It's been one of the most eagerly-anticipated sequels of all times and at long last the wait is over for Hannibal fans desperate to whet their appetite on this year's most talked about film.
After 10 years, Hannibal, the follow up to the smash hit Silence Of The Lambs finally arrives on the big screen and it's not just movie audiences who will be breathing a sigh of relief, the film's star Sir Anthony Hopkins says he couldn't wait to reprise his role as the fearsome, flesh-eating serial killer Dr Hannibal Lecter.
"People were always asking me about the sequel and I would say ask Tom Harris,'' says Hopkins, referring to the reclusive author who penned the best-selling Hannibal.
"I was beginning to doubt the existence of him. I thought he was a figment of people's imagination because he had actually never been known by anyone, nobody ever saw him. So when I was told the sequel was going ahead I said yes immediately."
In fact, Hopkins is so at ease with his Oscar-winning portrayal of the cannibal killer that to actually meet the Welsh born star in the flesh is more than a little disconcerting.
There are no menacing grins or cold, steely gazes, just a well-groomed, softly spoken 63-year old man with a very sharp, deprecating wit and a surprising talent for mimicry - in fact, much of his conversation is punctuated by spot-on impersonations of his comedy idol Tommy Cooper.
So just what part of Hopkins' deep, dark psyche did the despicable Lecter emerge from?
"I don't know," he muses. "Playing the part has never actually affected me in a negative way, but I am interested in why Hannibal is such a phenomenon. I think it's because we all like the bogey man, we're fascinated by the dark, shady characters in literature, Iago, Phantom Of The Opera, Richard III.
"Psychologically they are archetypes, Lecter is an archetype, so is Clarice, she is the warrior who takes on the Minotaur, I won't go much deeper than that,'' he says with a wry smile.
This time round, Clarice Starling, the FBI agent originally played by Jodie Foster, is replaced by Julianne Moore, after the Oscar-winning star turned down the offer of reprising her role. Hopkins admits he was disappointed by Foster's refusal but says he had no problem recreating that all important on-screen chemistry with his new co-star.
"It really didn't make much difference," he says simply, "We only had a few scenes together. Julianne was a little nervous because she was taking over from Jodie Foster but working with her was wonderful because she is a very beautiful, very warm woman. She has a wonderful icy beauty, she's not an icy person but on film it works because there's a kind of cold beauty together with her toughness against the male chauvinists around her. This makes her very attractive and very challenging and erotic. By the time we got together, that was all there."
The new on-screen partnership seems to have gone down well in the States where the movie has just opened taking a staggering 19 million dollars on its first night.
It's also given Hopkins a renewed zest for his profession after taking a year long break before Hannibal to ponder his future.
"It was wrongly reported that I was going to retire altogether from films," he states. "That was never the case. After making Titus I decided to take a year out and apart from a small part in Mission Impossible 2 which took 10 days, I went back to LA and literally tended the flowers in the garden, walked on the beach, climbed the mountains, drove my car and that was it.
"Something did happen to me in that year, the more I relaxed the more I took the time to consider what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I got myself checked out physically. I changed my diet a little, realised I was in good shape, so I was ready for Hannibal and I've done two more films since then."
Although he's raring to go again Hopkins describes himself as a "beach bum" at heart and doesn't intend to over-exert himself with a return to his roots in British theatre.
"I just don't have the discipline and tenacity," he says candidly. "I do admire Judi Dench and Sir Ian McKellen but I'm a philistine. I like the good life too much, I'm not good at going on stage night after night and on wet Wednesday afternoons. I sends me into a suicidal depression," he adds with an uproarious laugh.
He does, however, admit he misses Britain, particularly his beloved Wales.
"I have dual citizenship, it just so happens I live in America," he says. "I would like to go back to Wales. I'm obsessed with my childhood and at least three times a week dream I am back there."
But these days, after years of self doubt and inner torment which led to a drink problem and a tumultuous personal life - he is still married to his wife Jenny but recently broke off an engagement to an American girlfriend - Hopkins seems to have at last found a level of contentment and inner peace.
"Everything has happened beyond my wildest dreams," he smiles. "Years ago I
met Richard Burton in Port Talbot, my home town, and afterwards he passed in his
car with his wife and I thought, 'I want to get out and become like him'. Not
because of Wales, because I love Wales, but because I was so limited as a child
at school and so bereft and lonely and I thought becoming an actor would do
that. It's been a terrific life and I have done everything I've needed to do,"
he adds with a warm smile.