HANNIBAL series creator Bryan Fuller says people should definitely tune into tonight’s episode, “Releves,” which airs tonight, Thurs. June 13, on NBC at 10 PM. “Episode Twelve, the penultimate episode, is so fantastic, because all of these threads – we land the plane on so many issues and really kind of deliver what’s going on and what Hannibal’s plan is and Will is figuring it out. So many dangling story issues get resolved or addressed in the penultimate episode of the season, and then all of that gets spiked in the finale.”
HANNIBAL is based on the character created by Thomas Harris in his novel RED DRAGON, which was first adapted for the screen as 1986’s MANHUNTER, with Brian Cox as imprisoned serial killer and cannibal Hannibal Lecktor. In 1991’s SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, Anthony Hopkins took over the role and won an Oscar for his performance, while the spelling of Hannibal’s surname was changed to Lecter. Hopkins portrayed the character twice more, in 2001’s HANNIBAL and 2002’s remake RED DRAGON, with Gaspard Ulliel taking on the role in the 2007 prequel HANNIBAL RISING (all based on Harris’ novels).
Fuller’s HANNIBAL is set in the days before the eponymous character was caught. Mads Mikkelsen plays Dr. Lecter as a psychiatrist who is treating FBI profiler Will Graham, played by Hugh Dancy. Will is trying to solve the case of the Chesapeake Ripper, unaware that his doctor is the guilty party. Caroline Dhavernas plays fellow FBI agent Alana Bloom, who has both romantic feelings and genuine concern for Will’s welfare, and Laurence Fishburne portrays their boss Jack Crawford, whose reservations about Will’s welfare don’t stop him from pushing the troubled profiler to the breaking point.
Fuller began his professional writing career with STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE and moved on to become a producer on STAR TREK: VOYAGER. He has since created and executive-produced DEAD LIKE ME, WONDERFALLS (with Todd Holland) and PUSHING DAISIES, as well as serving as a writer/producer on HEROES.
In an exclusive phone conversation, Fuller talks about his newest and darkest creation, which has been renewed for a second season.
ASSIGNMENT X: You’ve said you initially got involved in HANNIBAL because you were approached by Katie O’Connell, an executive with the production company Gaumont, talked to you on a plane and asked you about HANNIBAL …
BRYAN FULLER: Right. That was a fateful plane ride. Katie O’Connell, we had not necessarily worked together before, but were about to – when I was finishing up PUSHING DAISIES, she [was at that time an NBC executive and] called me about HEROES. We were about to launch on this new season of HEROES together, and then she left NBC, and I left the show shortly after she left. Katie [said], “Do you think there’s a show here that’s worth exploring?” And because I had read the books, I knew how much more psychologically complex Will Graham is in the literature than he is in the film, I thought, “Wow, there’s a great opportunity to deliver on that line from RED DRAGON that Hannibal Lecter says, which is, ‘You caught me because you’re as insane as I am.’ There’s a whole world in that explores their friendship.” If we are dealing with the Hannibal Lecter who’s a practicing psychiatrist and a practicing cannibal, then he’s out in the open amongst us, a wolf in psychiatrist’s clothing, and wouldn’t that be such a terrifying thing for someone like Will Graham, who is uniquely vulnerable to his own psychology, to have somebody there with access to the buttons of his mind.
AX: Prior to HANNIBAL, had you been looking to do something this dark, or is it that that once you got the project, you found within yourself, “Hey, I actually want to go here”?
FULLER: Well, I had always been a horror fan, and I have pictures from my youth of makeup effects with arrows sticking all over throughout my body like a pincushion. For me, I also enjoy a little bit of whimsy and levity and humor to cut my horror. But it was interesting. I felt like, “Oh, this will be different for me.” That was just the big appeal – to do something that was very dramatic, that was more serious in tone, and I think it was just to cleanse my palate in a way and try something different, and really engage the characters, not from a romantic comedy point of view, but very high-stakes drama. Also, psychological horror is so insidious that I thought, “How can I shape this into my lens that gives it a valid point of view, but also allows me to express myself as an artist?” I still very much consider myself an artist and have to say something with what I’m doing. I can’t just write something that I’m not emotionally connected to in a great way, so I found myself very much emotionally connecting to Will Graham. I have written about characters who experience isolation in various ways and he felt like somebody that was in my wheelhouse. Also, it was fantastic for me to have Hugh Dancy on this project, because we were both Will Graham in different ways, and that he’s such an intelligent actor and so insightful with the character that it was the beginning of a great partnership; I didn’t feel like I was alone.
AX: Hugh Dancy plays Will as though the character has a great sense of shame …
FULLER: Well, there’s a line in RED DRAGON where Will says that he looks at his ability as something grotesque and evil, so I think [he feels] a bit of shame that he can think like these people and he can understand the horrors that men do, and for him, the vulnerability is, “I can understand it – does that mean that there’s a little bit of it inside me?” And that could be where the shame comes from. But he definitely is aware of the darkness and uncomfortable with it, because he I think on some level feels the seduction, and that’s what Hannibal then taps into to try to exploit it.
AX: You’ve said in other interviews that Will and Jack Crawford have got to at some point twig to the fact that there’s something going on with Hannibal, or they start looking bad at their jobs. Can the series continue if Hannibal is arrested?
FULLER: Oh, yes. Season Four is RED DRAGON, and that’s when Hannibal is incarcerated. So some time before Season Four. But absolutely, I think there are rich, rich stories to be had while Hannibal’s incarcerated and what happens when he gets out.
AX: How many seasons do you have plotted?
FULLER: I can see pretty clearly seven seasons. I think that there are always shifts and alterations and course corrections that you have to take, because you’ll be cruising along and then you’ll hit an idea and go, “Oh, wow, that’s a great idea, we have to do that now.” That being said, I can see the structure for a seven-season arc for the show, but then I also am very open to course corrections along the way to adapt to changes.
AX: If you don’t get to run for seven seasons, are you going to make available to the public in some form what the unaired seasons would have been?
FULLER: Well, when you get into Season Four, you get into the literature. And so Season Four would be RED DRAGON, Season Five would be the SILENCE OF THE LAMBS era, Season Six would be the HANNIBAL era, and then Season Seven would be a resolve to the ending of that book. HANNIBAL ends on a cliffhanger. Hannibal Lecter has bonded with Clarice Starling and brainwashed her and they are now quasi-lovers and off as fugitives, and so that’s a cliffhanger. It might be interesting to resolve that in some way and to bring Will Graham back into the picture. So once we get two more seasons, say, of the television show, those are the aren’t-novelized stories, and then we would get into expansions of the novels after that and kind of using the novels as a backbone for season arcs that would then be kind of enhanced.
AX: Assuming you cover the eras of SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and HANNIBAL, when Will Graham isn’t a character in the books, what do you do with Hugh Dancy for those two seasons?
FULLER: Well, it would be about incorporating him in a way that he hasn’t been incorporated in the books, because Will Graham was only mentioned in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, he was not seen, and so I would be curious to see what happens to Will Graham after RED DRAGON. By the time of RED DRAGON, he’s married to Molly and has her son from a previous marriage, but doesn’t have any children of his own. And then that relationship is more complicated by Francis Dolarhyde and there were suggestions that there was a not-so-happy ending for Will Graham after RED DRAGON because he has his face carved up and you wonder what’s going to happen to Will now, and I’m curious to see what happens to Will after that.
AX: How did you decide to cast a Danish actor, Mads Mikkelsen, as Hannibal?
FULLER: Hannibal Lecter is actually Lithuanian, and Eastern European, which is not Denmark [laughs]. But the interesting thing for me was to work with Mads Mikkelsen, because I think he’s a phenomenal actor and not just in CASINO ROYALE and a lot of the big genre films that had made me aware of him through, “Hey, that’s the guy with the eye patch,” or he’s played heavies in these big science-fiction/fantasy films, but for me what did it was this film AFTER THE WEDDING. It’s a beautiful film and he plays this heartbroken man who is trying to get back a lost romance and he was so sweet and emotional and vulnerable, and I really wanted meet him, because I felt like [part of HANNIBAL is] about Hannibal Lecter trying to find a friend, because he’s lonely in his own way. I wanted to see that vulnerability, that bonding, that need for a companion to share his life with in a way that he thought would never be possible. Then along comes Will Graham, a man who empathizes with the worst of humanity, and perhaps there could be a chance for Hannibal to have a friend after all. It felt like it was such a fascinating place to take a villain. It would be very easy to [depict] Hannibal Lecter as a psychopath or a sociopath, and in the book RED DRAGON, Thomas Harris says, “He’s not really a psychopath or a sociopath, because he does understand empathy, so what kind of crazy is he, and the answer is, we don’t know.” Primarily because it’s a work of fiction, but he does not fit any of the kind of the categories of the multi-phasic tests for psychopaths. He doesn’t fit any of those columns, so [the series] looks at him not as a psycho, but as someone who was completely Other.
When [Mikkelsen’s] name entered the [casting] conversation, I was like, “Oh, my God, yes, yes, yes. Yes, absolutely.” Because I had seen AFTER THE WEDDING and was aware of what an experienced and full-bodied actor he was, or is, and I think a lot of people may have been, “Oh, well, he always plays villains.” Well, he plays the villain in American movies, but he’s actually the George Clooney of Denmark [laughs].
At the very beginning of the season, Mads comes up and he says, “I think Hannibal should be much more active and I’m really good at fight scenes, so if you write one, I will nail it.” And I was like, “Okay, great, we’ll write one.” And he did a fight sequence – all of the stunt choreographers were like, “Oh, my God, this guy is better than anyone that we’ve ever worked with like this.” His experience as a dancer really helps. He has such control of his instrument and his body, so he really is somebody that you want to see in an action sequence.
Mads Mikkelsen’s approach to the character was not to play him as Anthony Hopkins did, but here he is, this fallen angel who is capable of horrific things, but yet has an awe for humanity and an appreciation of the [human] condition. And that felt like it was such a fascinating approach to the character. And when I see the episodes again, I look at him now not as Hannibal Lecter, but as this guy [who] has that really distant look in his eyes, that infinity of thought, that goes beyond a mortal man. It’s such a smart, interesting, fresh approach to this character that Mads has taken, not that we have altered course to accommodate it, but had it climb aboard and we were all set off to the same destination.
[Hannibal’s] arrogance is not sort of outward – there’s no dismissing of fellow man, no sense of offense or, “You have offended me, good sir.” With Hannibal, he’s not so much offended as he is kind of observational, and there are moments of his micro-expressions that [unint.] a big scene. I love the look after he snaps his patient’s [Franklin, played by Dan Fogler] neck when he’s confronted by [fellow serial killer] Budge [played by Demore Barnes] and drops [Franklin] like a bag of rocks, and just looks back at [Budge] with this innocent kind of, “Well, what’s next? What shall we do now?” It’s so delightful, because it wasn’t like, “I just killed a man because he had it coming because he was annoying,” it was like, “Well, that happened, and now I’m curious what happens next.”
AX: Before Hannibal kills Franklin, he tells Franklin he should leave. Is he sincere in wanting to let him go?
AX: So it’s, “If you don’t go now, I have to get rid of you”?
FULLER: Right. What I love about Hannibal is that he’s a good doctor for his patients and he wants to help them, and even though Franklin is a very annoying character and is a comic foil for Hannibal in some ways, I do think that Hannibal actually cares about Franklin and sees the flaws in his humanity and finds him endearing in some way. And there are people who see that and think, “Oh, that guy was dead from the moment we saw him,” and I’m like, “Well, this version of Hannibal would consider that rude,” because Franklin hasn’t done anything terrible in terms of his humanity. He’s clearly a lost and lonely man, and I think Hannibal has empathy for that. And when [he and Budge] are at the dinner table, Budge says, “I want to kill Franklin,” and Hannibal says, “Don’t kill Franklin.” It’s like, “Why?” With Franklin, he was just eager and lonely, so I don’t think he necessarily falls onto Hannibal’s plate [laughs], in Hannibal’s thinking. So I think right up until the moment that he snaps Franklin’s neck, he was hoping that Franklin would walk away. But [makes philosophical shrugging sound], eh.
The source is included this time. Can we please get a Hannibal tag, mods?