RIP, Sean Connery. The great actor died today, October 31, at the age of 90. Here’s the story of how one role got away from the star of such iconic films as Goldfinger and The Untouchables.
We’ll never forget Hannibal Lecter’s steely blue eyes as he tells FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) that he prefers fava beans and a glass of Chianti when he chows down the liver of an unfortunate victim of his madness.
However, what if those blue eyes had been dark brown? In fact, what if they had been Sean Connery’s dark brown eyes?
That’s right. Sean Connery was director Jonathan Demme’s first choice to play the iconic serial killer in 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs. Not Anthony Hopkins.
That may sound hard to believe now. Hopkins’ magnetic performance captured an Academy Award for Best Actor. He projected an evil force onto the screen that has terrified movie fans now for nearly three decades.
But in the late 1980s when casting began, Connery was the bigger star, fresh off from landing an Academy Award for his supporting performance as a Chicago cop in Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables. Demme recalled in a Deadline interview shortly before his death in 2017 that he asked Connery to play Lecter, although he thought Hopkins would be perfect. The director agreed with studio execs that the former star of the massively popular James Bond spy films would generate a bigger box office.
Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs.
“I love Tony Hopkins, but Sean Connery could be amazing. So to take the most commercial path, because Connery was flying very high at the time, we sent the script to Sean Connery first,” Demme said. “Word came back shortly that he thought it was disgusting and wouldn’t dream of playing that part. So, great, now we can go to Tony Hopkins.”
Demme traveled to London where Hopkins was in a play and asked him to do a reading at the studio (Orion).
“All the executives were there,” the director said. “There was electricity in that room, coming off of what Hopkins was doing. He had found Lecter, and I remember when he delivered the last line. The room was just silent. And my producer, Kenny Utt, just goes, real quiet, ‘Oh…yeah!’ ”
Final note: Jodie Foster was also not the first choice to play Clarice. Demme initially wanted Michelle Pfeiffer, who he had worked with in Married to the Mob.
“(Pfeiffer) initially toyed with the idea, and then turned it down, worried that it was too violent,” Demme said. “She’s a wonderful actress but I thought she was a few years too old and just too beautiful. It’s too distracting. Would you believe that she would have the right toughness? I don’t know.”
The Silence of the Lambs is now available on Netflix.