A year ago, Bryan Fuller came to Comic-Con for a small panel to discuss two NBC projects he had in the works: his “Munsters” re-imagining “Mockingbird Lane,” and a “Silence of the Lambs” prequel about the early serial killing career of “Hannibal.” “Mockingbird Lane” wound up never being ordered to series, though NBC aired the pilot, while “Hannibal” recently finished a brilliant (if incredibly low-rated) first season and was renewed for a second.
I spoke with Fuller about the end of the season, and now he’s back at Comic-Con with a show that fans have actually seen now, and with star Hugh Dancy in tow, along with director David Slade and producer Martha De Laurentiis. Convention center wi-fi permitting, I’ll be live-blogging the discussion right here starting a little after 6:45 Pacific.
6:46 p.m.: Panel slow to start as they’re trying to fill every seat of a room that’s much too small for a show that people have seen and like. Big line snaking around the hallway. The Comc-Con staffer charged with giving us our instructions is cracking jokes about being careful if we have meat for dinner, and the setting up of placecards for each panelist is drawing whoops. It’s the end of the day, and it’s “Hannibal.” We are punchy.
6:52 p.m.: Aaron Abrams, who plays CSI tech Zeller on “Hannibal,” comes out to introduce the panel. “They offered me to you as a brief appetizer,” he quips, in what will surely not be the last food-related pun of the hour. Indeed, seconds later, he talks about how everyone who makes the show “feeds off of” the fans’ love.
6:54 p.m.: Season 1 recap reel time! So. Many. Disturbing. Images. Also, the crowd is so frenzied for the show that they just cheered the first glimpse of Freddie Lounds.
6:57 p.m.: This is a very in-depth clip reel (perhaps because NBC or Gaumont feared not enough people in the room would know the show, which is really not the case), and mainly serves as a reminder of just how well Fuller and company constructed the arc of this first season, and how beautiful and sick Slade and company made everything look.
6:59 p.m.: “Hello, Will.” “Hello, Dr. Lecter.” Chills. (And cheers.)
7:00 p.m.: Entertainment Weekly’s Jeff Jensen introduces us to “the panel for the best damn cooking show on television.” Jensen runs through the Fuller filmography of Comic-Con-friendly shows like “Wonderfalls” and “Dead Like Me” to whoops and hollers, and Fuller comes out to photograph the crowd. And the room explodes for a bearded, smiling Hugh Dancy, who doesn’t look at all mentally disturbed.
7:02 p.m.: Jensen: “After every episode of Hannibal, who gets to take home the leftovers?” Fuller: “They are consumed by the crew.” More seriously, Fuller explains that Lecter’s meals are “under hot lights, getting filled with bacteria, and no one should try eating them”
7:04 p.m.: Jensen recalls De Laurentiis’ long history with adapting Thomas Harris’ books, going back to Michael Mann’s “Manhunter” and asks why she felt the property would work on television. She says Lecter is at the top of the global list of the best villains of all time, but they wondered what he was doing before the events of “Red Dragon,” and she liked the idea of making 13 episodes without a pilot, so it could be made on its own terms. She says she hopes Fuller will be making seven more seasons after this one.
7:06 p.m.: What was Fuller’s angle going in? He saw “Manhunter” as a young man and was drawn to the book, and fascinated by the Will Graham character. He felt Graham hadn’t been entirely explored on film yet. “Very selfishly, I wanted to do the project so it would be a version of the Hannibal Lecter story that I would want to watch.”
7:08 p.m.: Fuller keeps trying to make “Fannibal” and “Fannibalism” happen, recalling the long conversations he and Slade had before making the first episode. Slade says when he was sent a script with “Hannibal” on the title, he wondered, “Elephants or cannibals?” He was impressed by Fuller’s complete reimagining of the familiar characters and world.
7:10 p.m.: What about the visual influences of the series? Fuller talks about a “distinct Kubrickian” influence, says Kubrick and David Lynch were his two templates. “I literally sat at the page and asked, ‘What would David Lynch do with Hannibal Lecter?'” Jensen asks if the ear in the season finale was a “Blue Velvet” homage. Fuller says yes, and that originally it was going to be a finger, “But that would be harder to cough up. An ear is chewy and malleable.”
7:12 p.m.: Dancy calls himself “an average audience member,” in that he knew Hannibal from the movies but not the books. He was so impressed by Fuller’s pitch that he ran to read “Red Dragon” and picked up a lot of information about what’s going on inside Will’s head. “For an actor, it’s the best gift.” He read the book several times, noted it, and as he was acting in the first season, “I kept hearing Thomas Harris’ voice in the background, which is an incredible achievement for a television show.” “I just lifted lines from the book,” Fuller cracks. Dancy has never seen “Manhunter” and says he avoided re-watching the Brett Ratner “Red Dragon” once he got the role.
7:16 p.m.: What direction did Fuller and Slade give Mads Mikkelsen to avoid evoking the previous screen Lecters? “I think we had to put up an orange cone where another actor’s performance was,” he says. They wanted to find an actor who had a specific take on the character, and Mikkelsen came in “And said he didn’t want to play Anthony Hopkins or Brian Cox; he wanted to play Satan.” Fuller recalls Mads’ gift for micro-expression, and Slade telling Mikkelsen he needed an on-camera smile. “He said, ‘I was smiling,'” Fuller says, “and David told him, ‘I can see that, but the camera can’t.'”
7:20 p.m.: How does Dancy wrap his mind around this role, and how does he let it go at the end of the day? “I find a beer helps,” he quips, and says Will is a great character for an actor, because “he can’t stop himself from jumping into other people’s shoes.” He says they didn’t want a character who was just “incredibly tormented,” and instead they came to a specific understanding of what Will’s problems and fears are, and therefore what it is that Hannibal is doing to gently push him towards the edge. He calls Mikkelsen “a very controlled actor” who can get big effects from little movements, and says his co-star is approaching Lecter not as a villain, but as a character. He says the most fun part of the show was discussing the Lecter/Graham relationship with Mikkelsen.
7:22 p.m.: The new season will begin shooting in September, and Dancy is excited to go in a different direction with Will. “It’s, beyond question, one of the most richly rewarding and just fun things I’ve ever done.”
7:24 p.m.: Fuller says off-camera black humor got them through a lot of the dark moments they crafted this season. Dancy wonders, “Bryan, do you have some app that generates horrific deaths?”
7:25 p.m.: Fuller talks about how having a vivid imagination made him feel “a little bit other,” and he poured those feelings into characters like Will, the “Pushing Daisies” piemaker, George on “Dead Like Me,” etc.
7:28 p.m.: What can Fuller say about season 2? Fuller has crafted the season arc, “and it’s a doozy.” They just finished breaking episode 3. “Episode 3, I’ll just say, is a trial.” He was excited about showing Will Graham hitting rock bottom, which means he now has no fear, and nothing left to lose. Promises “a scrappy, feisty Will Graham” in season 2. How does the franchise of the show stay alive with Will in jail? Fuller calls the two-part season premiere “a new pilot for what the season can be,” because all the dynamics of the first season are gone. Fuller likes the idea of flipping the traditional Lecter formula on its head by having the FBI visiting Will in jail to get help solving crimes.
7:29 p.m.: Fan questions! Given what Lecter did to Will, “How is their relationship going to bounce back from that?” Fuller: “I don’t think it will!”
7:30 p.m.: Panelists impressed by a fan who notes that cannibalism can cause disease, and wonders if Will’s encephalitis may have been caused by eating Lecter’s food. Fuller and Dancy want to bring her on staff.
7:31 p.m.: Why a stag, of all animals? Fuller says it’s a Freudian/Jungian symbolic animal. “Will Graham’s very first taste of Hannibal Lecter’s crimes, literally and figuratively,” was Cassie Boyle’s body impaled on the stag head, and a raven was perched on it. So his unconscious came up with a raven-headed stag as a vanguard of the Wendigo that he eventually saw Lecter as in the finale. He loves that fans have dubbed it “Swiggity-Swag the Nightmare Stag.”
7:32 p.m.: Perfect timing: the next fan is dressed as the stag, and asks about network notes about graphic imagery. Fuller refers to the episode with the flesh angels, they had two nude victims whose butt cracks were visible on camera. “They were cracked in many ways, and their butt crack to me was a less offensive crack they were sporting.” NBC wouldn’t let them use the shot featuring the butt crack, so Fuller offered to fill the cracks with blood. “And they said, ‘Okay!'”
7:36 p.m.: A female fan wants to know who’s designing Hannibal’s suits. Fuller says their wardrobe designer finds some amazing plaids. “I’m very resentful that Mads is smaller than me, because I’ve tried to raid his wardrobe, time and again.” Dancy complains that Mads is a sloppy dresser in real life, and tells him, “These suits are wasted on you!”
7:40 p.m.: Fuller compliments a fan’s flowered crown, so she runs up to the stage to let him wear it. She asks about “the hint of eroticism between Will and Hannibal.” Dancy thinks “there is a profound connection between Will and Hannibal. Honestly, I don’t think it’s sexual.” Fuller interjects: “Oh, yeah?” Dancy says these are two people who have wandered their whole lives never experiencing a true connection with another human being, and then they meet. “Their appreciation of each other only deepens, so I get it.” But by the time Will has encephalitis, “the rules have changed.” Dancy says that when the potential romance with Dr. Bloom came up, he was fascinated with the question of how someone like Will begins to approach or sustain a romantic relationship. “That’s why it’s so sad, really, seeing him reach out to her and just crash and burn.”
7:41 p.m.: Last question is about the ear from the finale, and how it went down the throat. Fuller promises to answer it in the season 2 premiere. The girl in the stag costume is invited on stage to pose with Fuller, leading to a mad rush of other would-be picture posers.
7:44 p.m.: The season 1 DVD is coming September 24. Will feature DVD commentary and “a gag reel,” which takes on a different connotation for this show – and which we are about to see. Hard to describe gag reels in this format, so I’ll sign off for tonight. Back tomorrow with “Veronica Mars,” “The Walking Dead” and “Game of Thrones,” folks.