Anthony Hopkins wasn’t the first name to play Hannibal Lecter, with the honor falling to Brian Cox in Michael Mann’s overlooked and severely underrated Manhunter, but you can guarantee that he’ll always be the definitive interpretation of the character. The star’s screen time in The Silence of the Lambs only amounts to sixteen minutes, but it was more than enough to land him an Academy Award for Best Actor and turn the cannibalistic sociopath into a cultural icon.
Thomas Harris’ literary creation ended up spawning a multimedia franchise that’s still going strong today, and Hopkins returned in Hannibal and Red Dragon, while Gaspard Ulliel stepped in for unnecessary and painfully tedious prequel Hannibal Rising. Meanwhile, we might never see the fourth season of Bryan Fuller’s acclaimed psychological small screen thriller, but Clarice is set to debut on CBS this year even though contractual issues mean the series can’t even refer to Dr. Lecter by name.
That’s an impressive legacy to leave behind, and in a recent interview conducted by his The Silence of the Lambs co-star Jodie Foster, Hopkins admitted that when he was first handed the script, the title had him thinking it was a children’s film as opposed to a dark and twisted tale.
“My agent sent a script. He said, ‘Why don’t you read this? It’s called Silence of the Lambs‘. I said, ‘Is it a children’s story?’. It was a hot summer afternoon, and the script came over and I started reading it. After ten pages, I phoned my agent. I said, ‘Is this a real offer? I want to know. This is the best part I’ve ever read’. I read the rest of the script, and Jonathan Demme came over on a Saturday afternoon and we had dinner. And I said, ‘Is this for real?’. And he said, ‘Yeah’. I said, ‘OK’. He was such a wonderful guy to work with. I couldn’t believe my luck, and I was scared to speak to you. I thought, ‘She just won an Oscar’.”
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The Silence of the Lambs is one of the very few movies in history to nab the ‘Big Five’ at the Academy Awards having won trophies for Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Screenplay. As such, it doesn’t matter how many times Hannibal Lecter ends up being reinvented and rebooted, as it’ll take some real effort on any actor’s part to try and eclipse Hopkins as the first name that comes to find when you think of the mild-mannered psychopath.