Last weekend was the 25th anniversary of the release of The Silence of the Lambs, a movie that surprised many with its tremendous successes at both the box office and at the Oscars, as well as with its becoming such an iconic and influential work of cinema. A lot of its notoriety then and now is due to the movie's pleasantly terrifying portrayal of cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal Lecter, for which Anthony Hopkins earned one of those Academy Awards.
As much as Hopkins's version is the most famous Lecter, we can't say that it's difficult to see anyone else in the role. After all, Brian Cox played him quite well in the earlier movie Manhunter, and Mads Mikkelsen was really great in the Hannibal TV series. Still, Hopkins' extraordinary performance in Lambs (if not also spread over his reprisals in the movies Hannibal and Red Dragon) makes it hard to imagine another actor starring in that particular movie.
Yet many others were up for the part, none so strongly attached and committed as Gene Hackman. He'd actually been the one to buy the rights to the Thomas Harris novel and initially planned to direct the adaptation, as well. Later, according to screenwriter Ted Tally in a recent oral history-style interview with Deadline, Hackman thought of just playing FBI boss Jack Crawford because directing and starring was possibly going to be too much to handle.
"He did say, 'Maybe Bobby will play Lecter,'" Tally revealed. "But I didn’t have the nerve to ask, 'Bobby who? Bobby Duvall? Bobby Redford? Bobby De Niro?' He just assumed that I would know who Bobby was."
But then Hackman dropped out altogether, for a reason Bob Bookman, who brokered the book-to-movie deal, shared in the same interview. Apparently one of the actors’ daughters read the book and said, "Daddy, you’re not making this movie." The reason isn't given there, but it's not uncommon knowledge that she was concerned with how violent the part was for him to do right after Mississippi Burning (as it turns out, a year after this he played the villain in the violent Unforgiven). So, that was that, and he sold his part of the rights to Orion, who replaced him with Jonathan Demme.
Demme, who wound up earning an Oscar for the movie, also participated in the Deadline interview, and on the subject of Hopkins's iconic portrayal, he shared some information about how Harris refused to see Lambs. The author was still writing more books featuring the Lecter character and had heard that John le Carre made the mistake of seeing an adaptation of one of his works and then couldn't ever do anything with its main character again.
"Tom was afraid of a great performance that would take the character away from his imagination," Demme told the site. "He wished us luck, but he was not going to see the movie."
[h/t: Cinema Blend]