Anthony Hopkins eats up ‘Hannibal’

The sequel to the Academy Award-winning thriller “The Silence of the Lambs” will apparently move forward with its lead villain still intact. (Even if the guy’s victims won’t be.)

Anthony Hopkins has reportedly agreed to return to the “Lambs” fold for “Hannibal” — reprising his role as the brilliant but ravenously deadly Dr. Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter. No word on what the star’s paycheck would be.

The Hopkins score, as reported in today’s Hollywood Reporter, should come as a sigh of relief to producers who had yet to land any of the original film’s leads. Jodie Foster, though not completely out of the picture, has expressed doubts about the way her stalwart FBI agent Clarice Starling was portrayed in author Thomas Harris’ novel “Lambs” follow-up, also named “Hannibal.” Foster says she’s holding fire until reading a script.

According to reports, Foster may well like what she gets. Writer Steven Zaillian‘s second-draft script is apparently doing the job. The Reporter says Hopkins, Universal execs, director Ridley Scott and producer Dino De Laurentis are all happy with the rewrite.

Thus far, the picture has been considered by many to be in danger. “Silence of the Lambs” director Jonathan Demme was the first to turn down the film. When word came that Foster might be having second thoughts, speculation began as to whether a Foster-less “Hannibal” would foster any credibility among filmgoers.

Hopkins, Foster and Demme each won Oscars for their work in the 1991 original. The movie itself was tapped Best Picture.

With Hopkins apparently close to inking a deal, industry watchers will once again focus on Foster‘s status. The actress has reportedly still not read Zaillian‘s screenplay.

The picture is tentatively scheduled to go before cameras as early as next spring in both Italy and the United States.