Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs, adapted from the Thomas Harris crime novel of the same name, is one of the most critically acclaimed and universally adored thrill-rides ever put on film. Jodie Foster stars as Clarice Starling, an FBI agent trying to make her name in a male-dominated workplace, tasked with tracking down a serial killer who’s been abducting and skinning women.
She enlists the help of Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), a convicted cannibalistic serial killer, in the only horror movie to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. So, here are 10 Unsettling Behind-The-Scenes Facts About The Silence Of The Lambs.
10 Anthony Hopkins improvised mocking Jodie Foster’s accent
The on-screen chemistry shared by Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster in their four scenes as Dr. Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling, respectively, was so powerful that their relationship has defined The Silence of the Lambs. When Clarice first meets Dr. Lecter, he makes fun of her Southern accent, and right afterward, Clarice looks genuinely offended. That’s because she was. Hopkins improvised the mockery of Foster’s accent, so Foster wasn’t expecting it and she took it as a personal attack. However, she remained in character for the rest of the scene, and later thanked Hopkins for getting an authentic performance out of her.
9 Jonathan Demme deliberately framed the movie from Clarice’s perspective
Director Jonathan Demme really earned his Oscar for The Silence of the Lambs. Every single creative decision was based on Demme’s strong command of his story and characters. For example, in any scene in which Clarice is talking to somebody, the character she’s talking to speaks directly to the camera.
When the shot cuts to Clarice, she’s looking slightly off-camera. Demme deliberately framed the scenes this way to put the audience in Clarice’s shoes and make sure she was the character that the viewers identified with. Making Clarice a relatable protagonist was key to The Silence of the Lambs working.
8 Buffalo Bill is a composite of three real-life serial killers
Jame “Buffalo Bill” Gumb, the serial killer that Clarice is investigating when she recruits the help of Hannibal Lecter, was a composite of three real-life serial killers: Ted Bundy, who lured women into a creepy van; Ed Gein, who skinned his victims; and Gary Heidnick, who kidnapped women and trapped them in a pit in his basement. So, if Buffalo Bill is particularly horrifying, it’s because he’s not just one serial killer – he’s three rolled into one. Buffalo Bill’s iconic dance was not in the original script. Ted Levine improvised the dance based on what he thought the character would do.
7 Jodie Foster worked with a real FBI agent to prepare for her role
When she was preparing for the role of Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs, Jodie Foster worked with a real FBI agent named Mary Ann Krause. This helped Foster to get inside the mindset of a female agent and accurately portray the women she was representing in the movie. Krause gave Foster some ideas for performative flourishes that ended up in the movie. For example, it was Krause’s idea for Clarice to break down crying while standing next to her car. Krause explained that sometimes, FBI work gets so intense and overwhelming that it’s important to have an emotional release every now and then.
6 Anthony Hopkins’ performance is the second-shortest ever by a Best Actor winner
When Anthony Hopkins’ agent first called him about a script with the title The Silence of the Lambs, Hopkins thought it was a kids’ movie. It ended up becoming the third movie in history to win Oscars in all five major categories (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay).
With his Best Actor win, Hopkins became the actor with the second-shortest performance to receive the award. Hopkins had 24 minutes and 52 seconds of screen time in The Silence of the Lambs, which is almost as brief a “leading role” as David Niven’s record-holding 23 minutes and 39 seconds of screen time in Separate Tables.
5 A crew member dropped a wrench during Clarice’s lamb monologue
The title of The Silence of the Lambs comes from a speech that Clarice delivers in the movie. Hannibal only agreed to help Clarice with her investigation on the condition that she opens up to him about her childhood. So, she reluctantly tells him a story about running away. When she’s talking about taking a lamb and says, “I thought if I could save just one…,” a wrench can be heard falling on the floor. A member of the crew accidentally dropped the wrench off-camera and feared that it would ruin the take. However, Jodie Foster didn’t break character and the take made it into the movie.
4 Michelle Pfeiffer was Jonathan Demme’s first choice to play Clarice
When a film adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs went into development, Jodie Foster adamantly lobbied for the role of Clarice Starling. And screenwriter Ted Tally wrote the role with Foster in mind, similarly feeling that she would be perfect for the part. However, director Jonathan Demme didn’t see it that way at first. His initial choice for the role of Clarice was Michelle Pfeiffer. Foster was only considered when Pfeiffer demanded a $2 million paycheck that the studio wouldn’t agree to. Demme realized that Foster was the ideal choice to play Clarice based on her Clarice-like determination to receive the role.
3 The FBI cooperated with the production to attract more female agents
The Silence of the Lambs makes no secret of the fact that law enforcement is a male-dominated field. It’s the driving obstacle behind Clarice Starling’s character arc. She gets no respect from her superiors and she has to fight to even be noticed among the crowd. The real-life FBI cooperated fully with the production. They felt that the story of Clarice would be a good recruiting tool to get more female agents to sign up for the Bureau (even though the whole point is that Clarice faces constant sexist scrutiny at work). Specifically, the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit helped out with the film, providing technical consultancy and a couple of pointers.
2 Anthony Hopkins researched serial killers in preparation for the film
While he was preparing to play Hannibal Lecter, Anthony Hopkins studied a handful of real-life serial killers. He visited prisons and met with convicted murderers in order to dig into the psychology of what drives people to kill other people. He even attended a few court hearings involving grisly murders.
Director Jonathan Demme told Hopkins that he believed Dr. Lecter was a good man, which confused Hopkins. Demme reasoned that Dr. Lecter wasn’t a bad person; he was just trapped inside an inhuman mind. Hopkins incorporated this curious angle while he was playing the character, which only made Lecter more unnerving.
1 Jodie Foster wanted to buy the rights to the book herself
In addition to being one of Hollywood’s foremost actors, Jodie Foster has done a bunch of writing, directing, and producing behind the scenes of her filmography. She’s always on the lookout for potential new projects. When she first read Thomas Harris’ novel The Silence of the Lambs, she wanted to buy the film rights to the book herself. However, when she inquired about making an offer, she found that Gene Hackman had already beaten her to the punch. Of course, she would still get to star in the movie when it did eventually go into production with Jonathan Demme directing.
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