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Michelle Pfeiffer Remembers Turning Down ‘Silence of the Lambs’ Because It Was Too Evil

The only regret the Oscar-nominated actress has is not getting a second chance to work with Jonathan Demme again.

"The Silence of the Lambs"

Can you imagine Michelle Pfeiffer as Clarice? Well, director Jonathan Demme was dead set on making the “What Lies Beneath” star his rookie FBI agent lead. However, like Gene Hackman, Pfeiffer was worried about the “evil” captured in the film.

“I was uncomfortable with that ending,” Pfeiffer recalled to The New Yorker in Feb. 2021. “I didn’t want to put that out into the world.” 

Meanwhile, Oscar winner Jodie Foster had been in a bidding war with Hackman for the rights to the film. Upon losing out, Foster fought to land the role of Clarice. Demme was rumored to have not been a fan of Foster’s accent in “The Accused,” but after meeting with Foster in person, Demme changed his mind and ultimately cast Foster in the iconic role

And, 30 years later, Pfeiffer regrets not collaborating again with her “Married to the Mob” director Demme. 

Orion Pictures

Michelle Pfeiffer’s career hit a breakthrough in 1988 when she starred in Stephen Frears’ “Dangerous Liaisons” and Jonathan Demme’s “Married to the Mob.” The former title earned her an Oscar nomination, the first of her career, while the latter impressed the likes of Martin Scorsese and would help her land other career-defining roles, such as “The Age of Innocence.” Working with Demme proved so successful that Pfeiffer was offered the lead role in the filmmaker’s follow-up project, “The Silence of the Lambs.” As the actress recently told The New Yorker, she turned down “Lambs” because it was evil to the point of making her uncomfortable.

“With ‘Silence of the Lambs,’ I was trepidatious,” Pfeiffer said. “There was such evil in that film. The thing I most regret is missing the opportunity to do another film with Jonathan [Demme]. It was that evil won in the end, that at the end of that film evil ruled out. I was uncomfortable with that ending. I didn’t want to put that out into the world.”

Pfeiffer turned down the chance to play Clarice Starling, opening the door for Jodie Foster to the play the character. “The Silence of the Lambs,” released in 1991, would go on to become a critical and commercial juggernaut, grossing over $270 million worldwide and winning Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director, among other categories. Clarice would become one of Foster’s most iconic roles, winning her the Academy Award, the BAFTA, and the Golden Globe for Best Actress. Pfeiffer’s only regret is not working with Demme for a second time.

“It’s so sad to me that he’s no longer with us,” Pfeiffer told The New Yorker. “First of all, he is the nicest person, he is funny, and not only is he really funny but he’s the easiest person to make laugh, so we just laugh all the time. [‘Married to the Mob’] was a very demanding shoot, but for whatever reason I just sort of stepped into her. I don’t know why. I didn’t have to work really that hard at it, I didn’t even have to work that hard at the accent.”

When Pfeiffer met with Martin Scorsese to audition for “The Age of Innocence,” it was the actress’ “Married to the Mob” role that threw the director for a curve. As Pfeiffer recalled, “I remember [Scorsese] saying, ‘I thought you were this brunette girl from New Jersey.’ That was probably one of the greatest compliments that was ever given to me.”

As for Pfeiffer’s most iconic role, Selina Kyle/Catwoman in Tim Burton’s “Batman Returns,” the actress told ScreenRant last week she has never been invited to reprise the role. Pfeiffer’s “Batman Returns” co-star Michael Keaton is returning as the Caped Crusader in the upcoming Warner Bros. release “The Flash,” but Pfeiffer’s Catwoman return isn’t in the cards. When asked if she would play the comic book anti-heroine again, Pfeiffer responded, “I would if anyone asked me, but no one’s asked me yet.”

Next up for Pfeiffer is the lead role in “French Exit,” opening February 12 from Sony Pictures Classics.

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