John Lithgow Says He Almost Played Hannibal Lecter in ‘The Silence of the Lambs’

Some actors in Hollywood can have any role they want. Unfortunately for John Lithgow that didn’t prove to be the case with the 1991 serial killer movieThe Silence of the Lambs. According to the Emmy winning actor, he would’ve been cast in the famed role of Hannibal Lecter had Anthony Hopkins passed on it.

‘The Silence of the Lambs’ is an awards juggernaut 

Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster, and Jonathan Demme pose with their Oscar statues at the Academy Awards
Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster, and Jonathan Demme | Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

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Today, The Silence of the Lambs is known as a great — some might say the greatest — psychological thriller. An instant classic when it hit theaters, the film stars Hopkins and Jodie Foster. 

The Silence of the Lambs takes inspiration from the real crimes of killers Ed Gein, Ted Bundy, and Gary Michael Heidni. And the character of Lecter takes inspiration from a real-life surgeon, Alfredo Ballí Treviño, who killed a close friend. 

Come awards show season, The Silence of the Lambs dominates practically every category. At the 64th Annual Academy Awards, the film picks up five major awards, according to IMDb. Hopkins wins an Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role. Foster does the same for the Best Actress category. The film also takes home Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay. 

Foster also wins a Golden Globe for her performance. At the BAFTA Awards, she and Hopkins win the Best Actress and Best Actor categories. 

John Lithgow ‘stewed and pouted and sulked’ after not getting the part

Lithgow’s acting career spans decades. Appearing in many popular movies and TV shows there seems no role he can’t conquer. He played a strict father in Footloose, Winston Churchill in The Crown, and an alien in 3rd Rock from the Sun. But one role that escaped him; Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs

In a June 2020 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Lithgow explained he came this close to playing the iconic character. 

John Lithgow attends the premiere of 'The Accountant'
John Lithgow attends the premiere of The Accountant | Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

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“They offered it to Anthony Hopkins and [director] Jonathan Demme told me, ‘We’ve offered it to Hopkins this morning. I don’t think he’s going to do it, but if he turns it down, you’re the man,'” Lithgow said. “And of course, he didn’t turn it down, and it was an iconic villain performance and I stewed and pouted and sulked.”

On occasion, he’s still mistaken for the star of The Silence of the Lambs

“I have to tell you,” he said, “Sometimes people tell me how great I was in Silence of the Lambs!” 

Lithgow doesn’t get the part but he later portrays a similar character.

John Lithgow goes on to play ‘a hideous villain’ 

Not long after he misses out on playing Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, Lithgow gets the opportunity to play a slightly different but still similar character.  

He said: “But then a year later I was offered the part of Earl Blake [in Ricochet] and I said, ‘Okay, goddamn it, I’m going to play a hideous villain, too!’”

In Richochet, Lithgow plays the role of a criminal mastermind who toys with Denzel Washington’s character, the attorney who put him in prison.

He currently stars in ‘Perry Mason’ on HBO

Today, Lithgow isn’t playing a killer in a thriller. He currently stars in the HBO miniseries, Perry Mason.

He plays attorney Elias Birchard “E.B.” Jonathan, a mentor to the title character played by Matthew Rhys (The Americans).  

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