The Silence of the Lambs Oscar winner Jodie Foster reveals that at least three famous actors were considered to play Dr. Hannibal Lecter before Anthony Hopkins landed the role. Directed by the late Jonathan Demme, The Silence of the Lambs is arguably one of the scariest films to come out of Hollywood since its release in 1991. Starring Foster as FBI Cadet Clarice Starling, the film chronicles the hunt for the serial killer (Ted Levine) that comes with a high price: In order to find the madman, Starling must turn to another serial killer, the brilliant yet psychotic Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), for help.
The Silence of the Lambs proved to be an anomaly for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Forgoing its usual affinity for dramatic films, five Oscars were awarded to the horror-tinged crime thriller instead, including Best Picture, Best Director for Demme, Best Adapted Screenplay for Ted Tally, Best Actress for Foster, and Best Actor for Hopkins.
As it turns out, Hopkins – who made Lecter a cultural icon with all of the 25 minutes the character appeared on screen – may not have gotten the opportunity to play the role at all, until the persistence of Demme won out over other choices of three other esteemed actors. According to Deadline, Foster presented the film to the British Film Institute over the weekend, and revealed, among other things, that film giants Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman were all considered to play Lecter until the production cast Hopkins. Foster says that Demme's reasoning for wanting Hopkins boiled down to having a British actor playing Lecter. She says:
“Lecter is a manipulator and has a way of using language to keep people at bay … you wanted to see that Shakespearean monster. That’s why we jumped the pond.”
Foster also says she didn't see Hopkins until halfway through the movie, and that the actor shot a total of about "7 or 10 days." She recalls, "Much of the dialogue is straight to camera, a Hitchcock technique so some days I never even saw him." Foster says the duo's only chance to break bread came when the production was almost over with.
"It was the last day of shooting and I was eating a tuna fish sandwich and I said ‘I was a little scared of you’ and he said ‘I was scared of you’ and then we had a big hug.”
Stories from somebody like Foster, who had as close proximity to The Silence of the Lambs as anybody, are always fascinating to hear. Hollywood is filled with tales about performers turning down or missing out on roles in classic films, but there's no question that The Silence of the Lambs would have been dramatically different had the production opted for Pacino, De Niro or Hoffman over Hopkins, who was back on the big screen this weekend in Thor: Ragnarok. That's not to say any one of the trio of Oscar-winning American actors wouldn't have been able to excel as Lecter, they simply would have been different. For that reason alone, it would have changed the trajectory of the picture – as well as Hopkins' career – altogether.