Silence Of The Lambs director Jonathan Demme has admitted that he was extremely reluctant to cast Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling in Silence Of The Lambs, the role which later won the actress her second Oscar.
During an on-stage conversation with fellow director Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia, Boogie Nights) at last year’s Austin Film Festival, which has recently been uploaded to YouTube, Demme revealed that he wanted to cast Michelle Pfeiffer, Meg Ryan and Laura Dern as the young FBI agent ahead of Foster.
During the conversation, Demme recalled telling the film’s producers: “You know, I don’t think Jodie Foster would be good in this part. She’s such a California person… I didn’t believe her Boston accent [in 1988’s The Accused]. I saw her ‘acting’ all over the place and I wasn’t impressed.”
Demme’s first choice for the role was Pfeiffer, who was apparently “concerned about the darkness of the piece”, followed by Ryan, who Demme said was “slightly offended” when he offered her the part. He then wanted to cast Dern, who was vetoed by the film’s producers because they considered her “a relative unknown”.
Foster had expressed a strong interest in the part, meeting with Demme on two separate occasions to discuss it, and the film’s producers were keen to hire her following her Oscar-winning turn in 1988’s The Accused – the performance which had left Demme unimpressed. Eventually the director decided to accept the producers’ wishes and offer Foster the role. “And look what happened,” Demme recalled. “I fell madly in love with her… I named our production company Strong Heart Productions after Jodie’s sense of character.”
During the conversation with Anderson, Demme also revealed that Sean Connery turned down the iconic role of cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal Lecter before it went to Anthony Hopkins, who like Foster won an Oscar for his performance in the film. At the 1991 Academy Awards, Silence Of The Lambs won in each of the top five categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay for Ted Dally’s script based on Thomas Harris’s 1988 novel of the same name.