When he won the role of Hannibal Lecter in 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs, Anthony Hopkins was just about done with Hollywood.
Movie gigs had dried up for the Welshman, whose résumé at the time included the 1985 miniseries Hollywood Wives, based on the Jackie Collins novel. While he had worked in psychological terror before, playing a deranged ventriloquist in 1978’s Magic, Hopkins’ forte was primarily period drama; he was not an obvious choice for the cannibalistic serial killer.
Still, director Jonathan Demme “got a bee in my bonnet,” as he later put it, about casting Hopkins: “I think he has the ability to project an extremely heightened intelligence, which was key to Lecter as a lover of words. Words just roll off Tony’s tongue.”
When Hopkins first received the script, he thought he’d been sent a children’s movie. Ten pages in, he called his agent and asked if it was a hard offer, as the part was “the best I’ve ever read,” he recently said (see page 17). Demme, who died in 2017, was quite right in his instincts. Hopkins’ co-star Jodie Foster was so terrified of his performance at the table read, she kept her distance from him for the duration of the shoot.
Lecter earned Hopkins his first Oscar at age 54, leading to a career renaissance and five more nominations, for 1993’s The Remains of the Day, 1995’s Nixon, 1997’s Amistad, 2019’s The Two Popes and this year’s The Father. If he wins, it will be his second.
This story first appeared in an April stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.