John Lithgow Came Really Close To Being Cast As Hannibal Lecter In The Silence Of The Lambs

Only a handful of performances in horror movies have broken through to become both pop culture focal points and be recognized by The Academy with Oscar gold. Chief among them is none other than Anthony Hopkins' take as the intellectual serial killer Hannibal Lecter in the feature film adaptation of The Silence Of The Lambs. At this point it's difficult to think of anyone else in the part for that particular movie but it almost happened when the adaptation was first in the works, and the cannibal killer was almost played by an unexpected actor.

Though perhaps best known to modern audiences for his role as Dick Solomon in comedy series 3rd Rock from the Sun, John Lithgow made a splash in playing crazed killers in films like Raising Cain and in the highly acclaimed fourth season of Showtime's Dexter. Between the two he almost played the Big Kahuna himself, Hannibal Lecter, as the actor revealed in a new interivew.

"If Anthony Hopkins had turned it down they were coming straight for me," Lithgow told Deadline. "I even went in to meet with (director) Jonathan Demme and he said 'I have to tell you we've offered it this morning to Anthony Hopkins,' and I said 'Then what am I doing here?' And I just crossed my fingers that he would turn it down, and he didn't. On the other hand, I don't think I could have done it as well as Anthony Hopkins....I would have been much taller, that's the main difference."

To counter Lithgow's modesy about what his portrayal of the character would have been like, Hopkins himself had a surprising word to describe his award winning performance, previously telling Larry King: "I think Hannibal [Lecter] was one of favorite roles because it was so easy. Dead easy."

Hopkins went on to win the Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his performance, with the actor also taking home a BAFTA Film Award, a Saturn Award, and a Fangoria Chainsaw Award. The actor later portrayed the character in the films Hannibal and Red Dragon before being succeeded in the role by Mads Mikkelsen in the cult favorite NBC TV series.


In addition to Lithgow, Lambs star Jodie Foster previously revealed a few other actors that had been eyed for the part including Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman. Though it seems like none of those choices made it quite as close to getting the part as Lithgow.