I’m trying to kill, I’d just like to not have to meet them until I’m on a scene with them. Well, that includes everyone in the movie basically, so Michael then started having me stay at different hotels than all the other actors, I flew on different airlines. my dressing room at the studio was in another building away from everyone else’s and not long after that happened, Michael had PAs (production assistants) walk in front of and behind me by like 30 paces to make sure I didn’t run into anybody at the studio that might be somebody that I didn’t want to meet.
This vibe started being created around the whole experience of me being separate that I think weirded people out a little bit. It was fun that the crew was fascinated and sort of scared of me. And there was a memo that went out at one point that if anybody talked to me they would be removed from the crew, something like that, so there was a lot of tension which Michael created. I felt I would have done the part pretty much the way I’d done it no matter what happened, whether I gained all the weight and lifted weights like I did, but all these things helped make it even better. So that immediate experience of being on the set and the first time I speak in a scene, I could tell the crew was weirded out, because it was the scene where I’m showing (Freddy) Lounds (Stephen Lang) the slides. I remember that now, “Do you see?” I remember this creepy feeling in the room and it was pretty good.
I don’t think in the grander terms of all people seeing the movie and having that affect on them, except of course, the weekend the movie opened I was in Los Angeles and I went out to the supermarket late to get something for somebody and I turned the corner with my cart and there was a woman in the middle of the aisle who was facing me and she looked up and saw me and left her cart and ran out of the store. I remember thinking “Oh, shit. This is a little crazy.”
I tend to be more of an immediate experience person, and the idea, though, that the crew was nervous and I also wore headphones all the time and they were all taking bets on what I was playing. I never spoke to anybody, except the assistant director who I would speak to once in a while and I would speak to the makeup people a little bit, but nobody else would I even address or talk or have anything to do with.
Another thing that happened was that one day I was in my dressing room in the studio and the AD (assistant director) came by to let me know what was happening with what was coming up to shoot. He was speaking to me at the door and then he started to leave and the sun was going down and he noticed that the lights weren’t on in my room, and he said “Should I turn the lights on for you, Francis?” because Michael wanted everyone to call me Francis, and I said, “Francis doesn’t use lights.” From then on, for the entire rest of the shoot, which were almost 99 percent night shoots, I was not able to turn the lights on anywhere I was because I had to stick to that. So I was always in my camper in the dark (chuckles), and the crew was creeped out by this whole thing.
The scene following the consummation of Dollaryhyde’s relationship with Reba is very raw and powerful. You listened to her heartbeat, placed her hand over your face — something the character was incredibly sensitive about — then broke down. What are your insights into, for my money, the best scene of the film?
Well, what happened in that scene was that sequence took a day or two to shoot. From leaving the living room where we were drinking and watching that movie, or I was watching the movie, going to bed together and that whole thing. The day that we were going to shoot me breaking down, we started at like nine in the morning and we shot until nine at night, then we broke for dinner and then we shot again till three in the morning and then all the way around until nine in the morning again. It was a 24-hour shoot, and we would get to the point of me doing the break down and every time we got there Michael would say “Cut.” It was tough because I knew that that was key for (Dollarhyde) as a person, that was a very important moment and I really wanted to have that moment and have it on film.
At 9 o’clock in the morning he said “Let’s break.” Michael comes over to me and says “You can go now, Francis, but here’s a 20. If there’s anything you see on the way home or back here again, bring it if it’ll make your room a little more personal.” I went to the AD and asked when my call was and he said I had to be back in two-and-a-half hours. I went home, which was about 45 minutes away and didn’t even take a shower because of the makeup, then went back and started shooting again. I don’t think until we were almost 30 hours into that sequence did they actually get to the point where I could sort of break down. I don’t think it had much to do with why I did what I did or how it was, but that’s my memory, it was really difficult to have to wait a whole day because I had been prepping all through the movie because I really wanted (the breakdown) to happen.
What was the most challenging aspect of the Dollaryhyde role?
Having to gain 40 or 45 pounds was hard. Lifting weights for months, six days a week. Having people draw on me all the time to put the tattoo on, and then to have every scene shot with the tattoo and without the tattoo. Stay up to get the tattoo off, to get the tattoo on. Just that whole sequence with Reba (Joan Allen), being in bed with her, I don’t know if my shirt comes off in other scenes. I basically had the tattoo on the whole time, but when I revealed it, we had to do it both ways. That was hard physically. It’s really hard to eat five meals a day for months and months, but that’s what you have to do when you want to build up, you have to take in a lot of calories. The physical part of it was really challenging, I’d work out six days a week and I’d go home and do 1,000 sit-ups and 500 push-ups and I’d walk every night. You eat a lot of calories, you work out and then what you want to do is burn off some of the fat, so I would take five and ten-mile walks every night. And being alone all the time, they’d put me in different hotels, I didn’t know anybody on the set, I didn’t know any of the other actors, never talked to anybody. It wasn’t awful, it was just hard. The acting part of it wasn’t easy, but it came natural and it all felt pretty good, and again Michael was really great.
After three decades, the subject matter has been pretty well mined, but do you have a behind the scenes story that you haven’t shared that would serve as a little pre-Thanksgiving appetizer for Manhunter fans?
What I would do a lot before scenes, since I was really into being bigger and heavier, I would do push-ups a lot before each take. There’s a scene where I go to Lounds and do the whole “You owe me awe” thing and that took a lot to do that, to have that feeling and make it real and powerful each time. Michael made me do that 40, 50, 60 times, and every time I did it, I would do the push-ups. It was sort of interesting to be pushed like that. And it wasn’t like he was pushing for a different or better performance, there were no notes being given. I think it was just to see, let’s see if you can really do this, which at the time was sort of fun. I’m a competitive person, so to have somebody say I don’t think you can do this 50 times and I was like, watch.
What is the predominant thought that creeps into your mind when you reflect back on Manhunter?
I tend to, like I said before, make things personal to me, but there’s something about that movie that went beyond any experience I’d ever had as a person. I used to keep a journal which I would write in this handwriting that I learned to write differently than my own, Francis’ handwriting. I used to write these long poems about the experience and I started coming up with these memories on the set that had happened to the character, which sounds crazy, because they were memories that were not my own. That was powerful to have. It felt very, very real and very painful and sad.
Vomit Bags Handed Out in Theaters as ‘Saw X’ is Called Worse Than ‘Terrifier 2’
Remember all the puking folks were doing when Terrifier 2 was released in theaters? It was an incredible amount of social media showing folks tossing their cookies in theaters at the time. For good reason too. If you have seen the film and know what Art the Clown does to a girl in a yellow room, you know that Terrifier 2 wasn’t messing around. But it appears that Saw X is being seen a challenger.
One of the scenes that is apparently bothering folks this time is the one in which a guy has to perform brain surgery on himself in order to hack out a chunk of grey matter that weighs enough for the challenge. The scene is pretty brutal.
The synopsis for Saw X goes like this:
Hoping for a miraculous cure, John Kramer travels to Mexico for a risky and experimental medical procedure, only to discover the entire operation is a scam to defraud the most vulnerable. Armed with a newfound purpose, the infamous serial killer uses deranged and ingenious traps to turn the tables on the con artists.
For me personally, I still think that Terrifier 2 owns this crown though. It is gnarly throughout and Art is brutal and doesn’t have a code or anything. He just loves killin’. While Jigsaw deals in revenge or in ethics. Also, we see the vomit bags, but I haven’t seen anyone using em just yet. So, I’ll remain skeptical.
All in all, I gotta say I like both films since both are sticking with practical effects instead of going the cheapy computer graphics way.
Have you seen Saw X yet? Do you think that it rivals Terrifier 2? Let us know in the comments section.
Billy Gives a Tour of His Home in ‘SAW X’ MTV Parody
While SAW X dominates in theaters, we here at iHorror are enjoying the promos. One of the best SAW promos that we have seen is hands down the one that features Billy giving us a tour of his home in a MTV parody approach.
The latest SAW film brings back Jigsaw by taking us back into the past and an all-out revenge plan on his Cancer doctors. A group that counts on making money off of sick people messes with the wrong guy and undergoes a whole lot of torture.
“Hoping for a miraculous cure, John Kramer travels to Mexico for a risky and experimental medical procedure, only to discover the entire operation is a scam to defraud the most vulnerable. Armed with a newfound purpose, the infamous serial killer uses deranged and ingenious traps to turn the tables on the con artists.“
SAW X is now playing in theaters. Have you already seen it? Let us know what you thought.
‘The Last Drive-In’ Changes to Single Movie Approach Over Double Features
Well, while I always enjoy more Joe Bob Briggs in my life I am not sure about AMC’s latest decision for Joe Bob Briggs and The Last Drive-In. The news going around is that the team would be getting a “super-sized” season. While it does go on a little longer than we are used to, it comes with a huge bummer as well.
The “super-sized” season will also include the upcoming John Carpenter Halloween special and the Daryl Dixon Walking Dead series’ first episodes. It also includes a Christmas Episode and a Valentine’s Day episode. When the true season begins next year it will give us one episode every other week in place of the much-loved double-feature.
This will stretch out the season further but not by giving fans extra films. Instead, it will skip a week and skip out on the late-night fun of the double feature.
This is a decision made by AMC Sudder and not by the team at The Last Drive-In.
I’m hoping that a well-placed petition may assist in getting the double features back. But only time will tell.
What do you think about the new line-up for The Last Drive-In? Will you miss the double features and the string of consistent episodes? Let us know in the comments section.