If you had any doubts that Bryan Fuller could not only revitalize two of Thomas Harris’ most memorable characters, Dr. Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham, in a meaningful way and also do it with his signature flair fully in tact, put them to rest right now. NBC’s “Hannibal” (premiering on Thursday, April 4 at 10pm) is one of the best new shows of the summer and it’s also, quite possibly, the very best thing Fuller has ever done — and that’s saying a lot when you’re talking about the guy that created shows like “Dead Like Me” and “Pushing Daisies.”
Starring Hugh Dancy (“Martha Marcy May Marlene”) as Will Graham, Mads Mikkelsen (“Casino Royale”) as Hannibal Lecter and Laurence Fishburne as Jack Crawford, “Hannibal” is intelligent, stylish, complicated and extremely dark — everything fans of Harris’ famous serial killer have been waiting for. Indiewire recently sat down with Fuller to discuss reviving Dr. Hannibal Lecter, which characters fans won’t be seen on the series, and a possible “Pushing Daises” zombie movie.
Did you go back to the book (“Red Dragon”) to fill out the Will Graham character?
I watched “Manhunter” before I started writing the script and just wanted to re-familiarize myself with the story. I’d always liked the film, but it got eclipsed by “The Silence of the Lambs,” so if I was feeling a little peckish for Hannibal Lecter, I would watch that again. As much as I liked William [Petersen]’s performance [as Will Graham in “Manhunter”], the fact that he went on to “CSI” and crafted another version of the character created a blank spot in my vision. So it was really all about going back to the book, and it was a treasure hunt for specificity with the character so I could find things that haven’t been played and look for a new way in.
One of the first things that kicked up my imagination was the stuff with Molly [Will’s wife] at the beginning of the book, where she’s referencing how he’s in a better place now and he’s not obsessing so much about the dogs. The dogs are almost a defense mechanism for him so he can go to a place of purity with the dog soul and get out of the convoluted nature of mankind. I got the psychological landscape of a guy who escapes to animals to get away from the complexities of the human psyche.
Later, Alan Bloom is talking to Jack Crawford and saying, “Does he ever pick up your cadence of speech?” The fact that Will is able to slip into people’s speech patterns involuntarily suggested some form of Echopraxia as well as just being hypersensitive, having this photographic memory and being able to create emotional landscapes from terrible images to understand the villainy behind them. It all suggested certain personality disorders and neuroses and it just seemed to me that Will Graham was on the [autism] spectrum.
It felt like that was an angle into the character that would also make him incredibly vulnerable to Hannibal Lecter. It wasn’t a new angle. It just felt like it was a stain on the page that I was leeching out between the lines. I feel like this is almost a truer version of Will Graham to the literary source than what we’ve seen in the movies because you also, in a film, don’t have the real estate to really develop the complexity.
We do. We absolutely have the time and, hopefully, not just this season but many seasons to explore how that works. Will goes through hell this season. The first five episodes don’t even scratch the surface. The last five episodes are such a tumble into darkness that we pull the rug out from underneath the character, and the audience, in many ways.
It’s hard to imagine how much darker he can go when he literally starts the series covered in blood.
Right! [laughs] And I have to tell you that Hugh Dancy… After meeting his parents and hearing them tell this story of how he enjoyed some sort of play-acting murder as a child, it was hard not to recall the day on set when he gets sprayed with blood. He was so giddy and school-boyish.
I asked him, “Are you cool with the blood?” He was like, “Oh my God, I love it! I love being sprayed with blood.” It was like he was able to transcend where the character was in the scene and be a man who enjoys the ghoulishness of the world in an infectiously fun way.
What led you to Hugh for the role of Will Graham?
He has an openness and accessibility as an actor and as a human being. I think, in a different actor’s hands, Will Graham would be less sympathetic — because he’s kind of an asshole. This guy is in his own head and isn’t socially adept. Will avoids eye contact, and it’s safer for him to bond with an animal because he knows what his expectations are of that creature — a human being is a much trickier monster. So we needed a doorway to get past potentially asinine behavior for somebody who is highly neurotic. They had to have an innate likeability even when they weren’t being likeable — and that’s Hugh.
The way you present him in the show, he’s kind of the everyman. Style-wise he feels like the everyman, but with all these tortured issues he has to deal with.
On one level, he is the everyman in terms of the fact that he’s out on this farmhouse by himself with a bunch of dogs, but he’s also the man alone with his isolation and purposeful removal of things that stress him out, which would be other people.
And he’s clearly special.
Yes. Which is why Hannibal has the bromance with him and has the attraction to him, because he’s knows this human being is special.
The first thing that threw me about Mads’ performance as Lecter was his accent, only because I’ve seen “The Silence of the Lambs” so many times. But once you get past that initial shock, it’s a master performance. I feel like when Mads walks off set, he doesn’t skip a beat — like he lives that life of expensive suits and fancy dinners and refinement.
[laughs] He couldn’t be more different. It’s funny because when I go to set, I’m always ogling his suits and lifting the jacket to see who makes it and he just has no interest. He doesn’t care. Outside of the character, Mads is in tracksuits and stocking caps. He has no pretense about finer quality clothes. He’s so not Hannibal in any way, shape or form. He’s easy to smile or crack a joke or tease. He’s like a really rambunctious brother as opposed to this very sober guy.
People know Hopkins, but Mads is so in tune with what is in the book.
Hannibal in the books is an Eastern European gentleman. He’s not American. With Anthony Hopkins, his accent was very hard to pin down or pinpoint his origin, but for me, casting a foreign actor was the way to go because Hannibal is foreign. He is other. He’s an exotic. That was something that Mads brought to the character, with this erudite quality of experience and worldliness. Hannibal has to be a grown man that demands respect, or it doesn’t work.
You do a good job keeping the mystery intact during the early episodes. You could go into this show without knowledge of Lecter, Graham and Crawford, and you wouldn’t have a clue about what Lecter will inevitably become.
I was always working under the assumption that everybody knew who Hannibal was and so I didn’t have to play it and I didn’t have to overplay it. What’s so interesting about Mads is that, in our first meeting, he told me that he approaches the character less as the darker Hannibal Lecter in “The Silence of the Lambs,” incarcerated with the mask, and more like Lucifer, the fallen angel who loves humanity and is in awe of humanity and appreciates the beauty of humanity and punishes those who don’t in damning ways. He sends them to hell.
It seems like Hannibal is having a lot of fun in this show. It’s like he’s playing with his toys.
He is! That’s where I go back to the Lucifer thing. He is having a good time and he is very curious about how people will react to situations. On top of that, he genuinely has affection for Will Graham and I think he genuinely respects Jack Crawford, but he’s also tormenting and taunting Jack while he’s trying to break Will of who he is right now and get him to accept that he could be a killer — then they could start their friendship in earnest.
Who do you worry about pleasing more with “Hannibal”? Is it the hardcore fan or the person that doesn’t have any emotional ties to these characters already?
I want both to be happy walking away with it, but probably more so the fan because, being given the responsibility of honoring the character, I want those who feel as dedicated to the character as I am to be satisfied with how we’re raising him. My responsibility to the show (and to the audience) comes before even my responsibility to my bosses at the studio and the network. Hannibal Lecter is the most cherished villain in pop culture. This is not a job. This is our responsibility to honor a mythology that has touched a lot of people for a lot of different reasons and resonates with them.
Will we see other characters from the Lecterverse on “Hannibal” at some point?
Absolutely. One of the interesting things about developing this first season is that one of the episodes that I was dying to do was exploring Lecter’s relationship to [former patient] Benjamin Raspail and Jame Gumb [aka Buffalo Bill]. I was so excited about that, but how it works legally with who we get to play with and who we don’t is this: If a character was introduced in “Red Dragon” or “Hannibal,” we have full access to them. If they were introduced in “The Silence of the Lambs,” MGM has full access to them.
We had plotted out a multi-episode arc with Benjamin Raspail and the Jame Gumb character. It was exciting because I really wanted to see Lecter put that head in the jar and park that car in the storage unit. Unfortunately, MGM told us no, that they own that character. We even tried to trade with them and went back to them three or four times — they still said no. My secret hope is that they’ll see the show and think it’s really cool and say, “Okay, we’ll partner with you and let you use the Clarice Starling character and this will become the definitive Hannibal Lecter story.” That’s my dream.
So you’re saying that people should start writing to MGM now?
Yeah, start writing letters. You’ll see a lot of familiar characters though. Chilton is there. I would love to have Barney involved in the future. As many of those people that we can craft into the story, we will — if we have the rights to them, we will use them. That’s absolutely the intention of the show.
The “Veronica Mars” Kickstarter was, obviously, extremely successful. What does that mean for a possible “Pushing Daisies” movie?
I am having those conversations with my agent right now. I’m trying to find out how realistic it is, but I’m taking it very seriously because I would like to revisit that world and I think that there is a great zombie movie to be had in the world of “Pushing Daisies.” I love that cast and, as much as I’ve enjoyed writing “Hannibal,” it’s really dark. [laughs] I could use a palette cleanser before diving into a second season (knock on wood).
I’ve reached out to the cast and everybody is very excited about the prospect. It’s not just a whimsical thing. I’ve already been in contact with someone at Kickstarter and Rob Thomas, and I have so many questions for them. Now I just have to figure out what we would need, how we would pull it off, and hopefully set the wheels into motion.
Is “Mockingbird Lane” done for good or is there any chance it’ll work on another format like Netflix, for instance?
I don’t know if they were just letting me down easy, but NBC was like, “Well, maybe we’ll redevelop it.” So who knows what that means, but I was absolutely heartbroken with “Mockingbird Lane.” My first loves as a child, where I was recognizing entertainment as soul-stirring, were the Universal monsters and “The Munsters.” Both of them spoke to me in a way that was above and beyond. It was like a quickening in my artistic soul. I had so much figured out about where we were going and what we were doing. I was so excited about the stories we were going to tell on “Mockingbird Lane.” I was really disappointed that they didn’t pick it up, and still am.