NBC”s “Hannibal” concludes what”s been a fantastic first season tomorrow night at 10. What could have felt like a bad retread of – well, of all the other serial killer dramas and movies that have been ripping off the original Hannibal Lecter stories for the last few decades – turned out, under the guidance of producer Bryan Fuller (“Pushing Daisies”), to be a riveting, nightmarish story about the impacts and causes of violence, and the effect investigating the crimes of a man like Dr. Lecter (played in cool, hypnotic fashion by Mads Mikkelsen) would have on criminal profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy).
Last week, I spoke with Fuller about how he chose to approach the material – the show spins out of a few passages in Thomas Harris” first Lecter novel, “Red Dragon” – the casting of Mikkelsen, the care taken to creating Dr. Lecter”s disgusting and yet beautiful meals, and more. I’m splitting this interview into two parts: 1)This first one about Fuller’s approach to the familiar source material(*), his philosophy about Dr. Lecter’s meals, and other things that won’t spoil the finale; and 2)A second interview that will be published after the finale airs, discussing the events of it and what may be coming down the road (including when or if the series might be adapting the main plots of “Red Dragon” and “Silence of the Lambs”).
(*) Note: Because I’ve read the books, seen the movies, etc., this interview alludes at times to things that will happen down the road for Graham, Lecter and Laurence Fishburne’s Jack Crawford. If you’re ignorant of the future of these characters and want to remain so, you might want to skip.
Let’s talk about your approach to the material when you started. This is very well-trod material: “Red Dragon” has been adapted into two different movies; everyone knows Lecter in some way. What was your approach going into this to make the material seem like something people hadn’t seen before?
Bryan Fuller: I think it was about covering a portion of the story that literally people hadn’t seen before. We hadn’t seen Lecter as a practicing psychiatrist and a practicing cannibal. That felt like it was fresh territory, even though it’s so intrinsic to who the character is. We understand him as this cannibalistic psychiatrist, but we never saw it. It was all told to us in backstory. For me, that felt for me like a great opportunity to really see, arguably the most interesting part of Hannibal Lecter’s life.
But the way you write, and Mads Mikkelsen plays, the character, it doesn’t feel like it’s a rehash of Hopkins or Brian Cox or anyone else.
Bryan Fuller: One of the reasons I wanted to cast Mads Mikkelsen is that he is not either of those actors. And he would be doing something completely different from what people expected. I was a fan of his for a while, not just seeing him in “Casino Royale” and “Clash of the Titans,” but films like “After the Wedding” and “Valhalla Rising.” “After the Wedding” was really the movie that cemented him as Lecter in my mind, because it’s such an emotional performance. He’s so vulnerable. American audiences who had been exposed to Mads were probably used to seeing him as some kind of villain, or a character with an eyepatch. They hadn’t seen the bulk of his fantastic work as an actor in Danish cinema. So I felt really compelled that we could do something different with the character, keeping his European mystique from the literature, but giving it this sobriety and taking away the wink. That felt like it was a really grounded way to deliver the character to audiences who may have been familiar with who he was, whether it be Brian Cox or Anthony Hopkins, and give them a completely different version of the character, in an unexplored part of his life.
How did you, whether on your own or with (director) David Slade, come up with the visual depiction of Will Graham’s gift? We’ve heard in those films, and in all the Thomas Harris imitators, about profilers who learn to think like serial killers, but I’ve never seen it visually portrayed quite this way before.