Michelle Pfeiffer as Clarice Starling? Meg Ryan? Laura Dern?
Jonathan Demme initially didn’t want to cast Jodie Foster.
He told Paul Thomas Anderson in an Austin Film Festival conversation that he was initially talking to Michelle Pfeiffer about playing Clarice Starling, but that Foster asked for a chance, telling him, “I love this book so much and I love this part so much.” He said she loved that it was “about one young woman trying desperately to save the life of another young woman” — with men as obstacles.
He remembered thinking, “Hm, that is rather a great theme. I think I’m gonna take that theme and claim it but I’m not gonna cast her.”
He then wanted Meg Ryan to play the part, but he said Ryan seemed almost offended by the script. Then Laura Dern won him over with a great audition.
Finally, Orion Pictures asked him to take another meeting with Foster, rather than signing Dern. He said they argued that Foster had just won an Oscar for The Accused, and that Dern was much less well-known.
He agreed to meet Foster, but was still determined not to hire her — until he watched her exit down the hallway.
“And I thought about how much she loved that part, and how much my partners at Orion wanted her in that part, and I was like, “ehhhh, I’ll go with her.”
He added: “Look what happened. I fell madly in love with her,” Demme told Anderson.