‘Silence of the Lambs’: Sean Connery Turned Down the Role Hannibal Lecter Before Anthony Hopkins Ever Got the Chance

The Silence of the Lambs was released in 1991, quickly becoming one of the most buzz-worthy movies of the decade. To this day, the film stands up as a masterpiece of psychological horror, and one of the greatest suspense films of all time.

The film tells the story of a young FBI trainee named Clarice Starling, who seeks out the advice of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, an imprisoned cannibal, in hopes of catching the psychotic killer known as “Buffalo Bill.” For their work in the film, stars Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster both received massive critical acclaim — and to this day, the movie remains one of Hopkins’ best-known roles. 

Anthony Hopkins was offered the role of Hannibal Lecter because of ‘The Elephant Man’

Anthony Hopkins on June 20, 2017, in Chicago, Illinois.
Anthony Hopkins on June 20, 2017, in Chicago, Illinois. | Michael Hickey/WireImage

By the time the script for The Silence of the Lambs landed on his desk, Hopkins was already a major star, who had been acting in movies and on stage for decades. During the early years of his career, Hopkins played everyone from kings to freaks, with his work in The Elephant Man earning his significant critical acclaim. In fact, it was that movie that inadvertently landed him the part of Hannibal Lecter. 

Hopkins revealed in an interview with Vanity Fair that when he first met with The Silence of the Lambs director Jonathan Demme, the director referenced The Elephant Man: “He said, ‘Well, I saw you in The Elephant Man, playing Dr. Treves.’ Which puzzled me. I said, “Why would that resonate with you?” He said, “Well, because Treves is a really good man.” And I said, “Okay. Well, what about Hannibal Lecter?” He said, “I think he’s a good man, he’s a very bright man. He’s trapped in an insane brain.”

Why did Sean Connery turn down the role of Hannibal Lecter?

Hopkins took some convincing before he accepted the role of Hannibal Lecter. In fact, his initial impression of the film, based on the title alone, was that it sounded like a “kids movie.”

However, once he read the script and realized the possibilities that such a powerful role could hold, he decided to accept the role — and the rest is history. Hopkins earned awards for his performance and it remains his best-known role, with the actor even admitting that he will “never escape” the character of the brilliant Lecter. 

Hopkins wasn’t the first actor to be considered for the role of Lecter, even though it is hard to imagine anyone else playing the part. Sean Connery was actually the first actor approached for the role, but he reportedly turned it down because he found the script “disgusting.” Other actors considered for the role included Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Derek Jacobi, and John Lithgow, who admitted to being quite upset that he didn’t get the role. 

What convinced Jodie Foster to appear in ‘Silence of the Lambs’?

While Hopkins might have the flashiest role in The Silence of the Lambs, Foster made waves in the film as well. For Foster, who had been acting since she was a young child, the role of Clarice Starling offered something that was rare in big-budget movies — and something that had eluded Foster in many of her bigger film roles. As Foster described it, “for me, it was so important to make there was a healing process, to finally playing a woman who saves the women.”

The Silence of the Lambs went on to win multiple Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor for Hopkins, Best Actress for Foster, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It remains a striking, shocking example of the horror genre, earning new fans year after year.

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