Jenn Harris made a splash at the 2005 New York International Fringe Festival with her take on Jodie Foster's all-business FBI agent Clarice Starling in Silence!, a musical spoof of the Oscar-winning film The Silence of the Lambs. Now Silence! is receiving its first fully staged New York run at off-Broadway's Theatre 80, and Harris has returned to step into Agent Starling's uniform once again. Broadway.com recently chatted with the witty actress about channeling two-time Oscar winner Foster, getting turned on by co-star Brent Barrett and how a New York stage actress became the center of a lawsuit with Lindsay Lohan.
When preparing for the role of Clarice Starling, did you go back and watch the original movie?
I watched the movie a million times. Before I auditioned I grabbed the movie and found a couple of things to run with, which were clearly [Clarice’s] voice and the deep, deep, deep, deep, dire sincerity with which [Jodie Foster] played the role.
Your interpretation of Foster’s accent is hilarious. Did you watch her other movies as well?
Abso-fucking-lutely. The Accused! Have you seen that shit?! I had never seen it until a couple months ago so I Netflix-ed it. She did Silence right after The Accused, and they just started handing her Oscars so I’m sure she was like, “All right people. I am wearing pantsuits in everything from now on.”
Clarice is always so serious, but there are so many ridiculous gags in the show. How do you keep a straight face?
The more I do the show, the harder it gets. There are moments where we can improvise, mostly when I’m opposite [ensemble member] Jeff Hiller, and it’s so hard to not break! The best thing I can do without completely turning upstage is to try and grit my teeth really fucking hard. I’m shaking my head back and forth thinking, “You asshole!”
Were there ever any moments you were afraid the show was going too far?
Hell no! If they had asked me to take off my top I would have maybe thought, "Well, Clarice wouldn’t do that." As silly as a lot of it is, we took it painstakingly seriously. Nothing really shocks me anyways.
How is it working opposite Brent Barrett as Hannibal Lecter?
My god, he is beyond! Every time he sings the song “If I Could Smell Her Cunt” he hits this note and I always just sit there thinking “I wish I could sing like that.” I’m so close to him sometimes that I’m literally looking at his vocal chords move in his throat, and I always just think, “What is happening? This is crazy!” But as a person, he’s so great. Who else would step off Chicago on Broadway to throw on a pair of dirty lamb ears and make his own props and say, “Yeah I’ll do that” and do it with a smile? I’m literally pinching myself that he joined us.
Does he scare you when he’s in Hannibal mode?
The thing he does with Hannibal that just takes my breath away is that he’s scary, but he’s sexy too. He’s scary, sexy and charming all in one look and I’ll be like, “Oh my god, I kind of want to make out with him,” but then I have to remember he’d probably want to eat my face off. Finding Hannibal Lecter sexy? That’s just fucked up! But maybe that will be in the sequel. I'll get to make out with Brent Barrett and I’m not against that at all.
Well if there’s a Hannibal musical, somebody else would have to play Clarice because Julianne Moore took over the role for the second movie.
No way, you’re wrong! I’ll just put on a red wig! Get a little pasty, I’ll be fine.
Speaking of famous redheads, what ended up happening with your Lindsay Lohan drama? [Harris voiced an infant named Lindsay in a 2009 ETrade commercial who was described as a “milkaholic.” Lohan threatened legal action against the company, claiming it was an attack on her highly publicized battle with alcoholism, and the ad was pulled.]
You know what that was…that was my five minutes of crazy right there. You can’t do one thing sometimes without shit blowing up. I was in the studio for 15 minutes, and it had nothing to do with her. It didn’t even cross my mind. They could’ve easily said to me, “It’s kind of a jab at Lindsay Lohan.” Nobody said that. Then it got pulled off the air so of course I was upset. I want my residuals…it was Etrade on the Super Bowl…I would’ve been making bank! I did a performance piece about it at Joe’s Pub and the Post ran a story about it and the next morning I woke up to my phone blowing up with like, TMZ, contacting me. My agent’s lawyers, my manager, were all like, “Do nothing, say nothing.” I just didn’t do anything from there. Honey, it was crazypants. The checks stopped, so I don’t know what happened legally, or that we’re supposed to know. I think they ended up settling out of court with her. It’s so stupid!
So, are there any other famous movies you’d like to parody?
I have a company called Qwan (Quality Without a Name) and sometimes we do staged readings of movies that take themselves too seriously. We did Notes on a Scandal a few years ago. We just did Black Swan. That was pretty fucking amazing. I really want to do The Bodyguard next. I love that film so hard and I could do the entire thing all by myself.