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Clarice's Rebecca Breeds Recounts the 'Claustrophobic' Shoot in Buffalo Bill's Pit

'I'm one of two people who have been down there now'

Kelly Connolly
Rebecca Breeds, Clarice

Rebecca Breeds, Clarice

Brooke Palmer/CBS

[Warning: The following contains spoilers for Thursday's episode of Clarice. Read at your own risk!]

Clarice Starling (Rebecca Breeds) took her own trip to the bottom of Buffalo Bill's pit in Thursday's episode of Clarice — and by trip, we do mean it was trippy. The harrowing hour, titled "Get Right With God," found Clarice drugged and confined to a hospital bed, where her hallucinations took her from a surreal reunion with her dead father (Derek Moran) to the pit in Buffalo Bill's basement. 

In reality, Clarice was trapped in the care of Marilyn Felker (Natalie Brown), the doctor who led the clinical trial the murdered women participated in, despite the fact that her medical license was revoked years earlier. After a close call with a shadowy man in a suit, Clarice was able to escape just as Ardelia (Devyn A. Tyler) and the ViCAP team came to her rescue, but the ordeal may have left a mark.

For Rebecca Breeds, who spent most of the episode in a bed and some of it in a pit with a camera strapped to her chest, shooting the episode was an intense but "gratifying" experience. "I actually found it really, really exhilarating, in a very challenging kind of way," the Australian actress told TV Guide. "It took everything we had, and I think we did a really good job. So I'm really proud of it."

Breeds spoke to TV Guide about Clarice's close encounter with Marilyn, whom she and Brown dubbed "Stabby McStabberson," and her "traumatic" descent into Buffalo Bill's pit. She also weighed in on how Clarice will continue to reckon with her ignorance of Ardelia's experience as a Black woman in the FBI and what it will mean for that friendship going forward. 

This episode must have felt like a marathon to film. What did you think when you got the script?
Rebecca Breeds: Every page I turned, I was like, "Holy moly, how am I going to do this? Okay, how am I going to do that? Now how am I going to do this?" [Laughs.] The whole episode to me was an exercise in jumping off the cliff and trusting myself. Because there's no way to really plan how exactly you're going to have that emotional explosion, or that you're going to act out being intubated, or seeing the moths fly out of the ceiling. That was: I have no idea how that's going to happen, but I'm just going to fully commit and dive in and trust whatever comes out, and trust the director [Chloe Domont] to help me as well. ... And with every take and every moment we found it. At the end of every day, I was like, "Wow, I did that. We did it. And I think we did it well." I'm really, really proud of what we were able to do, because it was really pushing all the boundaries.

Were there any scenes that went to a place that you didn't expect while you were filming?
Breeds: Yeah. I'm telling Marilyn that they're after her, she's disposable because women are disposable to these people. And I say to her, "They always get the girls, they always get the girls," and while I'm saying it I started laughing. And then I just started crying, like literally on the same beat — the hysteria just kind of hit me. I was, like, manic. I felt like the Joker. Some kind of maniac experience of all the emotions, the spectrum of feeling about something, all came out. And through it, I was like, "Oh, OK, that just happened." But it's just cool. Because you're in this drugged stupor [where] anything is possible, and so what logically should or shouldn't happen in a scene kind of goes out the window, and you have the freedom to just do anything with her. Which can be kind of scary, not having something specific, but also, it's super liberating, because you can just explore and see what wants to come out. 

And what was it like to get into Buffalo Bill's pit?
Breeds: Oh, the pit! The pit is the pit, honestly. It's horrible. It's this tiny little space. The walls actually grazed me, running up and hitting against it. It's all claustrophobic. It's not hard to act [the feeling of] that pit — the trauma in the pit. They put a thing called, I call it a SnorriCam, I think they call it a doggy cam, where they actually strap the camera to the front of you and you have to run around. So I'm in this maybe five-by-five or six-by-six foot, spherical, tiny little set with this huge camera off the front of me, running around trying not to bash into the walls filming this shot. I laugh about it now, but at the time, I had to be in a very traumatic, traumatized place. And it's obviously in her mindscape, going down to the deepest, darkest part of her psyche. So it was a very traumatic thing to shoot. It's not something that you want to do a bunch of takes of. You just want to kind of get it done, because it's super draining. But iconic as well. Buffalo Bill's pit. I'm one of two people who have been down there now, even though it's just in her mind.

Do you think this experience gives her a new understanding of what Catherine Martin went through?
Breeds: Yeah, definitely. To be in such a vulnerable, compromised position, to be so at the mercy of another human being, is terrifying. Absolutely terrifying. So I think it does give her an even deeper empathy [for] Catherine's trauma.

Can you tease anything about how this experience is going to affect her going forward?
Breeds: I think it does force her to have to start unpacking some of the skeletons in her closet. She has to do it. She's forced to do it [laughs]. The duty of care of the FBI, plus her friends, plus herself realizing that, "Oh man, this is starting to get in the way of my job. It's not fueling me, it's undermining me as an agent." I think she starts to unpack that.

Rebecca Breeds and Devyn Tyler, Clarice

Rebecca Breeds and Devyn Tyler, Clarice

Brooke Palmer/CBS

Both of these last two episodes have dealt a lot with Clarice's friendship with Ardelia, and I liked that Ardelia gets the chance to call out Clarice for her own privilege. What do you think Clarice learns from these conversations she has with Ardelia?
Breeds: It's a huge thing for Clarice to even acknowledge that this has even got past her. She's so intelligent. And she's so observational, and she has an emotional intelligence, behavioral intelligence. She literally studied behavioral science. And yet this huge elephant in the room has got past her. Like, that's the extent of her privilege. But I think Clarice has had a really hard life, so she's never actually considered herself to be privileged — I think that word is so far away from her psyche. And I think a lot of people watching this will understand where she's coming from, going, "Well, what do you mean, I'm privileged? No, I'm not. I was sent to an orphanage when I was 10," and this and that. But going, "Oh, wait, there's this intrinsic part of me, built in me, that I didn't even realize the chemistry, essentially, of the way our society has been built." ... If you're operating in a place of ignorance, if you don't get it, if you don't understand, then you can't be intentional about correcting those imbalances. And we have to be conscious, we have to be intentional. 

[Clarice and Ardelia] have such a beautiful bond of love that even within the difficult conversations, and how humbling they are, and how hard it is to hear that someone you love so much has had such a difficult experience, the love between them will carry them through those difficult conversations out to the other side — where I actually think their friendship will be deeper, and they'll be more evolved as people and in their friendship. Which is going to be a really lovely thing that we get to be on the journey of, with them. This isn't a one-page chapter. This is an ongoing evolution. This journey will continue throughout the show, which I think is really important. The conversation continues. It's not something that you suddenly get and everything's fine and dandy. 

I've also been interested in the way the show is handling sexism in the workplace for Clarice. The men Clarice works with mostly seem to have her back, but they've still got their own casual sexism, and in some cases, they're still using her. How much do you think Clarice trusts her coworkers at this point?
Breeds: The jury's still out. I think she's trying to figure out if she can trust them or not, but she's not someone who trusts anyone very easily. I think Ardelia is about the only person in the world she actually trusts. It's going to be a long journey with just trusting anyone in the first place, let alone in the environment that the FBI was [in 1993]. Clarice is belittled a lot. And do they believe her? That, as well, is an ongoing investigation. Having her voice heard and being taken seriously is something she shouldn't have to fight for, but she does. And I think we see over time that those relationships evolve to a point where maybe they can even have that conversation.

Clarice airs Thursdays at 10/9c on CBS.