The Silence of the Lambs, released in 1991 and starring Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins, is one of the darkest and most brilliant films of the 90s. Adapted from the 1988 book by Thomas Harris, The Silence of the Lambs mixed horror and detective story to Oscar-winning effect, and popularised the psychological thriller genre in the 1990s.
Here are 12 of the most interesting facts you probably didn’t know about director Jonathan Demme’s chilling American classic.
12. Sean Connery passed on the film because he thought it was “disgusting”
Although Anthony Hopkins was always on the shortlist to play Hannibal Lecter, Sean Connery was the first actor to be offered the role. The James Bond actor was enjoying a career resurgence at the time, following his Best Supporting Actor Oscar win for 1987’s The Untouchables. However, Connery promptly turned the part down.
It was reported that Connery thought the script was “disgusting” and that he “wouldn’t dream of playing the part” of the cannibalistic serial killer.
11. Scott Glenn was reduced to tears by his serial killer research
After Gene Hackman declined an offer to play Clarice Starling’s FBI mentor Jack Crawford, Scott Glenn landed the part. A dedicated method actor, Glenn took his research for The Silence of the Lambs very seriously, including a hands-on exploration of real serial killer cases.
During a tour of the Quantico Behavioral Science Unit, Glenn was given tapes to listen to, which were so disturbing they caused him to run out of the room in tears. The experience caused Glenn to change his formerly liberal stance on the death penalty.
10. Anthony Hopkins took his character inspiration from some unexpected places
Thanks to a haunting performance from Anthony Hopkins, Hannibal Lecter became one of the most iconic big screen bogeymen of all time. However, for his unforgettably sinister turn as the monstrous yet hyper-intelligent serial killer, Hopkins took inspiration from some unexpected sources.
Hopkins said afterwards that he modelled his Lecter on Truman Capote and Katharine Hepburn for the voice, and the murderous supercomputer HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
9. Hopkins insisted Lecter wear white to tap into a very human fear
Although at times we see Lecter in prison jumpsuits of blue denim and bright orange, it was at the insistence of Anthony Hopkins that Hannibal Lecter always wear white as well. Famously, he is clad all in white in his last face-to-face meeting with Jodie Foster’s Clarice, before staging his grisly escape.
Hopkins’ reasoning in wearing white was that he was hoping to play on the fear that many people already have of doctors and dentists.
8. Buffalo Bill was based on a few real-life serial killers
Buffalo Bill, played with such menace by Ted Levine, was based on a few notorious real-life serial killers. These include Jerry Brudos, Ted Bundy, Ed Gein and Edmund Kemper.
Perhaps the most significant influence was Gary Heidnik, who kept women prisoner in a pit in his basement, much as Bill does in The Silence of the Lambs.
7. Ted Levine improvised that dance
One of the most memorable and unsettling scenes in The Silence of the Lambs is when Buffalo Bill dances and sings along to the song Goodbye Horses, partially dressed in his incomplete woman suit. This was not part of the original script, or Thomas Harris’ novel.
Actor Ted Levine insisted that Bill perform a strange dance to camera, as it would help show viewers how disturbed his character was.
6. The perspex cell was added for the director’s convenience
One of the film’s most famous sequences sees Clarice Starling visit the Baltimore Hospital for the Criminally Insane, where she meets Lecter. You might have wondered why Lecter’s cell has a clear perspex screen, as opposed to the more old-fashioned bars on the other cells Clarice passes on her way down the corridor.
This was entirely the invention of director Jonathan Demme. He opted to use perspex, as he thought that the filming through prison bars would ruin the mood of the scenes.
5. Jodie Foster’s horrified reaction to Anthony Hopkins was real
During their first meeting, Lecter gets under Starling’s skin by imitating her southern accent on the line “What is your father, dear? Is he a coal miner? Does he stink of the lamp?” If Jodie Foster appears genuinely upset by this, that’s because she really was.
Hopkins was aware that Foster was genuinely insecure about the accent she was using for the film, so when he made a point of mocking her accent, Foster felt personally attacked. However, the actress later said she appreciated Hopkins doing this, as it helped her performance.
4. Lecter never once says “Hello Clarice”
Whenever The Silence of the Lambs is quoted, people often hiss “Hello, Clarice,” in Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter accent. However, Lecter never actually says this in the film: every time he greets Starling, Lecter says “Good evening, Clarice.”
This is one among many famous misquotes from film history, along such other common paraphrases as “Play it again, Sam” (Casablanca) and “Luke, I am your father” (The Empire Strikes Back).
3. Anthony Hopkins won the Best Actor Oscar for 16 minutes of screen time
At the 1992 Academy Awards, Anthony Hopkins walked away with the Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role, beating out competition from Warren Beatty in Bugsy, Robert De Niro in Cape Fear, Nick Nolte in The Prince of Tides and Robin Williams in The Fisher King.
This proved to be one of the more controversial moments in the history of the Oscars, as some felt Hopkins should have been in the Best Supporting Actor category. He only appears in 16 minutes of The Silence of the Lambs’ almost two-hour running time.
2. The film was heavily criticised by the LGBT community
Upon its release, Lambs was criticised by members of the LGBT community for its portrayal of Buffalo Bill as bisexual and transgender, with particular outrage reserved for the infamous ‘tuck’ scene. It was felt that this representation only served to further demonise those who already had to deal with persecution and prejudice.
In response, the film’s director Jonathan Demme said that Buffalo Bill “wasn’t a gay character. He was a tormented man who hated himself and wished he was a woman because that would have made him as far away from himself as he possibly could be.”
1. It won a rare pile of Oscars
At the 1992 Oscars, The Silence of the Lambs became only the third film in history to win the Academy Awards in all of the ‘top five’ categories: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.
The only films to manage this previously were It Happened One Night in 1935 and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 1976. To date, no other film has matched this achievement.