Clarice Examines A Hero We Haven't Heard From Since The Silence Of The Lambs

The cinematic thriller gives voice to Agent Starling and tackles familiar themes when it premieres Feb. 11 at 10/9c on CBS and CBS All Access.
Posted on Jan 27, 2021 | 01:50pm
Thirty years ago Clarice Starling defeated a monster. But that was only the beginning of her story.

Clarice, a psychological thriller premiering Feb. 11 at 10/9c on CBS and CBS All Access, takes viewers back to 1993 as it investigates the world through the eyes of the promising FBI Special Agent who has a knack for capturing twisted killers—and our imagination.

READ: New CBS Drama Series Clarice Picks Up A Year After The Silence Of The Lambs​

Set a year after the events of the hit film The Silence of the Lambs, the new series retains a movie-like feel while finally revealing the aftermath for not only Starling, but a number of familiar characters from the works of author Thomas Harris.

“I remember the moment when Clarice Starling became my hero," recalled Jenny Lumet, Co-Creator and Executive Producer of the series. "She was somehow able to go into the dark and find the human in the monsters and pull out the light ... I thought, 'This is a woman with a lot of secrets.' And then she went silent, and I couldn’t let it go."

Lumet spoke during a virtual panel for the Television Critics Association, featuring the cast and fellow producers. She explained how she reached out to Harris and the two "spoke about the light in Clarice's eyes, and he said, 'it's yours now.'" With the show approved, "I felt that responsibility and I want to know the light, and the dark, and the heart, and the mind of this woman."

Indeed, there is much more to these characters than the events surrounding the hunt and capture of serial killer Buffalo Bill.

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Michael Cudlitz, who brings the character Paul Krendler (now Agent Starling's boss) back into action, framed it as the events of the film acting as a doorway into Clarice, but that the traumatic events we witnessed weren't the end to the exploration of her experiences.

Those experiences include being a young woman entering the workplace in a time with deep social issues, like a pervasive and unnerving male gaze. Executive Producer Heather Kadin pointed out that Rebecca's treatment as a woman in the '90s is, "Sadly still relatable, sadly still an incredibly timely story today."

"One of the things the #MeToo movement showed us is that you're hard-pressed to find a woman who doesn’t have PTSD of some sort," noted Showrunner and Executive Producer Elizabeth Klaviter. "One of the things I really love about Clarice is she's succeeding in her workplace as a young woman and she's having to sort out of her mental health as she's doing that."

Of course, Clarice also continues to explore the minds of the serial killers that are a hallmark of the franchise. 

"It’s a place of psychological horror, it’s so grounded in reality. A jump scare is fine, but the real fear and terror lives within your heart," said Lumet. "Pushed to one side of the knife's edge or that other, what am I capable of?"

And the characters will be pushed. Co-Creator and Executive Producer Alex Kurtzman explains that the cases within each episode aren't chosen just to be a good procedural story (though they certainly stand on their own). Instead, they wanted to illuminate what's going on with the characters, giving more serialized arcs: "What are they not looking at? What are they afraid to look at? ... How does this case open a door for them that they may not necessarily want to walk through?"

Starling is revived by Rebecca Breeds (We Are Men, Pretty Little Liars), who hails from Sydney, Australia, and used her musical ear to pick up her character's iconic Appalachian accent. Not only does Breeds succeed in echoing that familiar voice, but she's also able to use it to switch in and out of character—at times a welcome relief given that Starling is processing so much trauma from her psychologically intense work.

Breeds sees hope for reconciliation between her character and Krendler (played by Cudlitz), but it could be a long road. "Where we left off in the movie is that she's just shown him up," she noted. "Of course there’s going to be contention, there’s a lot of subtext there ... she’s worked so hard to be here, and she just wants to be given her shot."

Given the striking difference in stature between her and her imposing on-screen boss, Breeds pointed out how this helps to visually depict one of the larger themes of the series: "I've been through this in my own life, not being taken seriously, you’re the woman or the girl, so we have a long way to go to really trust each other and develop that mutual respect. I hope it’s coming, but I think it takes a while to flush out."

Catherine Martin, a familiar character who audiences may remember was abducted by Buffalo Bill, also returns and is played by Marnee Carpenter. She sees it as a continuation, but also something new as the character tries to find herself after a life-altering trauma.

"The fact that I was trusted with that is a huge compliment, and it’s something that I’m still getting to explore. But I understand that was a separate performance and I’m going to get a separate performance, as well," she explained. "I'm not trying to match or mimic anyone ... it was about letting this boiling warrior come out. She is not a wallflower, she's coming at ya."

Rediscovery is a theme for these characters from 1993, but it certainly feels familiar in 2021, as more people embrace personal reinvention and the empowerment to use their voices. And that couldn't ring more true for Agent Starling.

As Lumet puts it, "She's simply the hero I needed, and I think you’ll find she's the hero that you need, too."

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Watch the series premiere of Clarice on Thursday, Feb. 11 at 10/9c on CBS and CBS All Access.