Anthony Hopkins will forever be associated with the role of Hannibal Lecter. The actor won an Oscar for playing the cannibalistic serial killer in the stone-cold classic ’90s movie The Silence of the Lambs. But, in an alternate world, it was Hollywood icon Gene Hackman who wore that terrifying face mask.
The box office failure of the previous Lecter movie, Manhunter, didn’t stop Gene Hackman from snapping up the rights to Thomas Harris’s book with an eye on directing as well as playing the devious killer. Bob Bookman, who brokered the book deal, said it was Hackman’s daughter who got between him and one of the best movies of the ’90s.
Bookman told Deadline: “I get a call saying: you won’t believe this, Gene Hackman’s daughter read the book. And she called her father and said: ‘Daddy, you’re not making this movie’. So, Gene called [Orion Pictures chairman Arthur Krim], and told him what happened. Arthur said: ‘Don’t worry Gene, I’ll buy out your half’. That’s how Orion got the rights.”
It was under Orion that Jonathan Demme got the chance to direct the film and he’s very thankful for the turn of events that put him in charge of one of the best thriller movies ever made. “God bless Gene Hackman’s daughter,” he said.
We don’t know exactly what it was that spooked Hackman’s daughter, though I’m not sure I’d want my dad to be renowned for a monologue about eating a dude’s liver. So maybe it’s not such a mystery after all.
Perhaps she had the same problems as Sean Connery, who was offered the chance to play Lecter as a result of his undeniable Hollywood stardom. “Connery has that fierce intelligence and also that serious physicality,” said Demme. “To take the most commercial path, because Connery was flying very high at the time, we sent the script to Sean Connery first. Word came back shortly that he thought it was disgusting and wouldn’t dream of playing that part.”
Demme, however, explained that plenty of people were more than ready to take a bite out of some flesh. The role was coveted among the best actors in Hollywood, with Dustin Hoffman and Morgan Freeman both circling the part. Names don’t come much bigger than that.
But it was Anthony Hopkins who ultimately got the role and he won the Oscar for Best Actor, as part of an incredible sweep that saw the film win all of the “Big Five” awards. None of the new movies to dominate the Oscars since then have matched that feat.
For more, learn how Anthony Hopkins based Hannibal Lecter on a sci-fi villain and find out about the creepy reason Lecter doesn’t blink. You can see more terrifying villains in our list of the best horror movies and look to future scares in Wednesday season 2.