One of only a handful of films to win all of the top five Academy Awards on the year of its release, The Silence Of The Lambs is packed with incredible acting talent. The only other films ever to achieve such a feat as It Happened One Night and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, with awards presented for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director and Adapted Screenplay.
Starring Jodie Foster at the peak of a successful streak and Anthony Hopkins seamlessly transitioning from stage to screen, it’s no surprise that these two were granted such high accolades. Both Foster as Clarice Starling and Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter fast became iconic in their roles.
Their performances were so well received that ended up overshadowing some incredible acting outside of the film’s primary characters. While they absolutely deserved all the recognition their roles earned them, it’s also worth taking a moment to appreciate the masterful work of the supporting cast.
Stuart Rudin – ‘Miggs’
Despite having only two lines in the entire film, Miggs is a pivotal character in The Silence Of The Lambs and was beautifully, disturbingly acted by Stuart Rudin. Much more prominent characters than Miggs are far more forgettable and far less symbolic of what makes this movie such a finely crafted piece of cinema history.
The few words he did speak are dark and memorable, much like the film itself.
His character provides distinct parallels between the other important figures in the story. His sexist comments towards Clarice as she walks past him each time align him with the cops she works with, who speak down to her because she is not a man. It draws a significant line between the patriarchal attitude that impacts the lives of women like Clarice, driving men to sneer at her even in civilised society and to fling ejaculate at her when they are free to be their darkest selves.
By placing him next to Hannibal Lecter, the audience is given an even starker contrast between the stereotype of a twisted murderer embodied by Miggs and the far more chilling existence of the cannibal psychiatrist. Hannibal Lecter subverts all the tropes of a psychopathic killer – he does appear typically ‘insane’. He is calm and collected, sophisticated and intelligent. He is polite, he is courteous. He treats Clarice with more respect than most of the other men she interacts with. Miggs is his exact opposite. Miggs is what the popular media expects its murderers to be – broken, damaged, hissing creatures, barely even human, hurling bodily excretions like animals, unable to function like a decent person.
Throughout the film, Stuart Rodin artfully walks the line between being intimidating and pathetic. He would be a terrifying man to have in your neighbourhood – but, in the shadow of Hannibal Lecter, Miggs’s essence of fear is tarnished by a sense of disgust.
Brooke Smith – ‘Catherine Martin’
Catherine Martin was the first major role landed by Brooke Smith and she was dedicated to it. She gained 25 pounds to be large enough for the part and committed completely to playing it realistically.
Although she is seen but briefly around the primary focus on Clarice and Lecter, Brooke Smith’s performance shows a clear progression from a proud, happy young woman through the effects of a brutal kidnapping. When the audience first meets Catherine, she is kind and confident, a generous person who reaches out to someone she perceives to be in need. She is independent and loved by her family, raised by a successful politician to fight for what she believes in.
Over the course of a few key scenes, we see Catherine barter with her captor, try to manipulate him, try to hurt him, staying strong even when it seems all hope is lost. At no point does her inner strength feel fake or forced. The performance is believable, even when it makes more sense that people would give up in such a desperate position.
Perhaps one of the most poignant moments in Catherine’s story is when she is at the brink of finally being rescued. Clarice has found her and has taken out her captor, but when Catherine calls for help, Clarice walks away to ensure that the rest of the house is safe.
Feeling her salvation slip away, Catherine finally breaks, screaming and swearing at Clarice. This beautiful piece of acting, though brief, shows the moment at which Catherine knows that she no longer needs to strong on her own. She can now afford to let out all the rage and fear that has been bottled up within her since she first found herself trapped in Buffalo Bill’s pit. It shows the release of all the desperation that she has had to keep in check for so long in order to stay alive.
Brooke Smith masterfully plays the everywoman, driven to edge yet still the composed and resourceful creature that Buffalo Bill could never be.
Ted Levine – ‘Jame Gumb’
This one really should be obvious.
The Silence Of The Lambs is known for solidifying the reputation of Hannibal Lecter, but it should get at least as much credit for its stunning portrayal of Jame Gumb – also known as Buffalo Bill. One of cinema’s most iconic villains, much of Gumb’s character can be directly attributed to Ted Levine’s own creativity and commitment.
He was known to have gone out of his way to learn about the transgender community. He made an effort to find out how healthy transgender people approach the world, so that he could draw on the lives that Jame Gumb thought he wanted but could never truly lead.
For all his skill in bringing Buffalo Bill to the screen, as disturbing and dark as he is written in Thomas Harris’s novel, perhaps Levine’s most brilliant feat is the uniqueness he brought to the role of his own accord. His performance of a host of iconic lines have seared them into the social consciousness, to the point that being in the same vicinity as skin lotion can give you chills at the very thought.
One of the most distinctive scenes in the whole film takes place in Jame Gumb’s boudoir, complete with striking red lipstick, eerily convincing prosthetic nipple and the infamous dance that ends with Gumb flashing his nude body, penis hidden tucked between his legs. Rumour has it that this entire scene was improvised. The story goes that Ted Levine had two drinks prior to shooting and insisted that his dance not be dropped from the final cut.
For all the gore and brutality in this film, this glimpse of Jame Gumb’s most private fantasies stands out as something that sends shivers down spines. If any other actor had been cast in this role, this scene may never have existed. There are many actors in this film who feel irreplaceable, and Ted Levine deserves as much as any to be considered one of them.