‘Clarice’ Star Rebecca Breeds on Finding the Right Accent, Recreating Iconic ‘Silence of the Lambs’ Scenes

Rebecca Breeds Clarice
Courtesy of Brooke Palmer/CBS

Rebecca Breeds is no stranger to fan-favorite series, with one of her first regular roles being on the Australian soap opera “Home and Away.” She then moved into popular Stateside genre fair such as “The Originals” and “Pretty Little Liars.” Now, she is stepping into shoes left behind by Jodie Foster as FBI agent Clarice Starling in CBS’ continuation of “The Silence of the Lambs,” which is aptly-titled “Clarice.”

Clarice’s accent is so iconic; what did it take for you to find the right version of it for your version of the character?

I’d seen the movie, but when I went to the audition, I was just reading it in a standard American accent because I wasn’t thinking too much about it because I had about 12 hours between getting 13 pages of dialogue and the audition. It was a very quick turnaround, so I was just like, “OK put words in brain.” And at the top of the page, it did say Appalachian, but I thought it was a comment on her tone, her personality, the way she was in that particular scene. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks that “Oh no, you idiot, it’s the accent, duh!” I immediately took to YouTube and listened to Appalachian accents and said, “All right, brain, time to convert that to the mouth.” It was like the crystal slipper — a Cinderella moment, a little bit of magic — where the accent just worked, and it informed the character so much for me. It made the character fit into my body on a whole other level, and I really like character work, so the accent became a massive gift. And I did want to hear where Jodie placed it because within the Appalachian accent are a lot of different nuances, and Clarice moved away when she was about 10-years-old and went to Montana, and how much had she kept it? I just felt like the voice and the way that Jodie built the accent is just so iconic. I’m not her and I’m not going to try and be her, but I feel like the accent is such a nice way to try and tie them together.

What were the other facets or behaviors of Clarice from the movie that you felt were important to carry through?

I didn’t want to be copy-catting someone. If Jodie were stepping into the shoes of someone who played Clarice, she wouldn’t look to that person, she would look to the book, and that’s exactly what I’ve done. The character in the book is just so well-written; I’m tempted to say she’s one of the best-written female characters in literary history, but no, I think she’s one of the best-written characters in literary history. Her intelligence and her nuance and her humor and her bravery and all of the psychological trauma that’s trying to poke its head in that she uses in her job, it’s just fascinating.

I’m a bit of a rainbows-sunshine [person]. You could honestly put a soundtrack to my life of me skipping down the road; I’m a pretty bright person and I’m physical and goofy. In the pilot, Maja [Vrvilo], our director, every now and then was like, “Rebecca, watch your arms” because I’d be swinging my arms around and that buoyancy was coming out and she needed to keep a lid on it because she’s in the Bureau. It is a predominantly older white man’s world, and she wants, more than anything, to be taken seriously so she can do her job, which she’s very passionate about. There was definitely a switch for me that I needed to flick, but that’s why it’s interesting for me, when we watch the scenes where she isn’t in the Bureau — she’s out for a run or something like that — you get to see her as herself a little bit more. But usually Clarice is playing some kind of a role all of the time so she can be taken seriously.

Even when the audience does see her by herself, how guarded is she because there is trauma in her background through which she has not yet worked?

She is absolutely trying to suppress the monsters that are trying to come out of the basement of her own life. It was that event of having to go into Buffalo Bill’s basement, but it’s also her childhood — her father being shot and then her family splitting up, and she went to her mother’s cousin’s house and we all know stuff happens there, and then she goes on to orphanages. There’s just so much dislocation and trauma in her own life that I think she’s been pushing down for a very long time and going into Buffalo Bill’s basement triggers her going into the basement of her own trauma. So, the year in between where our show picks up from the end of “The Silence of the Lambs,” she’s very much just been hiding out: she’s been in the basement of the Behavioral Sciences lab, head down, trying to do her job and trying not to come into contact with anything that would make her confront her demons again. She is not ready, and she doesn’t really know how, and I think she’s really afraid that if she starts to, she’ll fall apart and everything she’s been working so hard to do will be for nothing. In her mind, she needs to not look at it, but in her job there will continue to be trauma, and we’ll see during the series that the thing that makes her finally go, “OK I have to deal with trauma” is that it starts to undermine her job and her effectiveness in the field and her desperate need for justice. That is her major purpose and her trauma is getting in the way of that so she’ll have to deal with it.

Speaking of her sense of justice, how will Clarice challenge the good ol’ boys’ club’s way of doing things now that she is such a central part of the team?

She gets really frustrated by the politics. When you get lost in the patriarchal way of doing things, you can look at the scorecard and you can forget to look at the person. And that’s when Clarice being a woman is her greatest strength because her empathy and her ability to see the workings of the human within the circumstance is what gives her that incredible insight. In the Bureau the way of doing things is they need political wins and they want the public to feel a certain way, so they think about the big picture things where they need to be in a political position, whereas for her, she’s not trying to foster any kind of political position [or] necessarily thinking big picture; she’s just thinking person to person to person. She just sees the victims, and the victims to her may as well be her dad. I think that’s the big thing going on with her: For every single person unjustly killed — an innocent that has been taken out of this world — she feels the gaping hole of that in her own heart every single day and she knows what that does to a person, and she knows what that does to a family, and she will not have it. So for her, it’s a person to person fight for justice. And I think that’s a wonderful thing that we need more of: we need to keep it about the humanity and not get lost in the politics.

There are a lot of characters around Clarice telling her what they think her issues are, including rage. Are their assessments fair, or do you feel they are judging her before they really know her?

I think she absolutely has a deep rage within her, but I think she’s so blind it. But rather than coming out as punching someone’s head in, it comes out in dragging her body through hell to try and fight these injustices. So, her anger is driving her in a self-destructive way, and I don’t think it obviously reads as anger, but as she uncovers it I think she’ll have to come to terms with that there is anger there.

If her anger is that deep-rooted, what is the key to determining when to let some of it show in your performance?

The great thing is, is that I am never supposed to do it. It sneaks up in times, but that’s mainly up to the writers. I don’t think Clarice will ever go to a boxing class and let it out, but it does start to get in the way of her job in little verbal outbursts to people in authority, that she knows she shouldn’t [allow], but it starts to take over her; it starts to come out in times when she doesn’t mean for it to. It’s interesting for me as an actor when it creeps up on me and it’s not written in the scene — to battle with it and cover it up in the scene, which is a very really thing that she would be doing. And not just anger comes up, but all sorts of strange things can within scenes: Sometimes you want to laugh when it’s not appropriate, sometimes you want to cry and you know you can’t let that person see you cry. She has so many structures up for which she needs to present herself to the world. You have to push down these human things, and it’s fun to battle with. I don’t think I’ve ever had to battle with my humanity so much, especially as an actress where your whole job is to express humanity. I kind of feel like I’m trying to suppress humanity in this job, but that’s what makes this character so fun for me.

Is fun the right way to describe recreating some of “The Silence of Lambs” scenes, or pressure? How did those feel?

It was incredible. It was like I stepped into a legend. We saw on set the woman in the bathtub, and it was just tucked away in the corner when we were doing a completely different scene. Lucca [De Oliveira], who plays Esquivel and I just saw it out of the corner of our eyes and walked over to it, and it was pretty overwhelming. First of all, it’s so gory and graphic, and then it’s something you’ve seen but you’ve always had a screen between you. Obviously it’s a prop — I know it’s not real — but it didn’t matter. They did such a great job with it, and it’s so iconic, and we all get floored by it visually. So when you talk about pressure and stepping into big shoes and all of that stuff, I just feel so excited to be a part of this legacy. I feel this is Clarice’s time, and it’s time to tell this story, and I feel really excited and ready to be that person. She’s such a fantastic character that I feel really honored to be a part of it.

Things you didn’t know about Rebecca Breeds:

Age: 33
Hometown: Sydney, Australia
If she wasn’t acting she’d be “writing children’s books”
Childhood hero: Her dad
Mood music on set: “Everyone from Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong to Justin Bieber. “
Last binge-watch: “The Great Canadian Baking Show”