Bryan Fuller’s television series “Hannibal” is defined by Mads Mikkelsen’s iconic performance as the cannibalistic serial killer, but that role could’ve gone to John Cusack or Hugh Grant had NBC executives gotten their way with casting. In a recent interview with Collider, Fuller detailed the rollercoaster ride that came with casting Mikkelsen in the lead role opposite Hugh Dancy. The showrunner said the process became “a casting kerfuffle” as “there was a difference of opinion on what a traditional television network would want as a leading man.”
“I think the network wanted somebody that was much more poppy, much more mainstream, much more American I think in some ways,” Fuller said. “That was just them thinking about, ‘Okay, how do we get the biggest audience for our television show? We have to cast John Cusack as Hannibal Lecter and everybody will tune in because won’t that be surprising?’ I was like, ‘Well go ahead, make an offer.’”
“There was some resistance to Mads Mikkelsen because he was European, because he was somebody who you could look at and go, ‘Yeah I buy that he eats people,’” Fuller continued. “We were dealing with a very American network that wanted a very American actor to sell to American audiences, and all the creatives on the show wanted somebody who was the best person for the role.”
According to Fuller, NBC’s offers to Cusack and Grant were turned down as he predicted. Fuller fought for Mikkelsen’s casting throughout the entire process, and it was only after NBC executive Jennifer Salke stepped up to say she trusted Fuller’s decision that Mikkelsen was cast. Hiring Mikkelsen as Hannibal Lecter ended up being a curse and a blessing for the series. Fuller said that NBC’s marketing division wasn’t as excited for the series since it lacked an A-list leading star, but that kind of neglect gave Fuller the freedom to make “Hannibal” such a bold and creative series. With Mikkelsen as the lead, Fuller said the show “was no longer expected to achieve a certain goal.”
“The other sort of marketing folks, they were like, ‘Oh this show isn’t going to break through for us,'” Fuller said. “They sort of gave up on it a little bit because we were casting a European guy as the face of [a show] they wanted to be more accessible. I felt that they were right for their reasons but wrong for my reasons. And so the gift of that, the gift of casting Mads Mikkelsen, is that their investment in the show became dramatically decreased, and so that allowed us to do a lot of things that we wouldn’t have been able to do if they were saying, ‘No this show needs to get 10 million people watching it every week.’ Then we would have to really be tied down to certain parameters of storytelling that were going to mesh with a mainstream audience.”
“Mads was the gift that allowed us to tell the story the way that we wanted to tell it,” Fuller continued. “The network was like, ‘Well it’s not the person that we wanted and we don’t really see him in this role,’ and we were like, ‘Fine, just let us make the show.’”
“Hannibal” ran for three low-rated seasons on NBC before the network axed the drama. The network was only the distributor of the series and never owned the rights to project, meaning Fuller can revive the show if a new distribution home steps up. Click here for updates on a possible “Hannibal” Season 4 revival.