Can you have too much of an evil thing? Will a third Hannibal Lecter movie turn the horror icon into a Freddy Krueger-ish joke? When Anthony Hopkins was asked to reprise his Oscar-winning role for Red Dragon — a prequel to The Silence of the Lambs — he briefly pondered these questions.

"I did think of [the risks] for a while," Hopkins admits. "But then I thought, 'It's not life or death. It's only a movie after all.'" Tell that to the fans who mobbed him like a rock star at a recent Red screening. Or the British tabs, who love speculating that he's a real-life cannibal. "I've been living with this for 12 years," he says. "I sometimes have to remind people I have done other films."

Thus, before signing on the dotted line, Hopkins made one demand of director Brett Ratner, whose previous credits include Rush Hour and The Family Man. "I didn't want to do a parody of Silence of the Lambs — which I'm afraid that Hannibal was a bit," Hopkins says, taking a slight jab at 2001's hugely successful sequel. "I said I would like to play him more dangerously, with lots more menace. It's very tempting to go back to the cute stuff or the campy stuff. I want to play him with blazing anger and rage against everyone..."

With Silence's Oscar-winning scribe Ted Tally on board, Hopkins felt more assured of his character's integrity in this film. But yet another challenge awaited the 64-year-old actor — to play the daft doctor younger than he was in 1991's Lambs. According to the Thomas Harris novels, that would put Hannibal in his mid-40s. Natch, this cosmetic task required more than just dyeing his gray away!

"I worked out a lot," Hopkins recalls. "I worked very hard on the Stairmaster and treadmill, sometimes an hour and a half a day, every day. Then, I was on this carbohydrate diet where I had pretzels for lunch, and I could have a turkey sandwich on Wednesdays." Perhaps he'd prefer fava beans and a nice Chianti?