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The Complex Path to Bring 'Clarice' to Life
February 11, 2021  | By Mike Hughes  | 2 comments

Watching the new Clarice series, you might think you accidentally switched channels.

Is this really a CBS show? Don't worry; its producers were wondering the same thing.

"We had originally envisioned this as a streaming show," Alex Kurtzman told the Television Critics Association (TCA). "And CBS said, really unequivocally, 'Please put it on our network and we will let you make whatever show you want.'"

That opens the door for a lot. Clarice (10 p.m. ET, Thursdays) is a sequel to the Silence of the Lambs movie, following a young FBI agent a year after she caught a serial killer.

A wide-open approach invites gore, which we see briefly in flashbacks. But the key similarity to a streaming show involves its approach – serializing parts of the story from week to week – and its look.

"We wanted this to feel like a movie," Kurtzman said.

It even feels a tad like a gritty Sidney Lumet movie, which makes sense. Clarice was created and produced by Jenny Lumet (daughter of the Oscar-nominated director) and Kurtzman.

Until now, they had been in the fantasy genre, producing some Star Trek series. (Kurtzman also did Sleepy Hollow.) But Lumet was a Silence of the Lambs fan. "Clarice Starling became my hero," she said.

She "email-stalked" author Thomas Harris resulting in a deal: One of the Silence characters (Hannibal Lecter) wasn't available, but the others were.

That was fine, Lumet said. "Clarice herself is the fresh angle."

Clarice was a quiet woman from Appalachia, suddenly thrust into national headlines. She's still recovering from the horrors she saw.

Many TV characters have such trauma, but most are male. "You're actually hard-pressed to find a woman who doesn't have PTSD of some sort," said Elizabeth Klaviter, a Clarice producer.

That may have been especially true in this time (1993) and setting. This was a "white-male dominated FBI world," said Devyn Tyler, who plays the show's one Black female agent.

And some of those guys are imposing. Clarice is played by Rebecca Breeds (top), 5-foot-3 and slender; her boss is played by Michael Cudlitz (top), 6-foot-1 and bulky.

"It's very difficult, . . . with his physical stature towering over me, giving me the eyes and shutting me down," Breeds said. "It's really excruciating, but it's so relevant. I've been through this in my own life, this not being taken seriously."

So have others, said producer Heather Kadin. That's "still relatable for any female."

To complicate things, Clarice is relatively new to the work, something Breeds can relate to.

At 33, she's done several series in her native Australia. In the U.S., however, she's been confined to a couple of CW series – Aurora in The Originals and Nicole in Pretty Little Liars – and the starring role in a failed pilot. In a quick, one-week audition, she landed Clarice and prepared to work with lots of more-experienced strangers until, well, you can probably guess what happened.

"We were two days out from shooting the pilot when everything shut down," Kurtzman said.

Suddenly, Breeds had a six-month COVID break. She could work on the West Virginia accent, study FBI protocol, read Harris' books, and commune (virtually) with her co-workers.

"I retreated to Australia," Breeds said. "We were on the other side of the world, all different time zones. But we were checking in with each other constantly."

A half-year later, they were back. Breeds entered the movie-like, streaming-like world of Clarice Starling.

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