This year marks the 30th anniversary of Jonathan Demme’s Academy-Award winning film “Silence of the Lambs.” Starring Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster, the big screen adaptation of Thomas Harris’ 1988 novel has remained a cinematic powerhouse for over three decades.
Dr. Hannibal Lecter is one the world’s most well-known fictional serial killers, and remains one of Hopkins’ most recognizable roles to date. But that nearly wasn’t the case, as the Welsh actor was actually Demme’s second choice. “Sean Connery was the only other person I thought could be amazing for this,” the director said (via Deadline). “Connery has that fierce intelligence and also that serious physicality. I love Tony Hopkins, but Sean Connery would be amazing.”
However, Connery took one look at the script and turned it down. “Word came back shortly that he thought it was disgusting and wouldn’t dream of playing the part.” So the script was sent over to Hopkins, who jumped at the opportunity. “I read the script and – boom! – I knew intuitively how to play him,” he told Empire magazine. But what did Hopkins draw upon for the character, especially that sadistic drawl?
Anthony Hopkins based Hannibal Lecter on his drama teacher
As the actor explained to Vanity Fair, Hannibal’s voice and demeanour was directly inspired by drama teacher Christopher Fettes at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. “There was a teacher we had, a Stanislavsky method teacher, and he was lethal. He would just take you apart intellectually,” he explained. “He’d just smirk, and he’d say, ‘No. Do it again’… I based it on him: ‘No, Clarice.'”
Hopkins also described Fettes as a man with “a cutting voice” that could “slice you to pieces” -– a perfect attribute for a serial killing cannibal (via Empire ). “His analysis of what you were doing was so precise; it’s a method that stayed with me for all of my life.” But it wasn’t just his drama teacher that influenced the voice, Hopkins used a combination of three specific accents to perfect Hannibal’s tone -– that of Katharine Hepburn, Truman Capote, and H.A.L. from “2001: A Space Odyssey”.
As for his physical appearance, the actor made the decisions for his slicked-back hair and tight prison suit to “suggest total control”, while it was Demme’s idea for Hannibal to be pale, and advised Hopkins to stay out of the sun for a while. “After my first make-up session, I went to the mirror and thought – ‘this is it’.”
And boy, did Hannibal Lecter make a lasting impression.
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