Everybody loves Jodie Foster. For starters, the woman can throw a helluva punch, and we all love a gal with a mean left hook, right? For seconds, she absolutely, categorically cannot play a character who’s weak and pathetic. But, and here’s the genius, even when she’s toughing it up as ‘Juggernaut Jodie’, she imbues her characters with a unique frailty that somehow inverts weakness (say, a traumatic childhood), converting it into raw power. Examples? Like you need em. Anywho, what’s with all the Jodie loving? Well, last year I had the chance to interview Ms Foster for a retrospective piece on The Silence of the Lambs. And, as is often the case, hardly a scrap of the actual interview has seen the light of day since. So here I present to you some prize snippets from that blessed day…
Were you aware of the novel before becoming attached to the film?
Yes, in fact I tried to buy the rights to the novel. And I basically quickly found out that they were owned already by Orion and I looked into who was writing it [the script] and I found out that it was being written for Gene Hackman to direct. And so I kind of put my name in a hat and said, ‘Look, I want to play that part’. And then the day the draft came in Gene Hackman decided not to direct it, he felt it was too violent. And so it became available and Orion gave it immediately to Jonathan Demme, and then I tried to track him down and I knew that he was clearly interested in another actress. I basically offered myself up as his second choice.
How did you feel knowing that you were the second choice?
Oh, that’s okay. You know every movie that I’ve made in my life that has been very successful for me and has taken me to, you know, really important places has been something that I had to knock down the door for.
You lobbied pretty hard. What made you want this part so badly?
You know, it was… some things I think were unconscious. I thought that the book was beautiful, beautifully written. And the characters were gorgeously written. I loved the delicacy of Clarice and her kind of destiny as a heroic, a classically heroic figure.
Did you work much with Anthony Hopkins?
We didn’t really work together at all. He was doing another movie, so I had very little contact with him. I saw him once during a table reading, and then that was it. I never saw him again. I did half the movie before he got there. He showed up, and he was already bolted into that glass room, and most of our stuff we did direct to camera, so literally either I was on screen or he was on screen. We weren’t onscreen together very much. So it was a very strange environment where we had very intimidating contact with each other. And I think that’s what gave it its tension, really.
What was first day of shooting like?
My first day of shooting was the exterior Quantico, doing all the stuff where I’m running. It was actually the credit sequence. We did really start at the beginning. We did all the Scott Glenn stuff first, and then we did the Lecter stuff, and then we did all the Buffalo Bill stuff.
None of us really understood the tone of the film yet. I was worried that Jonathan, because he was known for doing comedies, and for doing black comedies, you know I was worried that he was gonna go down a path and sort of make fun of the movie in some ways and that there were gonna be comedy elements because the first few days of shooting there were a couple of funny little moments in there. And I remember taking him aside and going, ‘Oh God, I hope you’re not going to do a kind of black comedy thing’.
How did you feel about the dark subject matter?
I loved it. I love dark stuff. Those are the movies that I like to watch and rent at the video store. I’m not afraid of it, and in fact if anything I like living in that sort of shadow place. I think that must be my taste. I like that in the movie-going experience. It’s completely different from my life, of course.
How do you feel about the film when you look back on it now?
Oh, I think it’s a great American classic. It will stand out for years to come, there’s something very timeless about it. And something about the tone is so original. Some of that comes from Lecter being this really witty character, who’s really almost an English character. It’s not an American psychopath, it really is a much more of a sort of wit first. A veneer character. And I think that a lot of the tone comes from that, and you know it tapped a nerve in people that really made it one of the first of its kind.
I think we were all really inspired by that book. And it really allowed us to create something that’s probably the best thing that any of us have ever done.