There’s no complex story behind the inspiration for the new CBS drama Clarice.
Executive producer Alex Kurtzman says he woke up one morning and asked, “Where is Clarice Starling? She’s one of the greatest heroes of the past 30 years.”
Starling is the FBI cadet who cracked the case of serial murderer Buffalo Bill in Thomas Harris’ 1988 novel The Silence of the Lambs and was played by Oscar winner Jodie Foster in the unforgettable 1991 film adaptation.
Stepping into the title role for Clarice is Australian actress Rebecca Breeds (The Originals), who was a youngster when the film was first released and finally got around to watching it a few years ago.
“I didn’t watch it until about five years ago because I’m a wimp and I thought I was going to be way too scared by it,” Breeds says. “And I finally got the guts one night and watched it, and absolutely loved it. It wasn’t just scary for the sake of being scary. It was incredibly intelligent and clever and thrilling.”
Clarice aims to follow suit, but with a spotlight on a complex character that has often been overshadowed by the charismatic Hannibal Lecter. Breeds senses that Clarice’s time has come. “She’s not strong despite being a woman, she’s strong because she is a woman,” Breeds says. “Strength and femininity, and what that looks like, I think it’s the right time to be able to explore that and to do it justice.”
Breeds knows she has big shoes to fill in this role, but she’s going straight to the source material for Clarice. “I think Jodie would’ve done what I’ve done, which is that we’ve both referenced the book,” Breeds says. “I’m referencing the Clarice character that Thomas Harris created, and there’s just so much gold with her internal thought process and her history in the book that you don’t really have to hunt for anything. It’s all there. All you have to do is embody that.”
One element Breeds did try to connect to Foster’s portrayal is in her Appalachian accent. “The people watching it might see echoes of the Clarice that they know through the voice, and I think that will be a really helpful tool to marry the two worlds together and to guide everyone into this new interpretation of this character and this world,” Breeds says.
Clarice is set in 1993, a year after the events of The Silence of the Lambs. (“I have a pager! I’ve never used one of those before,” Breeds says of returning to that era.) Agent Starling has recently returned to the field, and her investigative techniques often put her at odds with Deputy Assistant Attorney General Paul Krendler (Michael Cudlitz, The Walking Dead), who still harbors some resentment for her from the Buffalo Bill case. “She’s very much about intuition and her nose for a case,” Breeds says. “He doesn’t understand that she has a gift.”
Is Breeds ready to be greeted with imitations of Anthony Hopkins’ Lecter voice for the next few years? “Definitely! In fact, that’s how I found out I got the role,” Breeds says. “I had a call from [executive producer] Jenny Lumet and Alex, and the first thing I heard them say was, ‘Hello, Clarice.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, my God! Sweet! I got the role!’ It will always be welcomed.”
Clarice premieres on CBS Thursday, Feb. 11, at 10pm ET/PT.