‘Silence of the Lambs’ Star Anthony Hopkins Thought It Sounded Like a Kids Movie, Refused to Finish Script

The Silence of the Lambs is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. The film opened Feb. 14, 1991 and went on to sweep the top 5 Oscars (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay) a year later. Anthony Hopkins made such an impression as Hannibal Lecter that they actually remade Red Dragon so he could play the role in it. Jodie Foster would only play Clarice Starling the once.

Anthony Hopkins handprints
Anthony Hopkins Lucy Nicholson/AFP via Getty Images

Hopkins and Foster reunited for a Variety Actors on Actors interview on Jan. 19. Hopkins discussed his latest film, The Father, and Foster hers, The Mauritanian. Foster got some good Silence of the Lambs memories out of Hopkins, including his initial reactions to the script. 

Anthony Hopkins thought ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ sounded like a kids movie 

The Silence of the Lambs is anything but a children’s film. Lecter is the ultimate serial killer, and he helps Clarice catch Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine). Not familiar with Thomas Harris’s novel before he read the script, Hopkins thought the title was about friendly little sheep. 

Silence of the Lambs
Anthony Hopkins | Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

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“When I was in London in 1989, I was doing a play in London called M Butterfly,” Hopkins said. “My agent sent a script and he said, ‘I want you to read this script.’ I said, ‘What is it?’ He said, ‘It’s called Silence of the Lambs.’ I said, ‘What is it, a children’s story?’ He said, ‘No. It’s with Jodie Foster.’ I said, ‘Jodie Foster, yeah, okay.’”

Anthony Hopkins didn’t want to finish reading ‘The Silence of the Lambs’

Once Hopkins started reading The Silence of the Lambs, he didn’t want to finish. He fell so in love with the role of Lecter that he didn’t want to get more invested, only to lose the role. 

Silence of the Lambs sequel Hannibal
Anthony Hopkins in Hannibal | Phil Bray/MGM Pictures/Universal Pictures/Dino DeLaurentiis

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“It was a hot summer afternoon and the script came over,” Hopkins said. “I started reading it and after 10 pages I phoned my agent and said, ‘Is this a real offer?’ He said, ‘I don’t know. What do you think?’ I said, ‘I don’t want to read anymore. I want to know if it’s an offer.’ He said, ‘I don’t know.’ I said, ‘Can’t read it. This is the best part I’ve ever read.’” 

The rest is history 

Obviously, Hopkins got the part, finished the script, performed the role and won the Oscar. Hopkins would play Lecter twice more, in the sequel Hannibal and prequel Red Dragon. Michael Mann’s Manhunter adapted the Red Dragon story prior to Silence of the Lambs

“He phoned back about four hours later,” Hopkins continued. “He said, ‘Jonathan Demme, the director who’d just done, with Michelle Pfieffer, Married to the Mob, [wants to meet].’ So I read the rest of the script and Jonathan came over on the Saturday afternoon. We had dinner and I said, ‘Is this for real?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘Okay.’ He was such a wonderful guy to work with.”

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Foster intimidated Hopkins, too. Foster had just won her first Oscar for The Accused prior to The Silence of the Lambs.

“Then we met at the offices and I couldn’t believe my luck,” Hopkins told Foster. “I was scared to speak to you. I thought, ‘She just won an Oscar.’”