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How The Cast Of The Silence Of The Lambs Should Really Look

While Thomas Harris' 1988 novel The Silence of the Lambs might not have been the first appearance of Dr. Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter (that honor goes to Harris' 1981 chiller Red Dragon), it was the Lecter story that properly caught the world's attention. Adapted by Jonathan Demme in 1991 into an Academy Award-winning film starring Sir Anthony Hopkins as Lecter and Jodie Foster as Special Agent Clarice Starling, Harris' book lodged firmly in the collective unconscious as one of the scariest ever written. 

Featuring not one but two serial killers, one who helps find the other, The Silence of the Lambs was a unique crime procedural, especially as it followed a young woman protagonist into painfully dark territory. Thanks to Demme's classic movie, we have the characters' physical appearances stuck in our heads. But how did Harris originally write them? Here's how the cast of The Silence of the Lambs should really look.

Special Agent Clarice Starling

For someone who's the main character of the story, there is very little concrete description of Special Agent Clarice Starling in Harris' novel, and most of how she is described is through the eyes of other people. At the start of the story, Clarice catches her reflection in glass doors and thinks, "She knew she could look all right without primping," which suggests a level of attractiveness that is confirmed later in Elk River when a deputy gossips, "Well, if she just thinks she looks pretty got-d*mned good, I'd have to agree with her myself." 

Clarice Starling notes her own wiry strength is similar to that of Lecter's when she first meets him, and he comments on her nice bag but cheap shoes as well as the trace of her West Virginia accent. She dresses sensibly and professionally in comfortable button-down shirts and slacks and has a slim figure that many characters comment on, including Buffalo Bill himself. Both Buffalo Bill and Lecter revel in Clarice's thick, shoulder-length hair with highlights that Lecter compares to the color of a tiger's eye stone to match her eyes. By the end of the book, Clarice has gunpowder scarring on her cheek from her showdown with Buffalo Bill, and she looks haggard and gaunt, compared to the fresh-faced Clarice who ends the movie.

Dr. Hannibal Lecter

The Dr. Hannibal Lecter described in the novel is a far cry from the one we see in the film. For starters, "Dr. Lecter's eyes are maroon and they reflect the light in pinpoints of red." Sir Anthony Hopkins' eyes are bright blue. Harris' Lecter has the same wiry strength as Clarice Starling in a lithe dancer's body, small white teeth that hardly suggest his cannibal tendencies, and six fingers on his left hand. Lecter wears a white standard-issue hospital jumpsuit, in contrast to the blue he wears in the film, and he has extremely pale skin that offsets the red of his mouth. "He's a cemetery mink," Clarice thinks. "He lives down in a ribcage in the dry leaves of a heart," a poetic description to match the overwhelming sense of darkness Clarice feels every time she looks into his eyes. 

One of the biggest changes the film makes to Lecter's appearance is the mask he wears when meeting Senator Ruth Martin: Harris describes a hockey mask covering Lecter's face, a detail the production changed thanks to another franchise about a serial killer, Friday the 13th. Also, the book details the start of Lecter's facial surgery after his escape: Lecter injects himself with silicone to change the lines of his face, and by the end of the novel, he wears surgical tape over his nose until his surgeries settle in.

Chief Jack Crawford

Chief Crawford is the second person introduced in Harris' novel, with Clarice thinking about him, "Normally, Crawford looked like a fit, middle-aged engineer who might have paid his way through college playing baseball [...] Now he was thin, his shirt collar was too big, and he had dark puffs under his reddened eyes." The most frequent descriptor for Crawford in the novel are the bags under his eyes, results of many sleepless nights tending to his ill wife Bella, who has been erased from the movie entirely to ramp up the underlying sexual tension between Starling and Crawford. 

In the book, Lecter nicknames Jack "Crawford the Stoic," Clarice's roommate Ardelia says he has an "Easter Island face," and Clarice herself says he often reminds her of the "know-it-all caterpillar" from Alice in Wonderland. Crawford wears bifocal glasses that he occasionally changes out for sunglasses, and likely the biggest change from how Crawford appears in the movie portrayed by Scott Glenn is that in the book, Crawford and Clarice Starling are the same height. In the movie, Glenn positively towers over Jodie Foster onscreen.

Jame Gumb, aka Buffalo Bill

While Clarice Starling and her colleagues know that Jame Gumb (Ted Levine), aka Buffalo Bill, is likely a white male with considerable physical strength, the first sighting of him in the book is by his victim Catherine Martin, who notes, "The floor lamp lit his face from below, distorting his features, but she could see his body plainly. He had on pressed khaki trousers and [...] chamois shirt, unbuttoned over a freckled chest. His chin and cheeks were hairless, as smooth as a woman's, and his eyes only pinpoint gleams above his cheekbones." Catherine notices that his shirt has hairs all over it, and he smells bad. 

Harris describes Gumb as, "thirty-four, six feet one inch, 205 pounds, brown and blue, no distinguishing marks," the last of which is changed in the movie to a number of tattoos and piercings over his body. He has broad shoulders and a naturally deep voice and "slightly budding breasts" from the hormones he's taking. In the book, electrolysis has changed his hairline into a widow's peak, whereas in the movie, he's wearing a wig of a victim's scalp. In the novel, Gumb often wears infrared goggles to see his moths in the dark as well as a filmy silk house robe, details that the movie has maintained. Demme's version has also left in the same dance and dialogue that Gumb performs in the film as he pretends to be a woman.

Catherine Martin

In the book, Catherine Martin (Brooke Smith) is described as "...a tall young woman, big-boned and well fleshed, nearly heavy, with a handsome face and a lot of clean hair." Later, when she observes her situation, she thinks about herself, "Catherine Baker Martin naked was a show-stopper, a girl and a half in all directions, and she knew it." When her kidnapper sees her, he's taken aback by how tall and broad she is as he asks if she's a size 14. She has smooth, unblemished skin that Buffalo Bill discovers upon slitting her shirt open from the back as he does in the movie. 

After getting snatched and tossed in the oubliette, as Harris describes Gumb's basement, Catherine Martin breaks the ring finger of her left hand, and it is both red and considerably swollen as she nurses it. When Starling goes through Catherine's room looking for clues, she finds a wardrobe of high-end clothing at sizes 14 and 16, suggesting Catherine's weight fluctuates. Unlike the movie, where Starling finds naked Polaroids of Buffalo Bill victim Frederica Bimmel in her room, the graphic photos in the book are actually of Catherine and her boyfriend, and Starling causes a stir when she finds them. By the end of the book, Catherine has a huge scratch across her face from when she pulled Precious the Poodle into the hole with her, a detail omitted in the movie.

Ardelia Mapp

As Clarice Starling's roommate and best friend Ardelia Mapp, acclaimed director/actor Kasi Lemmons is one of the few characters who looks very much as she is described in the book: "Mapp's broad, brown, eminently sane countenance was one of the more welcome sights of her day," — sentiments that perfectly come across in Lemmons' Ardelia onscreen. 

However, unlike movie Ardelia, book Ardelia has a tendency to fall into the accent of her youth just as Clarice does, and Ardelia often ribs Clarice on this. The movie leaves out Ardelia's low-income background that also corresponds to Clarice's while still going into great detail about Clarice's upbringing. In the book, Mapp has large, dark eyes and is not as athletic as Clarice. She's the brains of the duo and helps Clarice not fail out of school after her encounters with Lecter and Buffalo Bill. Some of this is included in Ardelia's brief moments onscreen in Demme's movie.

Dr. Frederick Chilton

There is a third villain in The Silence of the Lambs: Dr. Frederick Chilton (Anthony Heald), the pretentious academic climber who enjoyed torturing Hannibal Lecter while he was under Chilton's care. In the book, he's described as greasy, wearing too much lanolin in his dark hair. After Chilton shows Clarice the photograph of what Lecter had done to a nurse, Harris writes, "Starling didn't know which was worse, the photograph or Chilton's attention as he gleaned her face with fast grabby eyes. She thought of a thirsty chicken pecking tears off her face." 

He wears English-cut sportcoats, and Clarice has a brief moment where she glimpses the sad and lonely life Chilton has outside of work. The biggest difference, however, is that before Lecter gives the feds Jame Gumb's real name, he calls him Billy Rubin. Bilirubin is the pigment in bile that gives feces its color, and a tech notes in Harris' novel, "Lab says bilirubin's just about exactly the color of Chilton's hair. Asylum humor, they call it." This delightfully awful detail was left out of the movie entirely.


During the course of The Silence of the Lambs and beyond, Hannibal Lecter has only one true ally, the hospital orderly Barney. Barney is kind and accommodating of Dr. Lecter in a non-patronizing way and eventually goes on to be a huge character in Lecter's larger arc. In Harris' novel, Barney is described as "the big impassive orderly" who has a "high and hoarse voice" that reminds Clarice Starling of Aldo Ray, an Old Hollywood actor of television and film fame. Barney has huge hands, and at one point, Clarice sees him reading Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility when she visits Lecter. 

Clarice also comments on Barney's "enormous calm," a vibe that onscreen Barney actor Frankie Faison captures perfectly, even if his voice isn't as described with Faison's singular deep growl. Outside of the hospital, Barney wears a lumber jacket that Clarice notices makes him look even more massive, and he carries his lunch in a pail. Similar to Hannibal Lecter in the book, Barney has small teeth that Clarice sees as baby teeth.

Senator Ruth Martin

After the news of her daughter Catherine's kidnapping by notorious serial killer Buffalo Bill breaks, Clarice Starling tries to leverage Tennessee senator Ruth Martin's power position to bribe Hannibal Lecter into revealing more information about the killer. The attempt fails, and in doing so, Hannibal is transferred to Memphis to meet directly with Senator Martin. Thomas Harris writes, "She was a tall woman with a strong, plain face," a description that fully fits Ruth Martin actor Diane Baker. 

Harris also notes, "Senator Martin went in looking good. Her navy suit breathed power," the same suit that Lecter would later cruelly comment on both in the book and the movie. Later, when Clarice meets Senator Martin at Catherine's house — scenes that did not make it to screen at all — Clarice observes, "Even exhausted, Senator Martin had a lot of presence. Under her careful finish, Starling saw a scrapper." The movie also leaves out the detail that Senator Martin is a chain-smoker.

Paul Krendler

In Demme's version of The Silence of the Lambs, the role of the DOJ's Paul Krendler as written by Thomas Harris has become a composite of a number of different characters featured in the book whose characters were not named onscreen. While Krendler would go on to be played by a smarmy Ray Liotta down the line in the franchise, Demme's casting of Ron Vawter actually follows Krendler's description in the book. 

"Krendler's bald spot was tanned and he looked fit for forty," Harris writes. "Starling had a chance to look Krendler over as he was closing the bedroom door. His suit was a triumph of single-needle tailoring and he was not armed. The shine was buffed off the bottom half-inch of his heels from walking on much deep carpet, and the edges of his heels were sharp." Krendler only appears briefly in The Silence of the Lambs accompanying Ruth Martin as she meets Lecter, but in the book, he is with Senator Martin as they meet Clarice Starling in Catherine's apartment.

Noble Pilcher and Albert Roden

The Silence of the Lambs, both in novel form and onscreen, are about as grim as horror stories come, as they should be since the plot revolves around ghoulish murders and horrifying serial killers. But we do have one moment of brief levity in both book and movie when we meet the bug guys, Noble Pilcher and Albert Roden, the two entomologists tasked with figuring out what kind of insect cocoon Buffalo Bill was inserting in the throats of his victims. 

Harris writes, "Both were about thirty, one black-haired and lean, the other pudgy with wiry red hair." Harris reveals Roden to be the chubbier of the two, and dark-haired Pilcher "had a long friendly face, but his black eyes were a little witchy and too close together, and one of them had a slight cast that made it catch the light independently." Paul Lazar's casting as Pilcher is perfect in this regard, as his slightly crossed eyes do give him a slightly sinister look even as he's cute trying to flirt with Clarice. Roden is as abrasive in the book as the movie, but the red hair has been replaced with a balding pate in Dan Butler's casting. Just as in the book when Clarice finds them, the two men are playing chess and using a live beetle as a timer. 

Sergeant Pembry and Lieutenant Boyle

We meet Sergeant Pembry and Lieutenant Boyle in Memphis, two of the officers in charge of monitoring Hannibal Lecter in his new digs as he awaits Senator Martin's transfer. In Harris' novel, he describes Pembry as small and Boyle as large. Boyle has liver spots on his hands, and Pembry's arms are heavily tattooed. While Clarice Starling has her unauthorized visit with Lecter, Pembry and Boyle read a Guns and Ammo magazine at Pembry's desk, which also contains riot batons and a huge can of mace. 

The men are "calm and careful" and speak to Lecter "in low, civil tones close to his ears as he was examined." Pembry and Boyle were both exceedingly polite with Lecter, and Pembry even goes so far as to call him "brother" in a short-lived moment of camaraderie. As we all know, Lecter uses these two officers to stage his escape, and the murder and mutilation of Sergeant Boyle happens with the baton just as in the movie. Lecter poses as the faceless Pembry, also like in the movie. However, Lecter does not hang Boyle and grotesquely display him from the cage as seen in one of the most disturbing images in the film.

Frederica Bimmel, Mr. Bimmel, and Stacy Hubka

After Dr. Lecter teases Clarice that everything she needs to know about how to catch Buffalo Bill is in the case files, focusing on the notion of what the killer might have been coveting around him to inspire his work, she returns to the home of Buffalo Bill's first victim, Frederica Bimmel. Harris describes her as 22: "In her yearbook picture she looked large and plain, with good thick hair and a good complexion. In the second photo taken at the Kansas City Morgue, she looked like nothing human." A chilling description if there ever was one. She is "wide and fat" with "beautiful skin" and "irregular features" coming together "to make a pleasant face," Clarice observes in the book. 

"God didn't make her pretty, he made her busy," her morose father Gustav Bimmel tells Clarice. Mr. Bimmel is described as "a tall man, flat and wide-hipped with red-rimmed eyes of watery blue," wearing a knit cap much like Harry Northup does in the movie. 

In the book, Frederica's best friend Stacy "had a round, downy face and stood five-four in heels. She wore her hair in frosted wings and used a Cher Bono move to brush them back from her face," which is almost entirely unlike the micro-fringed and funky boho-chic Stacey Hubka, played by Lauren Roselli in the movie.

Dr. Akin, Sheriff Perkins, and Lamar

With the discovery of a new Buffalo Bill victim, Crawford brings Starling on the road to do a preliminary body examination. Starling finds herself in a hostile environment as the only woman other than the one on the slab and fights to remain professional. 

She's accompanied by local coroner Dr. Akin (Kenneth Utt), who Harris describes only as having a nervous tic of tapping a pen against his teeth. Sheriff Perkins is described as a stressed out, small man, which didn't translate to screen, with actor Pat McNamara standing eye-to-eye with Scott Glenn.

Funeral home director Lamar is perfectly cast in character actor Tracey Walter, as Harris describes Lamar with "a whiskey bloom in the middle of his face" and a quirky personality that comes across both in the book and onscreen (though he only wears glasses in the movie). In the book, he has gentle "organist's hands" and is the only one in Elk River who acknowledges Clarice's observational and other skills with the dead body. In the movie, though, Lamar's quirkiness is played rather creepily, and he makes Clarice even more uncomfortable in that terrible situation.