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SYFY WIRE The Silence of the Lambs

Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster recount Silence of the Lambs' behind the scenes creepiness for 30th anniversary

By Nivea Serrao
The Silence of the Lambs, Anthony Hopkins

It's been 30 years since The Silence of the Lambs first introduced terrified audiences to the cannibalistic Hannibal Lecter and his interrogator Clarice Starling — the latter of whom will soon be the center of her own prequel TV show

But while a new interpretation of the character will soon be making her way onto CBS, the stars of the original, award-winning 1991 film, Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins, recently reunited for a conversation for Variety to discuss the now-iconic horror movie and their experiences making it — as well as the inspirations for the acting choices for their characters, which were based on those from Thomas Harris' novel of the same name. 

During their chat, Foster noted that Hopkins' choice of voice for his character set the tone for the film almost immediately. 

"We didn’t speak too much before the actual read-through," she said during their conversation. "And as you launched into Hannibal Lecter, I felt a chill come over the room. In a way, it was like we were almost too scared to talk to each other after that." 

For his part, Hopkins felt like he understood the character right away, requesting both a tailored suit for their first meeting and that Lecter be standing when she arrived, because as he told director Jonathan Demme when asked, "I can smell her coming down the corridor."

He also tapped into the voice he'd be using to play Lecter right away, and much to Demme's delight remained in character between takes, sometimes even reacting to crew members as Lecter. 

"I knew what the character looked like. The voice had come to me on the first reading," Hopkins recounted to Foster. "Jonathan asked me, and I said, 'He’s like a machine. He’s like HAL, the computer in [2001: A Space Odyssey]: 'Good evening, Dave.'" He just comes in like a silent shark." 

Hopkins' choice proved so memorable that Foster said she still recalls it and the effect it had on others, something the movie's production team seized on. "I remember that specific voice you had, the metallic tinge to your voice," Foster noted. "Chris Newman was the sound mixer, and he also enhanced that. He was able to bring that up a little bit."

She added, "I feel like we were all inspired by the book."

Hopkins also recalled another, much lesser-known inspiration for his take on Lecter: Christopher Fettes, a movement teacher he'd had at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. "He had a cutting voice, and he would slice you to pieces," shared Hopkins. "His analysis of what you were doing was so precise; it’s a method that stayed with me for all my life." 

For Foster, finding Clarice's character was also about finding her voice and how to embody her through it. "She was somebody that had been scarred by the bleeding of the lambs, the sound and how there was nothing she could do to help them," Foster said, following Hopkins observation that it was her character's existence in a much more male-driven world that made Clarice such a hero.

"My mom said to me, 'Why do you want to play this character who’s kind of quiet and mousy?' She had this quietness," Foster continued. "There was almost a shame that she wasn’t bigger, that she wasn’t stronger, this person trying to overcome the failure of the body they were born in. I understood that was her strength. In some ways, she was just like the victims — another girl in another town. The fact that she could relate to those victims made her the hero." 

Foster went on to note that the movie was a "life-changing adventure" for both of them, with fans still referencing iconic moments when they meet either of them. "I’m sure you still get people who come up to you and say, 'Would you like a nice Chianti?'" she asked Hopkins. 

"Oh yeah," he replied. "They do."

Clarice premieres on CBS on Feb. 11.