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Silence of the Lambs: How Jodie Foster chased Clarice

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On April 20 in New York City, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hosted a screening and panel discussion to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Silence of the Lambs. Jodie Foster, Jonathan Demme, screenwriter Ted Tally, and producers Ron Bozman and Edward Saxon were on hand and participated in a pre-screening talk with New York Times contributor Logan Hill.

During the conversation, Tally revealed just how doggedly Foster pursued the part of FBI trainee Clarice Starling. Shortly after he had signed on to adapt Thomas Harris’ novel, Tally was working in a borrowed office on the first draft when he received a phone call.

“Somebody came and said, ‘Jodie Foster is on the phone.’ I almost fainted,” Tally said. “‘How did she even know to find where I am?'”

The two talked generally for a bit and got to know each other. At the end of the conversation, things turned pointed. “Finally she said, ‘Are you going to write a good part for me?'” Tally recalled. “I said, ‘I’m already writing a good part for you.’ She said, ‘I know you are.'”

The Clarice Starling that Tally wrote ended up being the only time in his career that he’s written with a lead character with an actor in mind.

Looking back on her drive to get the role, Foster reflected that there may have been some unconscious reasons for wanting the part, aside from enjoying the material. “I had played a lot of women in peril. I played women who were victims. I chose them, and I chose them for all of the right psychological reasons,” she said. “But there did come a point in my life and my career where I said, ‘I feel like I’ve grown into a woman who saves the women in peril, and I’d like to see what that experience is.'”

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