The surprising actor who almost played Hannibal Lecter in ‘Silence of the Lambs’

Rolling Stone just published an interview with Oscar-winning Silence of the Lambs screenwriter Ted Tally for the film's 25th anniversary, and hey, did you know that Gene Hackman originally wanted to play Hannibal Lecter? And also write and direct the movie? Because I didn't. What a strange alternate reality to consider.

As Tally tells it, Orion was in the process of buying the rights to Thomas Harris's novel as a vehicle for Hackman when Tally made his interest in the project known to Orion co-founder Mike Medavoy. From Rolling Stone: 

“[Medavoy] said, 'Gene thinks he's going to write this, but don't worry, he'll find out how hard that is, and we'll get back to you.' Mike later called my agent and said, 'Gene's written 50 pages of the script, and he's only 50 pages into the book. So if you can meet with him and convince him that you're the right guy for it, you'll have the job.' So I had to pitch Gene Hackman to get the job.”

Tally goes on to relate his initial meeting with the “smart, quirky” actor, where he pitched Hackman on his vision for the script — which he claims the actor had some pretty “strange ideas” about. At a second meeting (during which Hackman lay on the floor the entire time due to back pain), these ideas became clearer. Related Tally: “He had some weird image of Clarice Starling being visualized in the skies, like, 'We'll see it across the sky.' And I just thought, 'OK, Gene, take some more Tylenol.'”

Luckily for the project, which would go on to sweep all four major categories at the 1992 Oscars (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress), Hackman dropped out of the project completely while Tally was writing the first draft of the screenplay, paving the way for Anthony Hopkins to step into the role that would become his most famous. 

Also fascinating to note: before Jodie Foster signed on to play Clarice Starling, Michelle Pfeiffer was in the running to play the character but decided the movie was “too violent for her” — a gripe that, according to Tally, also ultimately helped fuel Hackman's exit.