Savor These 30 Secrets About The Silence of the Lambs

23. Playing Catherine—the reason that, no, we will not help you load your chair into your van at night, Strange Man—was a huge break for Smith, who despite a prolific career is at peace with forever being known as “the girl in the pit” from The Silence of the Lambs.

But Demme, who didn’t even make her read for the part, sensed that she belonged in that pit.

“Those were the days when they trusted the director enough that there wasn’t a whole committee that approved me,” Smith told Vulture. “He met with me, talked with me, told me what it was gonna be. I remember him asking me, ‘Why do you wanna do this?’ Which is a very good question. I remember it was because I thought I couldn’t. I just thought, I don’t think I can do this. So he gave me the part. I had to gain 25 pounds, which was really fun. I was also just coming out of my life in punk rock, and entering my life as an actress.’

Not turned off by the dark material at all, she recalled, “I was like, ‘Let’s go for it.’ There were certain agents at the time who told me not to do it, which I think is hilarious now. I kinda did then, too. I was like, ‘I’m gonna say no?!’ They thought I’d be stereotyped, locked into the fat-girl category. [Though she was hardly fat, Buffalo Bill’s victims were supposed to be “roomy,” using Lecter’s word, so that he could loosen their skin by starving them.] They said it would be very hard to get out of. Which is not completely untrue. But there was no way I wasn’t going to do it.”

To prepare herself for being stuck in a pit in a psychopath’s dungeon, she locked herself in her parents’ basement closet to mimic the close, dark confines. Before filming, she had nightmares about being in that situation and panicking over whether she’d try to escape (Catherine does put a plan into motion involving Bill’s beloved dog, Precious) or just accept her fate and die.

“I’m not gonna lie,” she said, “I had some issues going on, and I remember thinking that was the difference between Catherine and myself. I didn’t have as much self-worth back then. It wasn’t the most obvious thing for me to do. And that made me sort of examine, ‘Okay, wait a minute, why don’t I wanna live?’ I’m making it sound a little more than it was, but, I just remember going, ‘Oh, okay, so what’s going on here?’ And it led me into years of therapy.”

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