Guess who is up to his old, wicked, cannibalistic ways? Dr. Hannibal Lecter, that’s who. The renowned psychiatrist and connoisseur of flesh is back in Hannibal, a TV series that serves as an introduction to the character before he is exposed as a cold-blooded killer. Casino Royale’s Mads Mikkelsen stars as the charmingly lethal Lecter while King Arthur’s Hugh Dancy plays Will Graham, a troubled FBI profiler who has a working relationship with him. Executive producers Bryan Fuller (Pushing Daisies, Wonderfalls), Martha De Laurentiis (Hannibal, Red Dragon) and David Slade (Hard Candy), who also directed the pilot, were on hand at a recent Toronto press screening to discuss the Hannibal legacy and getting the project off the ground.
There seems to be a trend in the movie business of tackling material that has a built-in audience. Was that something that was taken into consideration when creating Hannibal?
Bryan Fuller: I think the idea of empathy with the serial killer…what we are seeing with Hannibal Lecter as a serial killer is that he’s a total work of fiction. Serial killers don’t function and have the kind of appreciation for life that Hannibal Lecter does. He’s uncategorizable as a crazy person, which makes him the perfect foil for Will Graham. Hannibal is so unique in his crazy, and Will Graham is so unique in his crazy, that both of these guys need each other to understand themselves. The empathy of their relationship really goes beyond what they do as people, one of them being a serial killer and one of them hunting serial killers. You take all of that away and you see them as human beings who just want to connect, which is really what the second episode is about. Each of our episodes has a metaphor that is about the Hannibal/Will Graham relationship.
Can you talk about developing this project initially?
Martha De Laurentiis: Obviously, with it being an established film franchise, that I was very fortunate to have been a partner with my husband Dino in doing, the character Hannibal Lecter is synonymous as being the #1 villain of all time. And to do a television series could be very tricky. Obviously, it didn’t need to be done, unless it was done well. That’s when I made the partnership with Gaumont Television and the fateful plane ride with Bryan. Him coming together with the idea, exactly as I could see it, right before the book Red Dragon took off in the film world… But a lot of what Bryan and his great writing team have taken is a lot of inspiration from the book Red Dragon and the other books. There are so many homages to Thomas Harris’ writing, which is just so cool.
For many people around the world, Anthony Hopkins is the face of Hannibal Lecter. What do you feel Mads Mikkelsen is going to add to this saga?
David Slade: A terrifying subtlety. As episodes go on, you’re going to start seeing the way a person can command other people, by doing practically nothing, and still terrifying the shit out of you. He is the most astonishingly subtle performer, with the most incredibly keen sense of what his face can do, and how his words can form. Mads has a mission and nothing is by chance. He prepares everything. There’s a moment in the third episode where the scene suddenly becomes terrifying, for reasons that wouldn’t be normally terrifying. It’s Mads who is doing that. I truly believe as long as we have success in the seasons, that Mads will become the defining face of Hannibal Lecter.
Will the series appeal to viewers who aren’t familiar with Hannibal Lecter?
Fuller: I hope so. I want people who are hardcore Thomas Harris fans, who have read the books, to love the series. I want people who have seen the movies, and loved the character from the movie, to love the series. And I want people who have never even heard of it, and don’t understand the concept of cannibalism, to love the series. I want it to be an introduction to the character in a way that is our view of telling this story. Regardless if you’ve heard any of the stories, we’re telling a new chapter that hasn’t been told.
What can those tuning in expect on a weekly basis and what kind of mythology are you building?
Fuller: The arc for the season is taking those few pages from Red Dragon, where there is a couple of scenes in the book, and Will is describing the incidents that happen. What he tells us is there was a serial killer in Minnesota, called the Minnesota Shrike. He was killing a series of young women and in Will’s pursuit and capture of that serial killer, he was so damaged psychologically from going into that dark space, that he began to unravel and see doctors and was institutionalized. For me, that was enough to arc out 13 episodes of a story for the first season. Then, what would happen after that if all these relationships were skewed towards this new version where Hannibal actually knew Will Graham and they do have a relationship? It was really about staying true to the canon of Thomas Harris and what he told us happened, but then taking those three pages and turning them into 13 episodes.
Does every episode feature a serial killer?
Fuller: Most episodes have serial killers. There are a couple that don’t, but there’s always an investigation. One of the reasons I love episode three so much is that the traditional serial killer of the week is dispensed in favor of the overarching story of the season and the soap opera of, “What is Hannibal doing? What is Will Graham doing?” Abigail Hobbs [Kacey Rohl] becomes such a presence in this show and you only get to see her in a coma in episode two after getting her throat cut by her father in the first episode.
What are your thoughts on showing violence on the screen?
Fuller: The rule is to push the envelope until it pushes back. We’ve gotten pushed back on things, that [the network] was like, “Okay, you can’t do that. That’s too far.” Generally, if it’s a tableau, we get away with a lot. But if it’s the action of something, that’s where the network kind of pulls us back. I’m hoping, and Gaumont would be foolish not to do this, but there should be a not-suitable-for-broadcast version. You will wet yourself. There’s stuff we can’t show on network television, but we filmed it all. That’s for the Blu-ray.
Can you give an example?
Fuller: There’s one episode we go into Will’s headspace. To address the violence issue of the show, one of the things we all talked about in terms of crime procedurals and the desensitization of murders, was on this show, we were going to see the repercussions on Will Graham being exposed to this and how it breaks him down steadily. In one of the episodes, he [presumably Hannibal] kills somebody pretty violently. He grabs the woman he is killing, gouges out her eyeballs and we see a big spray of blood. We see it, but you won’t see it on television, unless you get the non-suitable-for-broadcast DVD.
Why do you want to, or need to, push the envelope so far?
Fuller: For me, it is about honoring the genre, first and foremost. This is elegant horror. As horror is my first love, we have to acknowledge what genre we are in, so we have to give that portion of the audience what they want. I consider myself that portion of the audience. I like when the zombies’ heads explode on The Walking Dead. I’ll be sitting with my partner, who cringes and wants to not see that, but I’m like, “Wow! They just blew that zombie’s head off.” It is love.