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Screening report: Tom Noonan talks “MANHUNTER” at NYC’s IFC Center

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Last night, Manhattan’s IFC Center hosted a rare opportunity to see Michael Mann’s chilling, fascinating 1986 thriller MANHUNTER on the big screen in 35mm, and as an extra treat, actor Tom Noonan was on hand to discuss his turn as the movie’s villain.

Already a busy stage and screen actor at the time, with credits including WOLFEN, F/X and TV’s TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE, Noonan had his then most prominent and still one of his best roles as MANHUNTER’s Francis Dollarhyde, a.k.a. “The Tooth Fairy.” Investing the mass murderer of innocent families with a tortured soul, Noonan is part of a sterling cast in the adaptation of Thomas Harris’ novel RED DRAGON, including William Peterson as profiler Will Graham, Brian Cox as the screen’s first Hannibal Lecter (spelled “Lecktor” in this incarnation) and Joan Allen as a blind co-worker romanced by Dollarhyde. Speaking to the sold-out crowd last night (coincidentally, just hours after it was reported that Richard Armitage would play the role, spelled Dolarhyde, on NBC’s HANNIBAL) in a talk moderated by IFC’s Chris Wells, Noonan recalled the making of MANHUNTER and its memorable madman.

MANHUNTERNOONANIFCNEWS1After turning down the fearsome part five times (for reasons of salary, not creative issues, Noonan revealed), the actor took the MANHUNTER gig, but didn’t feel it necessary to read Harris’ book, or any other research material, to get a handle on the character. “I went out and got a lot of books about serial killers, and all they made me feel was bad,” he said. “I was just like, ‘This is f**ked up; I don’t like this.’ So I didn’t really read any of them, and I didn’t do any of that kind of preparation. I don’t tend to do preparation much; a little bit on this, but not a whole lot.”

Noonan recalled writer/director Mann as a perfectionist to a fault—harshly criticizing Allen’s takes and once firing the entire art department over “a little tiny imperfection” in Dollarhyde’s van. The filmmaker also took Noonan’s suggestion of how to help him stay in character to the extreme. “I told him, ‘Well, it would be sort of great if I never had to see anybody in the movie who’s trying to kill me, or anybody I’m trying to kill’—which was basically everybody. He said, “OK,” and then this memo went out that day to the entire cast and crew, saying, ‘No one will see Tom again, no one will talk to Tom, everybody will avoid him, and if you don’t, if you do go near him…” [makes throat-cut gesture]

MANHUNTERNOONANIFCNEWS2“So I started flying on different airlines, staying in separate hotels, and I had this whole end of the studio where only I could go. Over time, it got crazier and crazier, like they always had a PA walking 20 or 30 feet in front of me, and one 20 or so feet behind me, so I’d never run into anybody. It was interesting, but really odd. I had breakfast with Joan Allen once or twice, but no one else.”

Among those who were allowed contact with Noonan were a group of tattooists—whom he recalled as seeming like biker-gang members—who spent many hours applying elaborate skin art “with heavy-duty felt-tip markers” to his body. Yet these never wound up appearing in the film (though they can be seen in still photos), and the actor revealed, “They shot everything both ways. So there’s footage of all those scenes with them and without.”

Music is a key component of MANHUNTER’s effectiveness, particularly the use of Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” to back the violent climax; Noonan recalled that Mann blasted the song on set while filming that sequence. It’s one of the many things that sets Mann’s film above the later RED DRAGON movie, directed by Brett Ratner with Ralph Fiennes as Dollarhyde. Noonan has never seen that version, though he did reveal that at the time of its release, one of his MANHUNTER co-stars planned a riposte to it. “Billy Peterson called me up and said, ‘We want you to be on CSI.’ They wanted that episode to air the weekend that [RED DRAGON] opened!”

Look for more of the Noonan conversation in an upcoming issue of FANGORIA; to find out more about the IFC Center’s upcoming screenings and series, click here.

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About the author
Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold has been a member of the FANGORIA team for the past three decades. After starting as a writer for the magazine in 1988, he came aboard as associate editor in 1990 and two years later moved up to managing editor. He now serves as editor-in-chief of the magazine while continuing to contribute numerous articles and reviews, as well as a contributing editor/writer for this website.
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