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Hannibal Lecter’s mask is among the most iconic props in movie history, but selecting the ghastly facial restraint was anything but simple. The Silence of the Lambs turns 30 on Sunday (Feb. 14), and to commemorate the Oscar-sweeping horror-thriller, The Hollywood Reporter looks back at one of the most important casting decisions of the film: Dr. Lecter’s mask.
Kristi Zea, production designer of the 1991 Orion film based on the 1988 Thomas Harris novel, called choosing the right mask for the murderous cannibal an “interesting dilemma,” during a making-of feature.
“[Costume designer] Colleen Atwood had a whole host of ideas, and we just kept going through them, one after the other,” Zea said.
Anthony Hopkins would screen test with a variety of unsettling masks — some scary, others borderline ridiculous. “For a while, there were thoughts of fencing, sort of grid masks,” Atwood said in the feature.
ANTHONY HOPKINS trying out the different mask options as Hannibal Lecter in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. pic.twitter.com/ZKO1PZPo2o
— All The Right Movies (@right_movies) February 3, 2021
However, none of those was it. So, it was decided a mask would be created, the costume designer said. “We got more to the idea of the fiberglass mask,” Atwood explained. “The thought had been for the mask to have a finish on it, but when we received the [final] sample, it was raw fiberglass, which looked like an old piece of dried up leather — or even skin. And it was so great, so it never went back for its paint job.”
And that is the mask Hopkins’ Lecter wears in the film.
The facial restraint was a key part of Lecter’s costume, but Atwood said his clothes were just as important and took some time to select.
“With Anthony Hopkins, the fit of the costumes was very precise,” she said. “We had a lot of fittings. Even though it was a prison uniform, we felt that Hannibal would somehow make it look like his clothes were made to order for him even if he was in prison.”
As for all the characters’ costumes, Atwood said she tried to avoid dating the film through fashion, noting in the feature, “I wanted it to be a movie that you could watch in 10 years and not have it be from any time.”
The Silence of the Lambs was a box office and critical success, which continues to inspire new works, such as the upcoming Clarice on CBS. At the 64th Academy Awards, the film swept the top five categories: best picture (Edward Saxon, Kenneth Utt and Ron Bozman); best director (the late Jonathan Demme); best actor (Hopkins); best actress (Jodie Foster); and best adapted screenplay (Ted Tally). It was also nominated for best sound and best editing.
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