Is The Silence of the Lambs even a horror movie? I never thought of it as one, but I know it scared the bejesus out of a whole bunch of people. I maintain that it would be a horror movie if it were not for the simple fact that the killer stays dead the first time he is riddled with bullets. But it’s the creepiest movie I can think of that actually won the Oscar for Best Picture, so it must be the right movie for day 19.
You hear a lot about the acting in The Silence of the Lambs, but I think the person nobody focuses on is Brooke Smith. Did you know she had to gain 25 pounds to play the part of Catherine Martin? Smith must have had to walk around for months looking like Catherine Martin, enduring snotty stares if she was lucky but more than likely being completely invisible most of the time. But I’ve read that Smith was a fixture on the New York punk scene in the 80s, so she might be the type of girl who didn’t give a fuck what anyone thought. It was worth it for the part.
Smith, a native New Yorker, also managed to pull off a completely believable southern accent. It’s the light accent of an upper class educated woman, but unmistakable. There’s nothing quite so jarring as a bad accent in a movie; it’s even worse than seeing a boom mike and it takes you right out of the film.
In my opinion, Smith is such an excellent character actor because when I look at her list of credits I realize that I have seen her in many films but that she looked completely different in each one. A friend and I used to joke about how whenever we saw our favorite character actors we would point at the screen and go, “hey! It’s that guy!” But you don’t do that when you see Brooke Smith.
In the hands of a lesser actor, the scene in The Silence of the Lambs in which she is trying to coax the dog down to hold it hostage would not have had the same heartbreaking desperation. When I watch that scene, I truly believe that I’m looking at a young woman who believes this is her last chance for survival. Ditto for her anger at Clarice Starling when she realizes that she won’t be rescued until Starling catches Jame Gumb. From what I understand, the decision to play the scene that way, screaming and cursing, was Smith’s own. I’d like to see her doing more in the horror/thriller genre, but the mainstream needs to rise up to meet good actors first.