In preparation for his role, Sir Anthony Hopkins studied files of serial killers. Also, he visited prisons, and studied convicted murderers, and was present during some court hearings concerning gruesome murderers and serial killings.
Jodie Foster claims that during the first meeting between Lecter and Starling, Sir Anthony Hopkins' mocking of her southern accent was improvised on the spot. Foster's horrified reaction was genuine, she felt personally attacked. She later thanked Hopkins for generating such an honest reaction.
When Sir Anthony Hopkins found out that he was cast as Hannibal Lecter, based on his performance as Dr. Frederick Treves in The Elephant Man (1980), he questioned Director Jonathan Demme, and said, "But Dr. Treves was a good man." To which Demme replied, "So is Lecter, he is a good man too. Just trapped in an insane mind."
Jame Gumb is the combination of three real-life serial killers: Ed Gein, who skinned his victims, Ted Bundy, who used the cast on his hand as bait to convince women to get into his van, and Gary Heidnick, who kept women he kidnapped in a pit in his basement. Gein was only positively linked to two murders, and suspected of two others. He gathered most of his materials through grave robbing, not murder.
With twenty-four minutes and fifty-two seconds of screen time, Sir Anthony Hopkins' performance in this movie is the second shortest to ever win an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, with David Niven in Separate Tables (1958) beating him, at twenty-three minutes and thirty-nine seconds.
When Sir Anthony Hopkins' agent called him in London, to tell him that he was sending him a script called "The Silence of the Lambs", Hopkins immediately thought he might be going up for a children's movie.
After Lecter was moved from Baltimore, the plan was to dress him in a yellow or orange jumpsuit. Sir Anthony Hopkins convinced Jonathan Demme and Costume Designer Colleen Atwood that the character would seem more clinical and unsettling if he was dressed in pure white. Hopkins has since said he got the idea from his fear of dentists.
Jodie Foster spent a great deal of time with F.B.I. Agent Mary Ann Krause prior to filming. Krause gave Foster the idea of Starling standing by her car crying. Krause told Foster that at times, the work just became so overwhelming that it was a good way to get an emotional release.
One of the inspirations, from whom Sir Anthony Hopkins borrowed, for his interpretation of Hannibal Lecter, was a friend of his in London who rarely blinked when speaking, which unnerved anyone around him.
Jame Gumb's dance was not included in the original draft of the screenplay, although it appears in the novel. It was added at the insistence of Ted Levine, who thought the scene was essential in defining the character.
The Silence of the Lambs was inspired by the real-life relationship between University of Washington criminology professor and profiler Robert Keppel, and serial killer Ted Bundy. Bundy helped Keppel investigate the Green River Serial Killings in Washington. Bundy was executed January 24, 1989. The Green River Killings were finally solved in 2001, when Gary Ridgway was arrested. On November 5, 2003, in a Seattle courtroom, Ridgway plead guilty to forty-eight counts of aggravated first degree murder.
When characters are talking to Starling, they often talk directly to the camera. When she is talking to them, she is always looking slightly off-camera. Jonathan Demme has explained that this was done so as the audience would directly experience her point-of-view, but not theirs, hence encouraging the audience to more readily identify with her.
When Jonathan Demme filmed the scene where Lecter and Starling first meet, Sir Anthony Hopkins said he should look directly at the camera, as it panned into his line of sight. He felt Lecter should be portrayed as "knowing everything".
Clarice Starling was chosen, by the American Film Institution, as the sixth greatest film hero (out of fifty), the highest ranked female on the list. Hannibal Lecter was chosen as the number one greatest film villain (also out of fifty).
Sir Anthony Hopkins said he saw Lecter as similar to H.A.L. 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). A highly complex, highly intelligent, highly logical killing machine, who seems to know everything going on around him.
Sir Anthony Hopkins improvised the fast, slurping-type sound that Hannibal Lecter does. He did it spontaneously during filming, and everyone thought it was great. Jonathan Demme became annoyed with it after a while, but denied his irritation.
The idea to use glass in Lecter's Baltimore cell, as opposed to traditional bars, came from Production Designer Kristi Zea. The idea came about, because Jonathan Demme was unhappy shooting the Lecter scenes through bars, as he felt they negated the sense of intimacy between Lecter and Starling, which he was trying to achieve. In Harris' novel, Lecter's cell did have bars but also a nylon net just behind them.
When Clarice visits Dr. Hannibal Lecter in his new facility, Lecter insists she continue telling him about her childhood as part of the agreement. Jodie Foster, reluctantly, continues her story about running away. Midway through her confessions, she mentions taking a lamb with her. If one listens closely after she says, "I thought if I could save just one..." a distant sound of something being dropped can be heard in the background. A crewman dropped a wrench during filming. Jonathan Demme panicked, thinking it would ruin the scene completely. However, Foster remained in character and continued the story, ultimately convincing Demme to keep the footage. After "cut" was said, Foster turned her head to the crew and yelled, "What the Hell was that?!"
The pattern on the moth's back, in the movie posters, is not the natural pattern of the Death's-head hawkmoth. It is, in fact, Salvador Dalí's "In Voluptas Mors", a picture of seven naked women made to look like a human skull.
Within ten years of the release of this film, the building used for the exterior of Lecter's asylum had been shut down and demolished. Footage from this film was re-used to create the establishing shots used in Red Dragon (2002).
After being cast as Jame Gumb, Ted Levine developed his character by reading profiles of serial killers. Levine later said he found the material very disturbing. Since Gumb was a crossdresser, he went to a few trans bars and interviewed some patrons.
The F.B.I. was very impressed by the film's accuracy in depicting criminal investigations, serial killers, and their victims. However, they disagreed with Clarice discovering Buffalo Bill on her own, because inexperienced Agents are never sent alone on dangerous assignments. When Jonathan Demme explained to them that he wouldn't change it, because it was the movie's psychological climax, they agreed, saying that it would be the most improbable and rare course of action of all time, never to be repeated again.
As of 2017, one of three films to win the top five Oscars: Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Screenplay (in this case Adapted from Another Medium. Both Screenplay awards are considered part of the top five). The others are It Happened One Night (1934) and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975).
After working with John Douglas for some time, Scott Glenn thanked him and said how fascinating it was to have been allowed into his world. Douglas laughed and told Glenn that if he really wanted to get into his world, he should listen to an audio tape of serial killers Lawrence Bittaker and Roy Norris torturing, raping, and murdering two teenage girls. Glenn listened to less than one minute of the tape, and has since said that he feels he lost a sense of innocence in doing so, and that he has never been able to forget what he heard. Also, after listening to that recording Glenn punched Douglas.
When Ted Tally was writing the screenplay for the film, he suggested Jodie Foster for role of Clarice Starling. Foster had been lobbying hard for the part, but when Jonathan Demme was hired to direct, he wanted Michelle Pfeiffer instead. Pfeiffer turned the part down, because she felt the film was too violent. Demme then agreed to meet Foster. He hired her after only one meeting, because he said he could see her strength and determination for the part, and he felt that was perfect for Clarice.
Originally, the film was to open with Clarice Starling and a male F.B.I. Agent in the middle of a drug bust. They were to burst into the room and make several arrests, then the bust would be revealed as a training exercise. Jodie Foster was able to convince Jonathan Demme to change the scene, because it had been done so many times before. Foster came up with the idea of opening with Starling running through the assault course. The drug bust training idea was still used, but after Clarice's first conversation with Lecter.
Jack Crawford was based on real-life F.B.I. Special Agent John E. Douglas, an early member of the F.B.I.'s Behavioral Sciences Unit, who coached Glenn on his portrayal of a member of the B.S.U. Douglas, still an active F.B.I. Special Agent during production, was in the midst of tracking Gary Ridgway, the Green River Killer, who was believed to have killed more than ninety women in Washington between 1982 and 1998. Ridgway was arrested 2001, and pleaded guilty to forty-eight counts of aggravated first degree murder on November 5, 2003.
During location scouting for the house, in which the serial killer Jame Gumb was living, Ted Levine, who played Jame, was amazed to discover that the house being considered was not only in the town where he grew up but was literally next door to the house of his high school girlfriend.
When studying the character he played, Sir Anthony Hopkins noticed similar characteristics in reptiles. Reptiles only blink when they want to, and do it consciously. Therefore, in the movie, Hopkins only blinks in special moments and very consciously.
The filmmakers were prepared to go to Montana to shoot a flashback sequence depicting Clarice's runaway attempt. After filming the dialogue between Jodie Foster and Sir Anthony Hopkins, Jonathan Demme realized it would be pointless to cut away from their performances and announced, "I guess we aren't going to Montana."
Dino De Laurentiis, who had produced Manhunter (1986), passed on this movie, because Manhunter had flopped. He gave the rights away free to Orion Pictures. He then went on to co-produce Hannibal (2001) and Red Dragon (2002).
Like Casablanca (1942), this movie contains a famous misquoted line: most people quote Lecter's famous "Good evening, Clarice" as "Hello, Clarice". This line did, however, appear in Hannibal (2001). In Hannibal, when Dr. Lecter and Clarice (Julianne Moore) speak on the phone for the first time, he does in fact say "Hello, Clarice". This was possibly put in by the writers of the movie as an inside joke, in reference to the misquoting of the original movie.
Contrary to popular rumor, Thomas Harris saw the film shortly after it came out. According to a New York Magazine profile of Harris, "The Silence of the Writer", by Phoebe Hoban (April 15, 1991), he called it, "A great movie. I've been surrounded by it, so I wanted to see it. I admire Jonathan Demme, and we were very fortunate to have him and Ted Tally, and we were very lucky with the cast."
Clarice Starling was one of the biggest influences for creating the character of Dana Scully, according to The X-Files (1993) Creator Chris Carter. There is also a tribute to this film in the last episode of the ninth season, when Scully visits Mulder in the jail and he tells her, "I smelled you coming, Clarice".
An early decision on the part of Jonathan Demme was to film at Quantico, the F.B.I.'s own training environment, which had always closed its doors to film crews. Visiting Quantico for the first time, Kristi Zea was struck by how boring and prosaic the location was. She expressed her concern to Demme, who replied that he wanted the place to look as mundane as possible.
Thematic parallel: The tune played by the music box in Bimmel's bedroom is from the Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart opera "The Magic Flute". Also from a music box, the magic tune releases the heroine from the clutches of a lecherous character who "covets" her throughout the opera.
The Tobacco hornworm moths used throughout the film, were given celebrity treatment. They were flown first class to the set in a special carrier, had special living quarters (rooms with controlled humidity and heat), and were dressed in carefully designed costumes (body shields bearing a painted skull and crossbones).
Most of the film was shot in Pittsbugh, which was chosen for its large variety of landscapes and architecture. Some of the film's interior scenes, including the Baltimore jail scene in the beginning, and the ballroom scene of Lecter in his cage, were shot in Soldiers and Sailors Memorial, located on Fifth Avenue in the Oakland area of Pittsburgh.
Jodie Foster, Jonathan Demme, and Scott Glenn, and a few other cast and crew members did a great deal of research at the F.B.I. training facility in Quantico, Virginia. They studied under criminal profiling Agents, learned about firearms and Agent training, and sat in several classes.
The movie's line "A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti." was voted as the number twenty-one movie quote by the American Film Institute (out of 100). This line is taken almost verbatim from the book, but in the book, Lecter says a nice Amorone instead of Chianti. Both are types of wine.
This is the only movie where Clarice actually uses the media nickname that they gave Dr. Lecter. When she is talking with Jack about who the subject she is to interview is, she says "Hannibal the Cannibal", but throughout the rest of the movie, and in Hannibal (2001), she calls him Dr. Lecter, except when she says "Hannibal Lecter" to Pazzi, to tell him who she is looking for. She respects him, so she always says Dr. Lecter, even when she's not speaking to him directly.
Orion's decision to promote this film as a 1991 Oscar contender resulted in having to choose between two other releases later in the year: Little Man Tate (1991) and Blue Sky (1994). As Orion executives planned to promote Jodie Foster as a Best Actress nominee, they decided to give her some extra exposure by releasing the former picture, in which she appeared, and directed. Foster ended up winning Best Actress. Blue Sky ended up waiting three more years to be released, but when it did, it resulted in Jessica Lange also winning a Best Actress Oscar.
Ed Harris turned down the role of Jack Crawford, because he didn't find the role interesting, and would rather have played Hannibal Lecter. He partially got his wish when he played a jailed serial killer, who assists in solving a murder in Just Cause (1995).
The film was originally scheduled for release in fall of 1990. Orion Pictures delayed its release until late January 1991 so they could focus on promoting Dances with Wolves (1990) for Oscar consideration. This film won all five major Academy Awards, a notable exception to the conventional wisdom that films released early in a calendar year are forgotten by Oscar time.
Jonathan Demme cast Sir Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Hannibal Lecter, based on his performance as Dr. Frederick Treves in The Elephant Man (1980). Hopkins has said that he felt the sharing-and-caring role of Dr. Frederick Treves was rather dull.
Dan Butler plays a role in two movies based on novels by Thomas Harris surrounding Dr. Lecter. The first was in Manhunter (1986), based on Harris' novel "Red Dragon", where he played an F.B.I. fingerprint analyst. Here, he plays Roden, the university entomologist who helps identify the Death's-head hawkmoth.
In his first meeting with Clarice Starling, Lecter describes the drawing on his cell wall as "the Duomo, seen from the Belvedere" in Florence, Italy. In Hannibal (2001), Lecter is living in Florence as a fugitive.
The events in this film occur after the events in Manhunter (1986), which was based on Thomas Harris' novel "Red Dragon". Although there are several characters common to both films, there are only two actors who appear in both movies. Both play different characters. Frankie Faison played Lieutenant Fisk in Manhunter, and Barney in this film, and Dan Butler played an F.B.I. fingerprint expert in Manhunter, and an entomologist in this film.
At the beginning of the movie, when Clarice Starling is looking for Jack Crawford, who is investigating the killer known as "Buffalo Bill", the first office, to which she goes, has what appears to be notes about the investigation on a blackboard. Among them are two short quotations from the e.e. cummings poem "Buffalo Bill's / defunct": "1-2-3-4-5", and, near the bottom of the board (the right side of the board isn't visible): "how do you like, blue-eyed boy now". The latter appears to be quoting (slightly misquoting, actually) the final lines of the poem: "how do you like your blue-eyed boy / Mister Death."
John Douglas, on whom the Jack Crawford character was based, achieved some fame of his own a few years after this film. He was hired by the parents of JonBenét Ramsey to investigate her death and apparent murder. Up until that point, the parents had been the chief suspects in the case. While Douglas did not fault the local police for investigating the family first, as in the film, investigators usually assume that victims know their killers, he became the first public official to proclaim their innocence.
The revolver that Jame Gumb uses is a Colt Python, which is a double action. That means in the dark scene all he would have had to do was pull the trigger, he would not have had to pull the hammer back.
Lecter said he ate a victim's liver with "some fava beans and nice chianti". Liver, fava beans, and wine all contain a substance called tyramine, which can kill a person who is taking a certain class of anti-depressant drugs, known as MAO inhibitors. MAO inhibitors were the first anti-depressants developed, and were used primarily on patients in mental institutions. Lecter worked in, and was committed to, a mental institution.
In an interview, John Carpenter declared his disappointment over the movie focusing so much on Clarice Starling's character, and that he would have loved to direct this, making it "much more frightening and gripping."
Michelle Pfeiffer was Jonathan Demme's first choice to play Clarice Starling, after the two worked on Married to the Mob (1988), becoming close collaborators. After a long "courting" period of Demme in pursuit, and Pfeiffer considering playing the role, she ultimately turned it down, as she thought the film to be too dark and violent.
During the film, in a televised announcement by the U.S. Senator, Ruth Martin, the Senator pleads for her daughter's life, and repeatedly mentions her name, Catherine. The F.B.I. Agents and trainees who are watching the announcement, remark that her repeated mentioning of Catherine's name is "smart", with Clarice Starling adding that the Senator's repeated use of her daughter's name could influence her kidnapper to see her daughter as a person, and not as a thing or object. This notion is in direct (and possibly deliberate) contrast with the way in which Buffalo Bill addresses Catherine during another scene by saying lines such as: "It rubs the lotion on its skin. It does this whenever it's told", and "It places the lotion in the basket".
Sir Sean Connery was Jonathan Demme's first choice to play Hannibal Lecter, but he turned the part down. Connery did a similar thriller, called Just Cause (1995), where Ed Harris played a serial killer. The film was neither a critical, nor commercial smash like this film.
Australia's Office of Film & Literature Classification (OFLC) originally gave the film an R-rating. The distributors lobbied for it be rated "M" without editing. The R-rating remained for two years, until the OFLC created a new film rating, "MA15+", meaning people under fifteen years of age must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. The film was re-rated in 1993.
In the second draft of Ted Tally's screenplay, the names of three characters had to be changed from Thomas Harris' novel for legal reasons: Jack Crawford became Ray Campbell, Frederick Chilton became Herbert Prentiss, and Hannibal Lecter became Gideon Quinn.
When Agent Starling goes through Fredrica Bimmel's closet and closes the room's door, a promotional poster for Deborah Harry's 1989 solo album, "Def, Dumb & Blonde", can be seen on the bedroom wall. Jonathan Demme is a fan of Debbie Harry.
In one scene, Catherine Martin is shown speeding along in her car singing American Girl by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Brooke Smith (Catherine Martin) was a fan of New York City hardcore, and had wanted the producers to use a Bad Brains song instead. The other song in consideration for that scene was Rufus and Chaka Khan's "Tell Me Something Good".
Anthony Heald was originally cast as Roden though he initially sought the role of Dr. Frederick Chilton, a character that was written as being older than Heald. However, after a table reading with Jodie Foster where he filled in as Hannibal Lecter, he was then cast as Dr. Chilton.
When Clarice is researching Lecter's background, Crawford is mentioned in the articles, but Will Graham, who actually identified and captured him, is not. It is unlikely that the press would have reported Crawford's role more prominently than Graham's, since Manhunter (1986) and Red Dragon (2002) show that Freddy Lounds (Stephen Lang and Philip Seymour Hoffman) incurred Graham's and Crawford's wrath for photographing him, while he was recovering in the hospital.
Gay rights protesters complained that making Jame Gumb a transsexual was highly clichéd and a reflection of and/or pandering to public hostilities around the issue of sexual orientation. This is despite it being said in the film that Gumb only thinks he's a transsexual due to trauma, and that transsexuals are usually quite passive.
Fangoria magazine was declined the chance to cover the film because Orion and the filmmakers felt that the magazine's focus on the horror genre would stigmatize its awards season chances. They were also barred from covering Cape Fear (1991) for similar reasons.
This film features two actors that have portrayed Alan Shepard, the first American in space, Scott Glenn and Ted Levine. Glenn played Shepard in The Right Stuff (1983), and Levine played him in the HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon (1998).
Silence of the Lambs stars Scott Glenn (FBI Director Crawford) who played Alan Shepard in the film The Right Stuff. Also in Silence of the Lambs is Ted Levine (Buffalo Bill) who played Alan Shepard in the HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon.
In the scene near the end of the film, when Jack Crawford is speaking to Clarice from a plane, before she enters the killer's house, you can see that the three men shown in the scene on the plane are all left handed.
George A. Romero: The bearded man who accompanies Chilton and the two guards, who forcibly remove Clarice Starling after her final meeting with Lecter. In addition, Dave Early from Dawn of the Dead (1978) appears as one of the S.W.A.T. team.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Lecter's drawing of Clarice (shown in his temporary cell in Memphis) features three crosses in the background, with only one showing a man crucified. The drawing purposefully makes Clarice look older with jowls, creases under her eyes, and a gray streak in her hair. Of course, in her arms is the lamb she had tried to rescue. In essence, Lecter is trying to suggest the statue The Pieta, which features Mary holding the body of Jesus (the Lamb of God) in her arms, with him immediately thereafter received his specially-ordered second dinner of lamb chops. Shortly thereafter, Lecter leaves Officer Boyle crucified and disemboweled on the outside of the cell.
During Clarice's first meeting with Dr. Chilton, he mentions that when Hannibal Lecter attacked a nurse, his pulse "never got above eighty-five". While Lecter is escaping in the ambulance, the paramedic mentions over the intercom that the patient has a pulse of eighty-four, again showing Lecter's icy calmness, despite performing horrible acts.
In his first meeting with Clarice Starling, Lecter describes the drawing on his cell wall as "the Duomo, seen from the Belvedere" in Florence, Italy. Starling later finds Buffalo Bill living in Belvedere, Ohio. In Hannibal (2001), Clarice discovers that Lecter has been living under an alias in Florence.
In the film, Lecter tells Senator Martin that Buffalo Bill's real name is "Louis Friend", an anagram of iron sulfide, or fool's gold. In the novel, he gives the name "Billy Rubin". This is a play on bilirubin, a pigment found in feces, and the color of Dr. Chilton's hair.
As revealed on the Blu-ray documentaries, "Breaking The Silence" and "From Page To Screen", both the film's beginning and ending were altered. Ted Tally's screenplay called for the film to begin with an F.B.I. raid not unlike the one featured in the opening sequence of Hannibal (2001). Thomas Harris' book ends with Lecter writing a threatening letter to Dr. Chilton. Ted Tally and Jonathan Demme decided it would be necessary for Lecter to track Chilton to a tropical island for a more dramatic and audience pleasing closing, plus an all-expense studio-paid trip to shoot somewhere warm. (The final scene was shot on the island of Bimini, which is part of the Bahamas.)
After the shoot-out with Gumb, Clarice has partially-burned gunpowder buried in the skin on the side of her face, the result of a near hit. One name for this type of injury is "coal miner's tattoo", a clever reference to the character's background.
When Clarice Starling first discovers Catherine Martin in the well in Jame Gumb's basement, Martin's gown, wide-eyed fear, and holding Gumb's white poodle "Precious", can be seen as a direct mirror of Starling's own childhood memory of trying to save a lamb. Catherine refuses to give up the dog after being rescued.
When Jame Gumb grabs the gun in his bed, right after Catherine captures his dog, you can see that the bed sheet has two stitched Nazi swastikas, showing another layer of the killer's character. Sometime after that there is yet another swastika half hidden by a picture on the wall.
In the movie, it is said that Miggs died by swallowing his own tongue. This is physically impossible to do, unless the tongue has been cut off. It's not particularly fatal, either. This is a figure-of-speech, referring to an unconscious person suffocating because his tongue has blocked his airway, being used incorrectly. It is also possible that Miggs bit off his own tongue and swallowed (choked on) it at Dr. Lecter's urging.
The film has many "cat" clues in the first victim's house that seem to lead Clarice to the identity of the killer and to where Catherine Martin might be. There's a photo of Frederika (the first victim) and her cat, and then a cat figurine by the jewelry box with Polaroid photos. And the pet cat seems to lead Clarice to the wardrobe with the diamond-shaped dress taping that resembled the skinning of one of the victims. Notably, the name Catherine has the word cat in it.
During the closing credits, if you look very closely at Hannibal when he is in the far distance, among the crowd, his hat falls off his head, and he quickly picks it up. This happens a little before the screen fades to black.
While Buffalo Bill shows the most similarity to necrophiliac and murderer Ed Gein (most obviously with his making a "woman suit"), Hannibal also takes a note from Gein. At the end part of his escape plan is to wear the skin of Agent Pembrey's face to disguise himself. Gein was known to wear the faces of the dead women he mutilated, which also inspired Leatherface in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974).
The final lines are not delivered by Clarice as she repeats, "Dr. Lecter?... Dr. Lecter?... Dr. Lecter?... Dr. Lecter?", but rather, it is Dr. Chilton who delivers the last dialogue: "Hey, what? Oh, excuse me. I'm sorry. Is the security system all set up?....Thank you. I appreciate that."