About the Author:
David Garrison may be best known as Steve Rhoades from the hit 80s sitcom Married with Children, but theater fans know him as the Tony-nominated star of A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine, Wicked, Torch Song Trilogy, By the Way, Meet Vera Stark and I Do! I Do! (just to name a few). The hilarious actor is now killing audiences as Hannibal Lecter in the hit off-Broadway comedy Silence! The Musical. Below, Garrison dishes to Broadway.com about parodying the iconic Lecter and how Silence of the Lambs ruined his chances with Susan Stroman.
It’s easy enough for an actor to chew the scenery, but how often does one get the chance to chew the other actors? That, I suppose, was ultimately the reason I decided to tempt fate by putting on Dr. Lecter’s famous mask in Silence! The Musical. That, and the chance to work for the first time with director Christopher Gattelli and for the second time with Jenn Harris, with whom I’d shared a 17th century Dutch excommunication several seasons ago in New Jerusalem at Classic Stage Company—not as funny a show, perhaps, but in some ways equally weird. Opportunities to work with talents like Chris and Jenn come along all too infrequently, so the promise of collaboration with the two of them was impossible to resist.
But the thought of staring down the ghost of Anthony Hopkins every night? Daunting, to say the least. I have been a huge fan of Sir Anthony since my teen years, when I first discovered him as Richard Lionheart—Katharine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole’s mighty but troubled eldest son in the film version of The Lion in Winter. In my twenties, I saw him on Broadway in Equus and in London opposite Judi Dench in Antony and Cleopatra. Extraordinary performances. And years later, I spent my one and only date with Susan Stroman hiding behind the movie theater seat in front of me while partially watching The Silence of the Lambs. In short, Anthony Hopkins has always rocked my acting world—even if he ruined my chances with Susan Stroman.
Stepping into the shoes of an iconic character onstage or on camera is tricky at best, career-killing at worst. But having had a run at a similar challenge some years ago playing Serge B. Samovar, the Groucho Marx doppelganger in A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine, and taking my cue from Jenn Harris’ wonderfully twisted turn on Clarice Starling, I’ve come to realize that impersonation is not what’s called for when conjuring parody. My job in Silence! The Musical is to present a hint, a flavor (if the pun can be excused) on which the audience can imprint their memory of Hopkins’ Hannibal. Hopefully, some of the stare is there, a bit of the voice is there, some hints of erudition, compassion gone wrong, sexual energy and just plain weirdness are there, but it’s Clarice and the audience who endow Dr. Lecter with real creepiness. Parody is respectful, serious business; otherwise, it’s not funny. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but impersonation is not the same thing.
I suspect that if Sir Anthony muses upon his Oscar-winning 21 minutes of Hannibal Lecter, he does so with a certain amount of wry detachment and amusement. And I like to think that he’d find Silence! The Musical as funny as our audiences—including Jodie Foster and director Jonathan Demme—have. Every performance, when I see my reflection in the glass partition separating Dr. Lecter from Clarice, I always invite the original to stare back at me and have a good laugh. Occasionally, I could swear I catch a glimpse of him. But then, of course, it’s time to get back to all that delicious chewing.