Jen Richards of ‘Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen’ attends the IMDb Studio at Acura Festival Village on location at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival on 27 January 2020 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for IMDb)
CBS’ Silence of the Lambs adaptation Clarice has cast transgender actor, writer and activist Jen Richards to play a character who will discuss the “complicated legacy” of Buffalo Bill.
Richards will portray a transgender woman who talks with the titular character about Buffalo Bill, a serial killer who appeared in the 1991 Silence of the Lambs film.
The producers of the Silence of the Lambs TV adaptation said Richards was first recommended by GLAAD’s director of transgender representation Nick Adams to consult on the show, but now she will also appear on the screen.
During a virtual premiere event for Clarice on Monday (1 February), Richards said her character intersects with Clarice and explains Buffalo Bill’s legacy.
“All I can say is that the character intersects with Clarice’s storyline in a way that her trans-ness isn’t central to her storyline, but her identity as a transgender woman prompts her to discuss with Clarice the complicated legacy of Buffalo Bill,” Richards said.
She initially thought she would help the writers and producers “craft the character and make sure some younger, prettier trans actress had a good experience on set”. But then she ended up cast in the role itself.
Silence of the Lambs‘ Buffalo Bill left a scar on the trans community
Richards said she was interested in creating discussions about Buffalo Bill, who was played by Ted Levine in the film, specifically because of how he had been a negative representation for the transgender community.
Jame Gumb, known as “Buffalo Bill”, is a serial killer who murders overweight women and skins them so he can make a “woman suit” for himself. Both the film and novel of the same name depict Gumb as having signs of gender dysphoria. Gumb wants to become a woman and created a “woman suit” for himself to complete his “transformation”.
Though, it’s never explicit in the novel or book that Gumb is transgender.
“Right prior to my coming out as trans, I started to delicately tell a few friends and colleagues I was thinking about transitioning,” Richards said. “Kind of treading water to see if I could do it successfully, and one looked at me and said, ‘Do you mean like Buffalo Bill?’”
Richards said she was “crestfallen” that this woman had “no other image to counter” what trans-ness was, just this “incredibly monstrous person who literally steals the female form and tries to embody it”.
“It was really complicated to try and overcome that first perception of other people,” she said.
Not reducing trans character into a stereotype
Richards said she was thrilled that Clarice’s writing team wanted to “address the complicated, horrible legacy in a way that didn’t reduce it to that one issue” and feature a “trans character that was part of the story but didn’t reduce it to a stereotype”.
The series takes place a year after FBI agent Clarice Starling, played by Rebecca Breeds, caught Buffalo Bill. Starling then has to deal with the trauma in the wake of the complicated case and encountering cannibal Hannibal Lector.
Clarice also stars Kal Penn, Nick Shadow, Lucca de Oliveira and Michael Cudlitz. It will debut on 11 February.