A year ago, executive producers Alex Kurtzman and Jenny Lumet were gearing up to shoot the pilot of Clarice, their original exploration of what happened to young FBI Agent Clarice Starling, the heroine of author Thomas Harris’ The Silence of the Lambs (as portrayed by Jodie Foster in 1992's Oscar-sweeping film adaptation). The EPs envisioned their television series would be a unique telling of her story, that because of licensing rights issues, would not feature the infamous character of Hannibal Lecter (infamously played in the film by Anthony Hopkins).
Of course, COVID-19 happened in early 2020, and just one week before the pilot was ready to shoot, all global production shut down. At today’s Television Critics Association virtual press day for CBS, Kurtzman, Lumet and their cast shared that it took six months to finally be able to shoot the pilot for the series, which debuts next month on CBS.
The producers also noted that Clarice distinguishes itself from all prior adaptations by approaching the narrative from Starling’s point of view, while all other films and series have been centered on the male gaze. "They haven’t looked through her lenses and asked what’s it like to be young, female, and suddenly famous for saving a life and defeating a monster?” Lumet said.
Complimenting Bryan Fuller’s critically-acclaimed, horror-centric Hannibal television series starring Mads Mikkelsen as the titular cannibal, Kurtzman said it was arguably one of the most sumptuously visualized shows ever. And because of that, they worked hard with pilot director Maja Vrvilo to establish a unique style for Clarice.
“We said from the beginning that we envisioned this as streaming show,” Kurtzman said. “But CBS said, 'Please put it on the network and we’ll let you make any show you want.' We said, ‘Are you sure, because it will feel like a streaming show?’ And they said, 'Sure.' And we haven’t had one note telling us to conform to CBS network.”
Calling that freedom “liberating,” Kurtzman said Vrvilo established a very cinematic shooting style that set a precedent in making sure Clarice doesn’t look like a typical network procedural drama. “Especially in the pilot, we tie the camera to Clarice,” he explained. “We tied the narrative to her POV and the visual narrative too. By Episode 2, we open it up to all the other characters, but the pilot is all about her.”
Australian actress Rebecca Breeds (The Originals) steps into the sensible shoes of Agent Starling, embodying her a year after the character solves the infamous Buffalo Bill serial killer case. Still haunted by the entire experience, the show will introduce a string of new murders forcing her back onto a new case that will connect Starling’s past to the present.
To portray Starling in the series, Breeds adopts the unique accent originated by Foster in The Silence of the Lambs. She told reporters she found it incredibly helpful in bringing the character home to her.
“I found Clarice when I found the accent,” she admitted. “And I don’t know if she would feel the same if I didn’t use the Appalachian accent. I wanted to echo the voice because it’s that familiarity that will link the two worlds. And I have to work on it, but I don’t think it takes me out of the character. It’s a dark world [in the series] and it’s nice to step out of it between scenes, so it’s a nice on and off switch.”
Breeds also shared that her audition and hiring happened fast in early 2020. There was just a week between when she signed on to play Starling to when she was in the United States to prep with her FBI training. But when COVID-19 shut production down, she flew back to Australia to quarantine and use the free time to get more into character.
“It gave us a moment to put our heads around [the piece],” she explained. “And it was positive time to prep and study the books and really understand the character based on what Harris wrote. Making lemonade out of it, the break was really valuable for me to ground myself before going to set.”
Clarice is set to debut Feb. 11 on CBS.