Veteran Film Editor Craig McKay: "Don't Call It the Invisible Art"

The pro who cut the film that made Hannibal Lecter a cinematic icon — and will receive the Eddie Awards' lifetime achievement honor Feb. 1 — discusses his 40-year career and what he wishes people understood about his craft.
Amy Sussman/Getty Images
Craig McKay

The menu at this year's Eddie Awards — the American Cinema Editors' big night — hasn't been announced, but they might want to consider fava beans and a nice chianti. An editor getting the career achievement trophy is Craig McKay, the guy who cut the film that made Hannibal Lecter a cinematic icon.

On the eve of the Feb. 1 ceremony at the Beverly Hilton, McKay, 75, talked with The Hollywood Reporter about his decades-long career (including Oscar noms for The Silence of the Lambs and Reds) and why editing should never be called "the invisible art."

The scene when Jodie Foster's Clarice meets Anthony Hopkins' Lecter for the first time at his cell ­— what were you thinking?

I was trying to create tension. I kept him at a distance and played her close. Keeping the nervousness of Clarice alive during the scene was important, showing how brave she was to put herself through that. What's unique about [Jonathan] Demme's style is that at some point he has the actors talking directly into the camera. That puts you in a very tight perspective and close examination of what's going on.

Did you have a sense of how big The Silence of the Lambs would become?

Yes, every day. It was playing very well. I can remember [initially] worrying about Hannibal Lecter because we were not sure if Hopkins [who won an Oscar for the role] was going to be a great Lecter. And then we looked at the first dailies, and when he said, "Hello, Clarice," we said, "He's got it!" You could just tell from that moment.

What's the most misunderstood thing about being an editor?

We call editing the invisible art. But that attitude doesn't recognize the contribution that an editor makes to a film. You can see camera work, acting, sets — but editing, most people aren't really aware of what's happening and how cumulatively that adds up. Our contribution is major, and it needs to be recognized more than it is.

This story first appeared in the Jan. 30 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.