Jodie Foster Reveals That Robert De Niro and Al Pacino Almost Played Hannibal Lecter
During a recent audience Q&A at the British Film Institute to promote the re-release of The Silence of the Lambs in the U.K., Jodie Foster dropped a few tasty behind-the-scenes morsels about the 1991 classic. Most notably, Foster revealed that Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Dustin Hoffman were all considered for the role of Hannibal Lecter, according to Deadline.
Huh? I mean, yeah, those are three great actors, but I can’t help thinking that the entire tone and feel of the movie would be wildly different had one of them been cast, and not better different. The role of Lecter, of course, eventually went to Anthony Hopkins, who claimed the Best Actor Oscar for his 15 minutes of screen time. As Foster explained, director Jonathan Demme elected to go with a Brit over his fellow American options. “Lecter is a manipulator and has a way of using language to keep people at bay,” Foster said. “You wanted to see that Shakespearean monster. That’s why we jumped the pond.”
Numerous actors have taken on the part of Hannibal Lecter over the last several decades, dating back to Michael Mann’s 1986 thriller Manhunter, in which he was played by Brian Cox. Then Hopkins took over for Silence, its sequel, 2001’s Hannibal, and the prequel, 2002’s Red Dragon. In 2007, Hannibal Rising told the story of Lecter’s childhood and formative years, with Gaspard Ulliel stepping into the Lecter role. And most recently, Mads Mikkelsen portrayed the cannibal psychiatrist on NBC’s Hannibal for three seasons.
But of the various Lecters, Hopkins’ Silence of the Lambs performance towers above them all, and not just for the Oscar win. The American Film Institute ranked Hopkins’ Lecter as the top film villain of all time, as did Empire magazine. It feels downright strange, even just plain wrong, imagining De Niro or Pacino inside that cell hissing lines about fava beans and Chianti.
During the Q&A, Foster also discussed working with Hopkins, with whom she didn’t actually spend much time on set:
I did the whole first part of the movie without him; he went off [after rehearsal] to go and shoot another movie. He only shot for seven or 10 days or maybe even less. I never saw him until halfway through the movie. […] Much of the dialogue is straight-to-camera, a Hitchcock technique, so some days I never even saw him.
And she mentioned how even after having recently won an Oscar herself, for 1988’s The Accused, Foster wasn’t Demme’s first choice. “I had just won an Oscar so I thought I’ve got a shot,” she said. But Demme, who boarded the project after Gene Hackman famously dropped out, originally wanted Michelle Pfeiffer for Clarice Starling. (Pfieffer turned down the part due to the subject matter.) Foster didn’t let that stop her:
The studio said that the next director was going to be Jonathan Demme and he’s not interested in you. I was devastated. So, I got on a plane and I said to him I want to be your second choice and eventually got the role.
Let’s just all take a breath and be thankful that the right people did, in the end, wind up playing Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling, however they got there.
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