When Anthony Hopkins was first sent the script for The Silence of the Lambs, the innocent-sounding title made him think it was a children’s movie.
When Anthony Hopkins was first sent the script for The Silence of the Lambs, the innocent-sounding title made him think it was a children’s movie. Hopkins has enjoyed a long and fruitful career, stretching back to the early 1960s, but it is for his turn as Hannibal Lecter, the insane genius in Jonathan Demme’s 1991 thriller The Silence of the Lambs, that he will always be best known. Despite appearing on screen for only 16 minutes, Hopkins won the Academy Award for Best Actor and made the character an instant cinema icon.
An adaptation of Thomas Harris’s novel of the same name, The Silence of the Lambs swept the 1992 Academy Awards, winning the so-called Big Five, including Best Picture, Best Director for Demme, Best Actress for Jodie Foster, and Best Adapted Screenplay for writer Ted Tally. The movie was a rare hit with both critics and audiences and has retained its status as arguably the best serial killer thriller of all time. It has spawned a sequel, two prequels, and two TV series, including Hannibal and CBS’s upcoming Clarice, which focuses on the titular FBI agent and her career following the events of The Silence of the Lambs.
However, despite the movie being a tight, terrifying R-rated thriller, Hopkins admits that he thought it was a children’s movie when he was first sent the script. Speaking to Foster for Variety, Hopkins says the movie’s innocent-sounding title convinced him his agent sent him the script for a children’s story, asking him as much. However, he was corrected and says that ten pages into the script he was convinced it was the best part he’d ever read. He quickly accepted the offer, saying he “couldn’t believe” his luck. You can read his full comments below:
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 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 read the rest of the script, and Jonathan 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 [Foster]. I thought, "She just won an Oscar."
Thankfully Hopkins didn’t dismiss the script straight away, as it’s doubtful the role would have become as iconic with someone else performing. Hopkins’ unnerving performance is the highlight in a movie that is considered almost perfect. The Welsh actor’s portrayal of the serial killer helped turn a minor role into an iconic one.
Sadly, Hopkins couldn’t recapture the magic in 2001’s Red Dragon or 2002’s Red Dragon, which diluted the character’s menace and disappointed both fans and critics. Still, The Silence of the Lambs is considered one of, if not the, finest thrillers of the 1990s, thanks to its intelligent approach to mature subject matter, never sacrificing quality in service of cheap thrills. It most definitely is not a children’s story, but at least Hopkins has a funny story to tell about how he got the part.