‘The Silence of the Lambs’: Did Anthony Hopkins Know Playing Hannibal Lecter Was Going to Change His Life?

Anthony Hopkins famously played Dr. Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. That year, Hopkins won an Oscar for Best Actor for the role. From there, his Hollywood legacy was set. But at the time he got cast as Hannibal Lecter, did Hopkins know that his character in the 1991 movie The Silence of the Lambs would alter the rest of his life?

Anthony Hopkins says of the character Hannibal Lecter: ‘This is the part of a lifetime’

The Silence of the Lambs
Scott Glenn, Anthony Hopkins, and Jodie Foster pose for the movie The Silence of the Lambs | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

In 2019, AARP‘s magazine published an interview with Anthony Hopkins. On his famous horror movie, The Silence of the Lambs, Hopkins said he tapped into his character closely.

“I have an instinct for those kinds of people,” Hopkins explained about Dr. Hannibal Lecter. “They’re narcissists. I don’t know if that’s in me — I just understand them.”

The Academy-Award winner also said he knew back in 1991 — when the movie came out — that this part would be a big deal.

“I’ll never escape from that guy,” he said. “When I started reading The Silence of the Lambs script, I told my agent, ‘This is the part of a lifetime.'”

Hopkins admitted of the movie: “It changed everything for me.”

‘The Silence of the Lambs’ lead Anthony Hopkins played Hannibal Lecter, who was based on a real killer

Hannibal Lecter, Hopkins’ character in The Silence of the Lambs, was actually inspired by a real-life murderer. According to author Thomas Harris, who wrote the novel The Silence of the Lambs, Lecter was partially based on a surgeon named Alfredo Ballí Treviño who had a “certain intelligence and elegance” — and murdered people. Thomas had met Treviño during his time working as a reporter.

Meanwhile, the character of Buffalo Bill was apparently informed by Gary Michael Heidnik, who killed two women, and tortured six — while keeping them in his basement. In addition, Ed Gein and Ted Bundy influenced the Silence of the Lambs character. Gein cut off the skin of his unlucky victims, and Bundy pretended he was injured to lure in potential victims — both things Buffalo Bill does in the horror movie.

The actor says he was ‘tired of being called stupid’

Anthony Hopkins
Sir Anthony Hopkins in 2017 | Timothy Hiatt/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures

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“My wife, Stella, is doing a documentary on me, and one of my teachers told her I was a mystery,” Hopkins explained to AARP. The Hollywood legend said that at the time, he didn’t talk much, and didn’t play sports.

“I didn’t even go to the school plays,” Hopkins said.

However, the actor wasn’t about to let what others thought of him define his identity.

“I was tired of being called stupid,” the actor shared. “I thought, ‘One day I’ll show you all.’” And it seems like that worked. Not just because of The Silence of the Lambs; Hopkins has enjoyed a long and successful Hollywood career.

“I became this other person,” Hopkins shared. “My career took off.”