Of all the ultimate villains in the history of Hollywood, Hannibal Lecter occupies one of the highest ranks. And while there have been many actors who have played the psychopathic serial killer, no one has quite managed to induce the same level of spine-tingling horror that Anthony Hopkins’ version of the character managed with just one look. Recently the actor and his co-star Jodie Foster in Jonathan Demme’s 1991 directed horror blockbuster The Silence of the Lamb revisited the making of the iconic villain and how Hopkins gave Lecter that unnerving, eerie presence.
In The Silence of the Lambs, Foster played the character of Clarice, a young FBI agent undergoing training, is assigned the task of interviewing former psychiatrist turned cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal Lecter and use his “experience” to catch another serial killer nicknamed “Buffalo Bill.” While Hopkins rarely got any scenes outside his cell, he still managed to create a chilling atmosphere long before that gory escape scene.
“We didn’t speak too much before the actual read-through,” shared Foster. “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 had a very different reason for not talking to her- he felt intimidated by Foster. “I couldn’t believe my luck, and I was scared to speak to you,” Hopkins revealed to his former co-star. “I thought, ‘She just won an Oscar.'”
But as far as becoming Hannibal Lecter goes, Anthony Hopkins got into the skin to the point that Demme was literally thrilled by his “weirdness”. Like, when he was not shooting, the actor still chose to remain in-character. He even lashed out at a lighting girl in his unique Lecter-style when she entered the cell, prompting Demme to marvel at how genuinely terrifying he makes the fictional character.
“And [Jonathan] said, ‘Oh, my God. You’re so weird’.”
Lauding Hopkins for being brilliantly weird became Demme’s go-to line as the actor continued giving ideas that served to amp up Lecter’s eerieness. Turns out, it was Hopkins’ idea to stand in the center of his cell when Clarice sees him for the first time. “I said, ‘I’d like to be standing there. I can smell her coming down the corridor,'” he shared.
One of the most iconic parts about Hopkins’ Lecter was his voice that the actor shared he paid special attention to.
“I knew what the character looked like. The voice had come to on the first reading,” he shared, adding that his inspiration was the character HAL 9000, the A.I. antagonist in 2001: A Space Odyssey as well as his teacher, Christopher Fettes, who taught Hopkins at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. “He had a cutting voice, and he would slice you to pieces. His analysis of what you were doing was so precise; it’s a method that stayed with me for all my life.”
It did certainly help Hopkins in presenting Lecter the way he had perceived the killer in his head.
“He’s like a machine. He just comes in like a silent shark.”