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The Silence of the Lambs is widely considered a perfect film from director Jonathan Demme. It is also the third and most recent film to win the “Big Five” awards on Oscar night: Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Director, and Screenplay.
Here are 11 things about the film and its production you may not have known…
1. 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 48 counts of aggravated first-degree murder.
2. Jodie Foster initially tried to purchase the rights to The Silence of The Lambs after reading the Thomas Harris book, but Gene Hackman had beat her to it.
3. In preparation for his role, Anthony Hopkins studied files of serial killers. Also, he visited prisons and studied convicted murderers and was present during some court hearings concerning serial killings.
4. Anthony Hopkins invented the fast, slurping-type sound that Hannibal Lecter does. He did it spontaneously during filming on the set, and everyone thought it was great. He also purposefully tried to not blink during his scenes, which he borrowed from a friend who unnerved everyone.
5. Foster claims that during the first meeting between Lecter and Starling, Hopkins’s 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.
6. Buffalo Bill 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.
7. The film was originally scheduled for release in the fall of 1990. Orion Pictures delayed its release until late January 1991 so they could focus on promoting Dances with Wolves 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.
8. Contrary to popular belief, this is not the first Hannibal Lecter appearance in a film. Brian Cox played the character in Michael Mann’s Manhunter in 1986.
9. After being cast as Buffalo Bill, Ted Levine developed his character by reading profiles of serial killers. Levine later said he found the material very disturbing. Since Bill was a cross-dresser, he went to a few transvestite bars and interviewed some patrons.
10. Notoriously private and shy, author Thomas Harris declined the opportunity to be involved in the film in any way, though he did wish the cast and crew the best of luck with the adaptation.
11. At 24 minutes and 52 seconds, 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 beating him by one minute. Hopkins and Foster only share four scenes together.