Last Updated on January 24, 2024
Anthony Hopkins’ signature role will always be that of Hannibal Lecter in 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs, a performance which nabbed him his first Oscar. There was definitely some category fraud going on there, as he should have won for Best Supporting Actor (sorry, Jack Palance!), but the way Hopkins plays him cast such a mood over the entire film that we believe he has more than just 16 minutes of screen time. Now more than 30 years – and another Best Actor Oscar – later, Hopkins admits that he knew right away that Hannibal the cannibal was one of the best parts he had ever read.
Speaking with People, Hopkins recalled his agent telling him about a script called The Silence of the Lambs, which already had Jodie Foster attached. Initially Hopkins thought it was a children’s story, which must have been well before opening the pages (although there is a cute dog). “So I opened it. I sat in the dressing room in the theater, and I read through the first scene of Lecter. I said, ‘Is this an offer?’ He said, ‘I’m not sure.’ I said, ‘I’m not going to read anymore, because this is one of the best parts I’ve ever read.’”
Hopkins would go on to say that he met with The Silence of the Lambs director Jonathan Demme over dinner (fava beans and Chianti?). “So we talked, but I knew how to play the part…And I don’t know. I do have an instinct about these roles. I could understand Lecter. I could understand the mystery of the man, the loner, the isolated voice in the dark, the man at the top of the stairs who’s not really there.”
The Silence of the Lambs would dominate pop culture in 1991. It would go on to win five Academy Awards and is still one of the few horror films to be nominated for Best Picture, remaining today the only winner. This is especially surprising considering it had a February release (although its October VHS push would help). In addition to Hopkins and the movie winning, Foster took Best Actress, Demme nabbed Best Director and the screenplay scored in the adapted category; it is still the most recent film to win the Big Five.
As for Hannibal Lecter himself, he has also notably been played by Brian Cox and Mads Mikkelsen. But Hopkins’ performance in The Silence of the Lambs, so calculated and precise (but yes, he does blink), remains one of the most riveting in motion picture history.
Hopkins also revealed he is writing an autobiography.
Where does Hannibal Lecter rank in your list of greatest movie characters ever? Has Hopkins ever topped this performance? Let us know your thoughts below.