Before Jodie Foster was cast as FBI agent Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs, Brooke Smith harbored hopes of playing the part herself. Then — while they were out bowling one night — she heard from friend Michelle Pfeiffer that she might play the part. ”My first response was, ‘Oh great, I’ll have to play the fat girl in the hole.’ And Michelle said, ‘You’ll be great at that!’ I said, ‘Thanks a lot!”’ For the role of Catherine Martin, which required her to live in a specially constructed plastic pit as prisoner of a serial killer (played by Ted Levine), Smith gained 25 pounds, all of which she has since lost.
Still, the 23-year-old New Yorker’s 5-foot-10 frame puts her in tall company. ”I never knew if I’d work, looking the way I do,” she says. ”But after seeing The Grifters, I bought these huge black pumps because Anjelica [Huston] is a goddess and I’m learning to be big and to be proud like Anjelica.”
She has already mastered the art of performing in a hole for almost five hours at a stretch. ”They said I’d get into all the unions because I was like a combination set decorator and grip. I would have to put the dirt in the right place each time.” At one point, reports the Method actress, ”I ripped a toenail. There was blood everywhere. It fed me. I used it all.” But Smith says director Jonathan Demme had his own ideas about life in a pit. ”One time he came down and asked totally seriously, ‘Have you ever been in jail?’ When I said no, he seemed genuinely surprised. Like everyone’s been in jail, right?”