Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster may have both won Academy Awards for their performances in Jonathan Demme’s classic psychological thriller The Silence of the Lambs, but neither was the first choice for their respective roles as Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling by any stretch of the imagination.
Demme initially approached Sean Connery to play the sociopathic cannibal with a genius IQ but he was rejected, while Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman and Daniel Day-Lewis were all reportedly under consideration as well before Hopkins was ultimately cast and turned Dr. Lecter into a cultural and cinematic icon.
As for Foster, she lobbied hard for the opportunity to play Clarice and had recently won her first Academy Award for The Accused, but Demme appeared to have little interest in hiring her. Having just worked together on comedy Married to the Mob, the filmmaker wanted Michelle Pfeiffer as Clarice, and in a recent interview, the actress revealed why she ended up saying no.
“With The Silence of the Lambs, I was trepidatious. There was such evil in that film. The thing I most regret is missing the opportunity to do another film with Jonathan. It was that evil won in the end, that at the end of that film evil ruled out. I was uncomfortable with that ending. I didn’t want to put that out into the world.”
Meg Ryan also knocked back the chance to play the rookie FBI agent, while Demme was interested in Laura Dern, too, but the studio didn’t think she was a big enough name to headline the project. Pfeiffer is a brilliant actress that’s won serious acclaim for tackling a variety of different genres dating back well over 30 years, but it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Jodie Foster as Clarice at his point.
Julianne Moore did her best in Hannibal, and CBS’ new procedural is premiering next week, but it would take a hell of a turn to knock Foster’s work in The Silence of the The Lambs out of the public consciousness when it comes to the definitive take on Clarice Starling.