Baltimore is stunt double for Chicago in new movie

Scenes being filmed in, around city for `Hannibal' precursor

April 07, 2002|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

The tabloid reporter eases his bronze Lincoln Versailles up Calvert Street, turns left on Franklin. His arm dangling out the window, cigarette in hand, press pass perched on the dashboard, he motions to the parking lot attendant and swings a little recklessly into the garage of the National Tattler.

So unfolds a scene from Red Dragon, a movie being filmed in and around Baltimore yesterday and for the next few weeks. The "prequel" to Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal, it features one of the most celebrated casts to appear in a film shot in the area, which has a movie-rich past.

Leading players include Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins, Oscar nominees Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, Harvey Keitel and Emily Watson, and Tony nominee Philip Seymour Hoffman, who plays the ethically challenged reporter.

FOR THE RECORD - Please note: The original story appeared with the wrong photo credit. It has been corrected for the archive database.

Those who despise slimy journalists might not mind seeing this one get his comeuppance. In a scene shot yesterday at sundown, Hoffman's character - actually a stunt double in latex - is tied to a wheelchair, set on fire and pushed down a hill. The parking lot attendant's screams during rehearsal could be heard a block away.

Hoffman plays "a sleazy reporter and the Tattler is a real rag," said Martha De Laurentiis, who is producing the movie with her husband, Dino De Laurentiis.

The movie keys on former FBI agent Will Graham (Norton), who has left the bureau after capturing Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter (Hopkins). He comes out of retirement to catch a killer - but he needs Lecter's help. Freddy Lounds, played by Hoffman, is tailing Graham to try to beat the competition to the story.

Making a film look authentic is all in the details, said members of the film's crew, which numbers about 160. Part of yesterday morning was spent rubbing grime on a red "PARKING" sign to make it look more realistic. The car Hoffman drives was picked because its production run - the late 1970s into 1980 - coincides with the period depicted in the film.

The parking area that Hoffman pulls into before his grisly demise is, in reality, the basement garage of a state office building. And what's passed off in the film as the Tattler offices is actually The Sun building.

In the 1981 Thomas Harris novel from which the movie is adapted, the Tattler is based in Chicago. That's why an Illinois flag flew yesterday in front of The Sun building, and why a sign instructed long-term visitors to "See Entrance on Wacker Drive," a street in downtown Chicago.

An earlier adaptation of Red Dragon was released in 1986 under the title Manhunter. The Maryland Film Commission is thrilled to have attracted portions of the new movie (other scenes are being shot in Los Angeles and in the Florida Keys), even if the subject matter is a bit disturbing: Lecter, one of the most popular film villains of all time, is a brilliant psychotherapist with a predilection for eating flesh and blood.

"From a public-relations perspective, it's always a good thing," said Karen Glenn of the Maryland Film Commission, which helps scout locations and coordinate with local governments. "I know some people had some issues with Baltimore serving as the backdrop for [the crime dramas] Homicide and The Wire. But it shows the city and it shows the state, and that's really the purpose."

The Red Dragon crew selected Baltimore in part to be faithful to the trilogy of Harris novels. The author set Lecter in a townhouse in the city before being imprisoned, as he was in Silence of the Lambs.

"In Red Dragon, you get to see a bit of his life before he was incarcerated," Martha De Laurentiis said.

The filmmakers selected a white brick home in Mount Vernon Square for the exterior scenes. "The house has real character," said James Lin, Red Dragon's location manager. "Lecter could be a man of refined tastes, and this building really conveys that."

Lin said Baltimore "is also able to double as many other cities - Philadelphia, or D.C., or old Atlanta. It just has a lot of different looks and a lot of the homes here are really historic."

Red Dragon's Maryland scenes feature more than Baltimore. One scene, shot in Carroll County, features Norton's character meeting his family at an airport.

Hopkins hasn't appeared in the state for filming. The interiors of the Lecter house appearing in the movie, scheduled for release in the fall, were shot in Los Angeles.

The film crew has kept a lid on details of some of the area shoots, partly to avoid crowds and other distractions. Yesterday, motorists heading north on Calvert Street were detoured without a clue that a Baltimore block had been turned into a movie set.

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