The physiological horror flick, which premiered on Valentine’s Day 1991, tells the tale of an FBI cadet who must resort to receiving help from an incarcerated cannibal to catch another serial killer. The film grossed more than $270 million worldwide and earned five Oscars, including for Best Actor and Best Actress.
Hopkins, 83, and Foster, 58, who starred as Dr. Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling, teamed up for Variety’s annual Actors on Actors series to discuss the movie’s legacy.
Hopkins, who famously gave a new meaning to fava beans and a nice Chianti, told Variety that he initially thought "The Silence of the Lambs" was a movie for children – at least until he read the script.
"I was in London in 1989, doing a play called ‘M. Butterfly,’" he recalled. "My agent sent the script."
After 10 pages, Hopkins immediately called his agent back, wanting to know if the offer to star in "Silence of the Lambs" was real.
"This is the best script I’ve ever read," Hopkins declared at the time.
Foster admitted that Hannibal’s cell was just as scary as it looked on screen.
"It was such an eerie set," she said. "All the different inmates, all very dark and moody, and then we come to Lecter’s: It’s kind of bright and fluorescent lighting and two-dimensional."
According to Hopkins, he relied on two inspirations to bring his iconic role to life. He borrowed from HAL 9000, the A.I. antagonist from "2001: The Space Odyssey" because "he just comes in like a silent shark."
He also drew from Christopher Fettes, his former teacher at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.
"He had a cutting voice, and he would slice you to pieces," said Hopkins. "His analysis of what you were doing was so precise; it’s a method that stayed with me for all my life."
For Foster, the experience working alongside Hopkins left a lasting mark on her career.
"It’s like a life-changing adventure, that movie, for both of us," she said.
Foster then asked Hopkins if fans still approach him to recite his famous line from the film.
"I’m sure you still get people who come up to you and say, ‘Would you like a nice Chianti?’" she said.
"Oh yeah," he responded. "They do."