You'll Never Eat Lunch In This Town Again

Among the first people to read the top-secret manuscript of Thomas Harris's new novel, "Hannibal," were four of the 1992 Oscar winners for "The Silence of the Lambs": director Jonathan Demme, stars Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster and screenwriter Ted Tally. Producer Dino De Laurentiis, 79, who's controlled the film rights to the Hannibal character since "Manhunter" (the movie made from "Red Dragon"), paid $10 million for the new book, a record price. He'd passed on his rights to make "Silence"--which went on to gross $130 million. For the last few years he's been courting Harris, taking his pasta chef to the author's Miami home to make him dinner.

But the sequel won't be a full re-union of the "Silence" team. Demme says he won't direct "Hannibal." It was rumored he thought the new book was too violent, but through his spokeswoman he denied it. "He's suffering from sequel-itis," says Leslee Dart. "He feels he's done the best he can with those characters." Last week De Laurentiis flew to Los Angeles to line up the talent. Sources close to Foster and Hopkins say the stars are interested. "Sure, I'm going to make an offer to Tony and Jodie," says De Laurentiis, "but first I have to get a director." He'll also meet with Universal, where he has a deal. There's some worry within the studio that the movie will be too violent and that after paying Foster and Hopkins, who could cost $15 million to $20 million each, the budget would balloon to $100 million. Despite the rush to seal the deal, it could be a while until "Hannibal" lunges into a theater near you.

BUDGET GROSS MOVIE (MILLIONS) 'Silence of the Lambs,' 1991 $22.0 $130.0 'Manhunter,' 1986 $14.0 $8.0 'Black Sunday,' 1977 $8.0 $15.0