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The Real Reason Gene Hackman Didn't Star In Silence Of The Lambs

"The Silence of the Lambs" is a bona fide horror-thriller classic. With a 96% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes and five major Oscar trophies to its name, it's a rare breed of cannibal movie that received universal acclaim and awards recognition. Of course, there's more to "The Silence of the Lambs" than questionable individuals eating liver with fava beans and some nice Chianti. It's a compelling murder mystery that boasts tremendous performances from Jodie Foster and Sir Anthony Hopkins, the latter of whom portrayed the film's captivating villain, Hannibal Lecter.

It's impossible to picture anyone other than Hopkins as Lecter in "The Silence of the Lambs." However, the role would have been Gene Hackman's if events panned out differently. The actor wanted the role so much that he even optioned the rights to the book, splitting the costs with Orion Pictures. As Cinema Blend points out, Hackman not only had plans to star in the adaptation of Thomas Harris' novel, but he also planned on directing it at one point. Those plans changed, however, but Hackman had his reasons for the U-turn.

Hackman had second thoughts about The Silence of the Lambs after seeing himself in a previous movie

Gene Hackman picked his roles carefully throughout his career, and he was always wary of how the audience perceived him. As he revealed in an interview with Empire, the stress of the job and worrying about box office performances ultimately led to his retirement from acting. While his career was still thriving at the time "The Silence of the Lambs" entered production, Hackman worried about the repercussions of playing such a dark character.

According to Mental Floss, his decision to turn down the part of Hannibal Lecter was due to his turn in "Mississippi Burning," in which he plays an F.B.I. agent who's tasked with solving racially motivated murders in the titular state. After watching clips of himself in the film, he decided that he couldn't follow it up by playing another unlikable character.

While Hackman's character in "Mississippi Burning" isn't a bad guy by any means, the role still involved him dealing with some difficult and violent subject matter. His character is also prone to some angry outbursts, such as the infamous scene in which he threatens a racist with a razor in a barbershop. It's understandable why he didn't want to dive into a horror movie after that, though it would have been interesting to see how he approached the role of Hannibal Lecter.