For actress Marnee Carpenter, the CBS series Clarice is everything she dreamed of ever since seeing the Jodie Foster-starred 1991 film adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs, based on the Thomas Harris novel. Adapted for television by Alex Kurtzman and Jenny Lumet, the series follows the events of the film with FBI agent Clarice Starling now played by Rebecca Breeds as she tries to continue working cases after her career-defining encounters with Buffalo Bill and Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Carpenter takes over the role of Catherine Smith, originally played by Brooke Smith in the 1991 film. I spoke to the actress about going into uncharted territory with the franchise.
Getting the Role of Catherine Smith
"I saw the film first when I was younger then I did eventually read the novel after seeing the film," Carpenter said. "I read it again after I got the audition so it was nice to revisit and read it again." When it comes to what's driving her performance, the actress's inspiration comes from the film and novel. "It's hard to get the imagery out of your head when it's done very well and interesting to watch," she continued. "Brooke Smith is still a huge inspiration for me for that character coming to life. Also, Thomas Harris also writes really strong women, which I think [Brooke] really did justice within the film. It's obviously easier to get more acquainted with the character through the books. I feel like the novel shows us more of who Catherine is and I am excited to continue that through-line into a series to show us more of her than the immediate traumatic event."
Catherine was the final victim of Bill, originally played by Ted Levine in the Jonathan Demme film and Simon Northwood in the series before Clarice saved her and taking down the serial killer in the process. The series not only follows the title character's ongoing struggle but also Catherine's as well. "There's a bit more in her life with her college experience," Carpenter said. "She left college not in her own right, but according to her mother, a bit of disappointment and a bit of a letdown since she's not continuing with school. [Catherine] is not exactly sure what she wants to do yet. I think Catherine is really at peace with that. That's what sense I get with her and she's open with the creative process, which may be the people in her life. The people surrounding her life don't have the same feeling. She did lose her father, which I think is mentioned in the film. We get more of a sense they were closer than how she is with her mother. A little bit more of her personal life she is that she's opinionated. So it really gives you a sense of this character that's whole and that's due to Harris' writing."
As the series progresses, we see Catherine's mother Attorney General Ruth Martin (Jayne Atkinson) trying in vain to deal with her daughter's PTSD. "It's definitely a challenge to continue a character that folks have already met and attached to be presented in a certain way I think," Carpenter said. "So there's that kind of responsibility to do this role justice in that sense, but hopefully expand their minds and accept how I take Catherine into the series. I hope the people will take a leap of faith with me. Obviously, this is a person who's been through quite a lot in her life and dealing with all that certainly from a mental aspect. There's a lot of trauma that I don't share with her so I have to connect with her in deeper levels of where I feel we overlap. I hope I can drive the character with those similarities."
Clarice: How Pandemic Delayed Production
Clarice was scheduled to start shooting when the COVID-19 pandemic struck and delayed production until proper protocols were in place. Fortunately, the cast made the most out of their opportunity. "I think for all of us as we work together and learn from each other as actors," Carpenter said. "When we shot the pilot, there really wasn't much room to discuss the backstories. We also had the disadvantage of being in a pandemic in some ways. At the same time, we also had a bit of a benefit through the pandemic, because we were so delayed in our shooting that we all connected over Zoom throughout the months. They initially thought we were going to shoot in March (2020) and we went all the way until September before we actually started shooting. The whole cast connected via Zoom, which is really nice. From an actor's standpoint of being familiar with one another as human beings rather than just being the roles. I feel like we had a big advantage getting to know each other in that sense."
Becoming a fan of Harris' work didn't really affect Carpenter when it came to filming the series' dark content, but there was one particular setting that did stand out. "The most unfamiliar physically was stepping into a well that looked like the original film," she said. "It was surreal and really unnerving. They pretty much put me into it. It was jarring. As far as going to a darker complex character, the process is familiar to me because of the opportunity to step into a character like this. I really appreciate that she's so multi-layered from book and film. It's not scary for me to tackle. I understand at the end of the day to separate my work and home self." Clarice, which also stars Michael Cudlitz, Devyn A. Tyler, Kal Penn, Lucca De Oliveira. and Nick Sandow, premieres Thursday on CBS.