“Growing up with a very vivid imagination, you could imagine all sort of crazy scenarios, so you do feel a little bit ‘other’ and you feel a little bit on the outside,” explained “Hannibal” creator Bryan Fuller to an adoring crowd yesterday. “That’s why it’s kind of great to be down in San Diego, where everybody’s ‘other’ and that’s how it should be.” The context, of course, was Comic-Con, that annual event where enthusiasts of all that is wonderful and weird in the world of media get together. At the Q&A panel for “Hannibal,” the slick NBC series built in part around the character made so iconic by Sir Anthony Hopkins in “The SIlence of the Lambs,” Fuller and star Hugh Dancy (who plays profiler Will Graham) discussed their preliminary interest in doing the show, how they got away with such graphic images on network television, as well as what they have in store for the show’s sophomore season. Below are ten highlights of the panel, which you can watch online here.
On what initially caught their interest in doing a “Hannibal” TV series: Fuller said “I had seen ‘Manhunter’ when I was a young man, and was immediately drawn to the book and fascinated by how expansive and complex the Will Graham character was. That was the character I felt had not been entirely explored on film. So very selfishly, I went in to do the project to make sure this was the version of the Hannibal Lecter story that I wanted to watch as an audience member, because I am as big a Fannibal as anyone.” For Dancy, “I was clearly familiar with Hannibal from the movies, but I hadn’t read the books. So I got the script, and I really admired the writing, and the structure of it raised a lot of questions going forward. One was, ‘Why are we revisiting these characters and this story?’ I read “Red Dragon,” which is obviously the book Will Graham is in, and has a great deal of information, as a great deal of the book takes place inside his head, which, from the point-of-view of an actor trying to get into a character, is just the best gift. I was going back to that book until the day we finished shooting.”
On finding the right Hannibal: “We had to put up an orange cone where other actors had tread in the past,” said Fuller. “We put up an orange cone where Brian Cox’s performance was, we put up an orange cone where Anthony Hopkins’ performance was. Really it was about finding an actor, like we did with Hugh, who had such a specific take on the character. And on our first meeting with Mads, he was saying that he didn’t want to play Anthony Hopkins or Brian Cox, he wanted to play it safe, and I thought that was really cool. So it actually was very funny to see David [Slade] directing Mads, because he has this gift for micro-expressions where little things happen over the ripple across the surface of his face. So in the scene in the pilot when Hannibal is with his patient Franklin, who he later kills, it was fun to see David directing Mads and saying ‘I need to see a bit of a smile.’ And he was like, ‘I was smiling.’ And David would say ‘I can see it, but the camera can’t see it.'”
Visual influences: According to Fuller, “There’s a very distinct Kubrick-ian visual aesthetic to the show, and I think the two biggest influences for me in writing the show were Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch. I literally sat down with a blank page and said, ‘What would David Lynch do with Hannibal Lecter?’ And then, in talking to David [Slade], who, I’d seen his films “Hard Candy” and “30 Days of Night” and thought they were stunning and had such a unique point-of-view, I could see crafting the show with David, and enhancing it and elevating it beyond my expectations.”
What the stag symbolizes: “Will Graham’s first taste of Hannibal Lecter’s crimes, literally and figuratively, was Cassie Foyle, who is the girl who was impaled on the severed stag head and pecked by ravens,” said Fuller. “So in Will’s mind, he amalgamated all of these elements. His unconscious came up with this raven-colored stag, which kind of became the vanguard for the Wendigo, which is when he sees Hannibal for who he is.”
On Hannibal as a character: “For me, most sociopaths are just jerks. It’s a male control issue,” Fuller noted. “What was so cool about how Thomas Harris described him was that he was unquantifiable as a crazy person. He’s not a sociopath because he experiences empathy, and he’s not a psychopath because he experiences regret, so what kind of crazy is he? What I love about Hannibal is that he is a complete work of fiction. Because if it were a real serial killer, it just would be too icky. I’m a very sensitive young man. So it was about finding a reality to the surreality of the character.”
On NBC objecting to the show’s gruesome images: Fuller claimed that “My favorite time, because it’s such a cute anecdote, was when we had this episode ‘Coquilles,’ where we had a kiler who was creating angels that would watch over him while he slept. So we had two people who were nude, and we saw their butt cracks. They were flayed open, they were cracked in many ways. And NBC said we couldn’t show that shot, which was this great sort of cinematic shot. ‘Why? Because of the exposed spine and ribs and muscle tissue?’ And they were like, ‘No, we see their butt cracks.’ And I said, ‘What if we filled the butt cracks with blood so we couldn’t see the cracks?’ And they said okay.”
On the show’s homoerotic undertones: “I think that there is a profound connection between Will and Hannibal,” mused Dancy. “Honestly, I don’t think it’s sexual, but I think it’s two people who have wandered through their lives without any viable form of connection, because they’re two extremely unusual people. And they meet, and it is a meet-cute. And their appreciation for each other only deepens. And then by the time Will has encephalitis, things have changed.” “This brings up an interest question about what is love,” continued Fuller. “Love between two characters doesn’t have to be sexual but it can still be love. And I think there’s definitely a form of love that Will has for Hannibal.”
On the final shot of the first season: “It all goes back to several scenes in our second episode which involved Will Graham’s first therapy sessions with Hannibal Lecter,” explained Fuller. “If you recall, he was up on the second level and it was as if Hannibal was trying to coax a squirrel out of a tree. And in the next scene, you see him getting closer and he’s walking around the desk, In the last scene, he finally takes the chair. So if that squirrel metaphor were being drawn to its conclusion, he finally has the squirrel in a cage.”
On the character and story arc for season two: “We started season two, we have the season arc crafted, and it’s a doozy. We just finished breaking episode three, and we’re breaking episode four now. So one of the things I was most excited about in seeing season two is that we saw Will Graham hit rock bottom. and the best thing about hitting rock bottom is that you have no fear, there’s nothing left to lose,” said Fuller.
On being both consistent and different with the upcoming season: Fuller revealed that “One of the first episodes is a two-part, and it’s kind of a pilot for what this new season will be, so we take all of the characters and we reintroduce them, because all of the dynamics have gone out of the window from the first season. Will Graham knows something that nobody else does and nobody believes, so it’s a great place to keep a character. One of the cool things about ‘Red Dragon’ and ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ is that they have this paradigm where we go to Hannibal Lecter to have us solve crimes, and the fun for us putting Will Graham in that position now.”