25 things you (probably) didn’t know about The Silence of the Lambs

This week marks the 25th anniversary of arguably the most iconic thriller to ever make it to the big screen: The Silence of the Lambs.

Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins starred in this Oscar-winning 1991 film about cross-dressing serial killers and cannibals.

You probably knew that already though. Here are some facts you might not know, and that you should really be able to get your, uh, teeth into….

1. Anthony Hopkins is barely in it

Although Anthony Hopkins did a lot of personal research for the film – including attending court cases of serial killers and studying their files – the magnificent actor only has 16 minutes of screen time in the movie. Despite this, his performance as Hannibal Lecter is considered one of the most eerily chilling of all time, and bagged him an Oscar for Best Actor; the second shortest to ever win the award.

2. Buffalo Bill was based on real serial killers

buffalo bill

The other villain in the film has characteristics borrowed from three real life killers: Ted Bundy used a cast to have woman sympathise with him, Ed Gein skinned his victims, and Gary Heidnick kept a pit in his basement where he trapped his victims.

3. Jodie Foster tried to buy the rights

After reading the book by Thomas Harris, Foster decided to try and buy the rights to it. Gene Hackman and Orion Studios had beaten her to it though, after splitting the cost 50/50. After initially wanting to play Lecter, Hackman dropped out however.

4. Buffalo Bill’s house was actually owned by a teacher – and he wasn’t happy


The physics teacher in Pittsburgh, where most of the movie was shot, ended up complaining about the abuse of his house. The security guard posted there was even running tours of the home at night.

5. Ted Levine had tequila

For the iconic dance scene in the film (which wasn’t scripted but, according to Levine, added a depth to the character) Buffalo Bill actor Levine had to have a couple of shots of tequila in order to pluck up the courage. Given the incredible performance, and the intense and twisted nature of it, we can’t really blame him.

6. “Hello Clarice” wasn’t in the movie

Despite countless spoofs featuring this line, and people widely quoting it, it’s not actually in the movie. Rather, the closest Lecter gets is: “Good evening, Clarice”. This puts the line in the misquoted Hall of Fame alongside, “Beam me up, Scotty”, “Luke, I am your father” and  “If you build it, they will come.”

7. Lecter making fun of Clarice’s accent hurt Foster’s feelings – because it wasn’t in the script


Poking fun at Clarice’s accent was improvised by Hopkins, who said: “There were five different looks on her face and she’s trying not to cry”. However, after the scene, Foster apparently thanked Anthony for getting a genuine reaction out of her.

8. The producer had a small cameo…as a head

Ed Saxon, producer of the film, had a small cameo in the form of the severed head. In fact, Saxon has a cameo in all of director Jonathan Demme’s films.

9. Anthony tried to be a robot

In preparation for the role, Hopkins commented that he was trying to mirror the performance of 2001: A Space Odyssey’s AI interface Hal. The intensity, high intelligence and complexity of the characters’ minds are apparent in both films, and Anthony manages to skilfully reproduce the eerily calm, soft voice too.

10. Or a dentist


Another feature of Lecter’s character is his white attire, which Hopkins attributed to society’s general fear of doctors and dentists. It appeared that he wanted all bases covered to make Lecter the most terrifying villain on screen – and succeeded.

11. Or a reptile

One of the distinguishing features of Lecter is his eerie ability to control when he blinks. It becomes heavily unsettling in such a tense atmosphere. This feature was also Hopkins idea, and one he stole from reptiles – reptiles only blink when they want, and are conscious of it.

12. Brooke Smith got the role because she was inexperienced


Demme commented that he wanted to lend authenticity and honour victims of serial killings by having victim Catherine Martin portrayed by an inexperienced actor. The actress more than excelled however, gaining weight for the role, and putting up a formidable and genuine performance that left many captivated.

13. The film gave us a great hero and a greater villain

The incredibe script and powerful acting landed both main characters Hannibal and Clarice in the American Film Institutes list of 100 Greatest Heroes and Villains, ranking Hannibal as the number one villain of all time and Clarice as the sixth best hero. In addition, Clarice is the highest female character in the list (which will please Foster, who said that one of her main reasons for taking the role was to play a woman who saves women – almost an industry first).

14. The skull on the film poster isn’t a skull


Instead, the skull is a famous piece by Salvador Dali – and actually consists of seven naked woman. The title of the piece is In Voluptas Mors which translates to “a desirable death”.

15. The studio went bankrupt

Despite its huge success (being one of only three films to ever scoop the big five Oscars – Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Picture and Best Screenplay) Orion Studios went bankrupt the same year that the film was released, 1991. Because of this, many of their films in production – such as Robocop 3 and There Goes My Baby – were put on hold.

16. The author loved it

Thomas Harris is the author of the book which Silence of the Lambs is based on, as well as a number of sequels and prequels. When the Oscars were announced, Harris sent the recipients a case of wine. 

17. It’s the only horror to ever win Best Picture at the Oscars

Only four other horror movies were even considered worthy enough to be nominated for the ‘big one’ – Jaws, The Exorcist, The Sixth Sense and Black Swan.

18. Jodie Foster wasn’t supposed to be Clarice

Though she lobbied hard to get the role, Demme originally wanted Michelle Pfeiffer. She turned it down because of its violent nature, and Demme knew that Foster was right for the role as soon as he saw her “purposeful” walk and “air of determination”.

19. George A. Romero is in it


The legendary Night Of The Living Dead director has a small cameo role in the film, and is one of six directors to feature on screen in it. Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster, Kasi Lemmons, Roger Corman and Dan Butler all appear in the film, and all have a history of directing.

20. The rights were free

Due to the fact that the prequel (Manhunt) was a huge flop, producer Dino De Laurentiis gave away the rights to Orion Studios – for free. He probably regretted that.

21. The house was familiar to Ted Levine

The house considered for Buffalo Bill’s home was not only in the town where Levine grew up, but also literally right next door to his school sweetheart.

22. Hopkins was picked because of his role in The Elephant Man


He questioned Demme’s reasoning, and maintained that his character in The Elephant Man was ” a good man”. To this, Demme replied: “So is Lecter, he is a good man too. Just trapped in an insane mind.”

23. But he thought it was a kids movie

Apparently when his agent sent a copy of the script, Hopkin’s immediate reaction to the title was that he was being asked to star in a kids movie. Somehow the idea of Hannibal Lecter helping kids to count baby sheep isn’t as scary. Or maybe it is scarier, depends how you look at it…

24. Jame Gumb was supposed to be James


In the book, it is elaborated that there was an error on the birth certificate naming the would-be James simply Jame. It is also explained that he would take extreme offense from anyone calling him James or Jamie. Buffalo Bill is fine though, that’s not offensive.

25. Buffalo Bill caused uproar in the LGBT community – but wasn’t supposed to

LBGT rights protesters claimed that making the serial killer transsexual was highly cliched and offensive, though Demme claims that he never meant Bill to be transsexual or gay, and failing to clarify the character was one of his biggest regrets in the film. It’s worth bearing in mind that some of the aspects that caused uproar (such as the wearing of female skin) were actually borrowed from real life serial killer, Ed Gein.

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