By Ruth Kinane
March 11, 2021 at 08:30 AM EST

Just when you thought Clarice couldn't get any darker, the show's star Rebecca Breeds is here to warn you it really can.

The fourth episode of the CBS series — which stars Breeds as Clarice Starling, the intrepid FBI agent of Thomas Harris' novels and the 1991 film The Silence of the Lambs — ended with Clarice in a life-threatening situation when Luanne (a medical professional involved in the clinical trials linked to the serial killer Clarice & Co. are hunting) jabbed a syringe into her neck and knocked her out cold.

Not a great spot to be in, but Clarice is sadly no stranger to near-death experiences, and as Breeds tells EW, things are only set to get darker with episode 5. Ahead of the episode Breeds says "nearly killed" her, we chatted with the actress about landing the iconic role, getting to know different sides of the FBI agent, and whether Clarice would be up for a few margaritas and a night out dancing.

Rebecca Breeds in 'Clarice'
| Credit: Brooke Palmer/CBS

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Was this one of those roles you just knew right away you had to play?

REBECCA BREEDS: Oh, absolutely. A friend of mine had already been talking about it, and she was like, "Bec, you'd be so perfect for Clarice. You have to go for Clarice." I was like, "Yeah, I'll see what comes in or whatever." The moment it did, I just lit up and I knew it was game time. I knew that this was not the frivolous, girlfriend-to-the-main-guy, as-pretty-as-she-is-cute kind of a role. This was a real-deal, intelligent woman, a driven woman, a deeply complex woman, a highly capable woman. I was like, "This is my jam!" What I love about her is her intelligence. The first scene in the pilot is her therapy session, and that was one of the main audition scenes. For me, it was like an intellectual playground. Should we go on the swings? Should we go on the slide? What about the monkey bars? It's like, how many different things can I try? How many different mechanisms can I use to circumvent this guy's ridiculous questions and get around them? For an actor, it is just so much fun when you have a scene written as well as that, with so much nuance.

So many of the scenes since seem to be that way. Is it kind of exhausting?

I mean, yeah. Because of the physical element and the trauma — the post-traumatic stress element — that is really exhausting. But on the same note, the work is so fulfilling and so good, and the people I work with are so good at what they do, so it's invigorating. It kind of balances out — but the sleep deprivation, that's real.

Once you landed the role, did you go back and watch Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal and read the books? Or did you want to keep your performance separate from all that?

I think if I had Jodie [Foster] or [Julianne Moore's] performances in my head too much, that would get in the way. I watched the movies once and loved them, and then I put them aside and I just spent time in the book. I wanted to get to the root of who the character is essentially and learn more about her character traits and less about how to portray, and more about what to portray. If I'm just living truthfully in who she is, how it comes across will take care of itself. It will happen in my unique way through my unique instrument, and it will honor the character, and that's what I wanted to do. I wanted to honor the character. The character is so richly drawn in the books that it was the most fun homework ever.

Did you feel pressure because she's such an iconic character? Or were you able to block that out?

I literally blocked it out. I literally just went, "I don't have the luxury to question myself," and that's a very Clarice thing. I kind of channeled her; she doesn't have the luxury to doubt herself, and if she does, it's a blink in time and then she pushes it away and gets on with the job. So I just did what Clarice would do and I pushed away any of the "Can I or can't I?" and just said, "Get over yourself, get on with the job." I applied her attitude to it. Also, I wouldn't have gotten the job if I couldn't do it. I know how well this character fits on me. I'm living it, I'm feeling it. I know it feels good. It feels right. I trusted myself and did the work, and made it about that and not about what people are going to think of it or anything like that. That's not my job.

I have to ask about mastering the Appalachian accent. You're so good at it. Did you have a coach? What all went into making it sound right?

The night I got the audition, I just looked up YouTube's different versions of the Appalachian accent. I wanted to hear different versions of the dialects. There were a couple of guide tracks about where to place the mouth and little verbal exercises I could do, and then I listened to one clip of Jodie so I could see where she pitched it. With any accent, there's a scale of how much you can push the accent or how gentle it is, and this character started in West Virginia, but then by 10 years old she was in Montana. I wanted to see where Jodie pitched it and pay homage to her setting up the character and her choice and keep it in the same place. Then after that, honestly, it's just a bit of magic. It just really sat beautifully in my mouth. It really brought the character home. From that first audition, I just felt like I had it. Since then I've worked with a coach to finesse it, to make sure I'm, for the most part, pronouncing things right.

I love that we're getting to see this different side to Clarice too: what she's like at home, around her friends, etc. Has that been fun to delve into?

It is sheer joy because, if you read the book, she has a really dirty sense of humor. Her and Ardelia [Devyn Tyler] really have a dark sense of humor together. They're hysterical when they're not in work mode. Clarice is a fully rounded human being, but we — especially in the movie — saw her in the peak of her studies. She gets given this opportunity right out of the gate at Quantico, and then she's in the field and in one of the darkest serial murder cases of the time. It's a very specific week in her life. That's not who she is. That's a part of who she is. That's why it's so important that we're getting to tell all of her story, and that's why her character needed her own show, because there is so much more to her that we get to know. What about the aftermath of that week? Was she running on adrenaline? What was happening? So for me, when I get to expand her character and do her justice outside of being in work mode, it's a joy — like, what does she eat?

Ramen noodles, apparently.

Yeah. Ramen noodles. There's a lot coming up in [episodes] 6 and 7, that's exactly what we're talking about now: seeing her outside of work. Getting to explore that was just so fun to me because she is so full of life, this woman. She is so full of heart, and it's great to be able to find ways to put that into everything. I'm dying to show how much personality she has. It makes it more interesting to see how much she holds that back and then to see it creep out. It's so intriguing because you have all of this underneath. You've got all this humanness that I can relate to. How are these two beasts one person? Women are like this. We go to work and we're boss ladies and we handle what we need to handle, but underneath we're fully rounded humans with hopes and dreams and hearts and hurts and all sorts of things. So I'm loving getting to expand her narrative to those. I mean, does she dance?

I would hope so. Maybe after a margarita or three?

I cannot wait for that episode.

It was cool to see Clarice begin to confront her white privilege when Ardelia pointed out the difference in their career tracks. Is that something we're going to see explored more?

Yeah, definitely. In episode 4 she has a come-to-Jesus moment where she realizes that there's an experience that one of the people she loves the most in the world is having that she hasn't properly acknowledged, understood, or asked about. So a part of the evolution of their relationship is coming into a better understanding of what Aredelia's experience is. I may not fully be able to understand, but I'm willing to try. I want to learn. I want to be a better friend. And I want to be effective. It's not just about gaining understanding and information, it's how to then action it into making the world a better place, a fairer place, a healed place. Seeing that unfold in their friendship throughout the season is important because it's not just a one-and-done, like "Oh, we did it now, let's move on." It's something that'll continue to be explored and something that will continue to unfold throughout their relationship.

Clarice is also having to contend with being a woman in what's predominantly a man's world, particularly since this is set back in the '90s. Is she going to continue to get more assertive as she gets more comfortable in the VICAP team?

Yeah, definitely. This is a big thing coming up in the next couple of episodes, about "Listen to me!" Like, "I mean it when I say it. I'm not crazy. Don't belittle my experience." It's the hysterical woman thing, and it's like, don't do that. Don't belittle me and say I'm being a hysterical woman. You actually need to listen to me. There's a lot of anger actually around that issue that's about to come up, about the injustice of not being taken seriously because she's a woman and because of preconceptions surrounding her being a woman. That definitely continues to play out in VICAP, and that continues to be an issue that they need to sort out. Clarice really fights for her voice to be heard and taken seriously. Being the person, experiencing that, going through those days, you just want to hit your head against a wall. There are times that you do get shut down and you are silent. It is the most dehumanizing experience. It is horrible. We get to see that play out, but we also get to see her fight for it. I think that's really powerful.

The last episode ended with Clarice being anesthetized by Luanne and no one on the team knowing where she is. Can you tease anything about episode 5?

I'd say, watch this episode with the lights on. It's gonna get dark. Five is for real, man. Five almost killed me, but I'm so proud of it.

Is it hard to leave all that on set at the end of the day and not take all the darkness home with you?

I'm pretty good at compartmentalizing the content, but it's the exhaustion of going through the trauma. You're just levels of tired that you've never known before because you've poured it all into these situations that are just so far beyond anything you ever would be a part of — God willing! Afterwards, you're just a shell. A satisfied shell. I'm so proud of myself that I did that and now I have nothing left to give.

Clarice airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.

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