“Hello, Clarice.” Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins opened up about their experience working together on 1991’s Silence of the Lambs — and admitted to feeling pretty intimidated by one another the first time they met.
“We didn’t get to speak too much before the actual read-through. We just sort of kind of waved from across the room and then sat down at the table,” Foster, 58, said during a video chat with Hopkins, 83, for Variety on Tuesday, January 19, in honor of the upcoming 30th anniversary of Silence of the Lambs. “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.”
Hopkins, for his part, “couldn’t believe” that he’d have the opportunity to share the screen with the Yale alum, who had just scored the Academy Award for Best Actress for 1988’s The Accused at the time.
“I remember, I was in London in 1989, doing a play called M. Butterfly. 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?'” the Welsh actor teased. “It was a hot summer afternoon, and the script came over and I started reading it. After 10 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 couldn’t believe my luck, and I was scared to speak to you. I thought, ‘She just won an Oscar.'”
Directed by the late Jonathan Demme, the chilling horror film follows FBI trainee Clarice Starling (Foster), who seeks the advice of psychiatrist and cannibal Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins) to help her search for a serial killer named Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine). The movie was met with critical success, sweeping the big five categories — Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay — at the 1992 Academy Awards.
In the three decades since its release, Foster and Hopkins are still floored by the legacy Silence of the Lambs has left behind. When the Taxi Driver actress initially came across the thriller’s script, she knew Clarice would be the role of a lifetime.
“There are certain images that get seared into your imagination and you say, ‘That’s the character,'” she recalled on Tuesday. “For me, with Clarice, it was also about her voice, mostly because 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. My mom said to me, ‘Why do you want to play this character who’s kind of quiet and mousy?’ She had this quietness. 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.”
However, Foster was able to see that those qualities were what gave Clarice her strength. “In some ways, she was just like the victims — another girl in another town,” she said. “The fact that she could relate to those victims made her the hero.”
Both Foster’s and Hopkins’ characters have become icons over the last 30 years, with fans still reciting some of Hannibal Lecter’s most frightening lines when they cross paths with the Emmy winner. Though he makes it look easy onscreen, Hopkins struggled to strike the correct tone for the famed fictional serial killer. There was one moment, however, that he knew he’d “pressed the right button” while filming.
“I was naturally nervous, an Englishman — a limey like me, a Welshman — playing an American serial killer,” the Westworld alum recalled. “And I remember [Jonathan Demme], when the camera picked me up, he said, ‘Oh, my God. That’s it. Hopkins. You’re so weird!’ And I said, ‘Why, thank you.'”