‘Hannibal’ producer Bryan Fuller on the season finale and what’s next

Senior Television Writer
06.20.13 93 Comments

“Hannibal” just concluded an amazing first season of television. Last week, I spoke with the show’s executive producer Bryan Fuller about the thought he and his tea put into finding a new take on Hannibal Lecter. I posted the first part of that interview yesterday, and I have the more spoiler-y portion (including some allusions to things from the various Lecter books and movies, so don’t read on if you have no idea what’s coming next for Lecter, Will Graham, or Jack Crawford) coming up just as soon as I draw you a clock…

Note: Ordinarily, I’d have done a review in addition to this interview, but this has been a really horrendous week, schedule-wise, and this review is one of several casualties of that. Sorry. Short version: Fuller and company did an incredible job of paying off the story of the season, and of inverting the archetypal image of Lecter facing his chief FBI rival. On to the questions.

In terms of Harris, what exact rights do you have beyond the actual story contained within the book “Red Dragon”? I know, for instance, that you can’t use Clarice Starling and the events in “Silence of the Lambs.” What else can you do within the universe that Harris created?

Bryan Fuller: We are able to use any character that originated in “Red Dragon.” We have access to characters in the book “Hannibal.” There are a few characters from that book like Mason and Margot Verger that we want to use in the second season of “Hannibal,” and we’re negotiating right now character rights to use them. We would have to pay a fee per episode. The “Silence of the Lambs” characters are owned by MGM. That’s where it gets more tricky.

How long do you see it taking you, in success, to get to the rest of the events in “Red Dragon”? One season? Two seasons?

Bryan Fuller: Season 4 would be “Red Dragon.” We have this first season, which was the meet cute of Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham – or “eat cute,” I should say. We can drop the m, unless it’s “meat cute.” I just got a visit from the Easter Punny, so there’s a lot to go around. For me, he idea of doing the definitive Hannibal Lecter adaptation was really attractive to me. “Silence of the Lambs” would be season 5 of the timeline. My secret dream is that MGM sees the show, says, “Ohmigod, we love this show. Why don’t we collaborate on this season?” But that may be a pipe dream. If they never agree to play ball with us in terms of letting us use some of those characters, then the plan would be to do the events of “Silence of the Lambs,” but slightly different. So instead of Buffalo Bill, we would come up with another killer that arcs over the season. Instead of Clarice Starling, we would have Flarice Karling, that tells a bit of that story without interrupting the canon that audiences are expecting. That’s fortunately four years away. So hopefully there’s inspiration and hopefully collaboration that could make that more fulfilling for me as a Thomas Harris buff, and for audiences who also love those characters and want to see them in this world, and to see what Clarice Starling would be like sitting across from Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal Lecter.

The way you end this season seems to me like it’s going to take a lot of time and effort to bring these characters back to the point at which “Red Dragon” happens. How much license do you have to mess with the history and change things around so it’s not exactly the way it was in the books or the other versions of the stories we’re familiar with?

Bryan Fuller: The thing that’s interesting about the backstory in “Red Dragon” is that we know that Will Graham, after investigating the Minnesota Shrike case, became so psychologically compromised that he had to be institutionalized. That’s kind of the extent of what we know. So I would argue that we are actually working within the lines fairly well. We just have added a lot more details than perhaps didn’t get included in those three pages of backstory. Those three pages are so thin and so broad that we are allowed to bring in elements that will surprise the audience, and take turns for the characters, but also give us the ability to get those characters back on track with the timeline that’s represented in the books. The big buy that we’ve taken in the series from the books is actually having Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham know each other. That’s the big buy. When Will was institutionalized, he had a different therapist. It wasn’t until after he came out of the institution and met Hannibal Lecter. That’s really the one kind of deviation that we’ve taken. Everything else is relatively intact; there’s just a little bit of magic dust being sprinkled. But I would argue that we are maneuvering between the words of “Red Dragon” effectively to keep close to the canon of what happened to Will Graham. Nobody said he is accused of all of these murders.

I’m less wondering about Will than about Jack Crawford. He’s allowed Hannibal the Cannibal inside the yellow tape in a way that has furthered his crimes. I’m trying to imagine a circumstance under which Jack is allowed to remain in the position he is in, having unwittingly aided and abetted Hannibal, and having locked up a guy for these crimes for a while.

Bryan Fuller: We will be dealing with the meat of that in season 2. What’s exciting for me is that you’ve seen the finale, and now what would happen in that situation to someone in Jack Crawford’s position has to happen. I think he would be brought before a review board. I think his leadership would be questioned. It’s exciting to keep the story honest: that Crawford just doesn’t get to have a trainee pulled out of a classroom and brutally murdered by the most-wanted serial killer, under his watch, and then also lose another special agent that he pulls into his purview to investigate these crimes and that he’d be surprised at, “Holy crap, this guy murdered these people, as well.” I think Jack Crawford is going to have a lot of soul-searching for himself and for his superiors at the FBI in season 2.

That final scene of the finale plays with the classic image of Lecter, where no matter what actor is playing him and what adaptation it is, we’re used to the FBI agent coming to the mental hospital to visit Lecter’s cell and pick his brain. And instead, it’s Lecter coming to visit Will. Was that specifically designed as a nod to that image, and a way to tell the audience not to assume anything about what they know?

Bryan Fuller: Absolutely. That was one of those things that, when I was doing the series, before I had even written a word of the script, I knew that the ending to the first season was going to be that dramatic walk down the institution corridor, and instead of seeing Hannibal Lecter, we would see Will Graham. And now, Will Graham, who has essentially hit rock bottom. There’s something very exciting to me, and to Hugh Dancy, we’ve had conversations about who is Will Graham now that he has essentially nothing left to lose? And how far will he go to prove his own innocence when every shred of evidence says he’s guilty, and also keep his sanity and his humanity? Will Graham in the first season was very much a victim, and I’m excited about a second season where we change that dynamic of who he is.

In one of the very first episodes, Jack tells Freddie that if she keeps writing about Will Graham, he’ll arrest her on obstruction and has the grounds to do so. Yet she keeps interfering in the investigations and he leaves her alone.

Bryan Fuller: She’s not writing about Will Graham. She’s writing about the Ripper, about the Shrike, about the other killers. She wants to write about Will and Hannibal in the book with Abigail. But she doesn’t target Graham in how she was talking about him at the beginning.

So Jack is willing to split the hairs that finely?

Bryan Fuller: Yeah. It’s so hair-splitting in that regard. But I think when we see Jack Crawford and Freddie Lounds together post events of the first season, their relationship will be considerably different, because she will have access to a greater story, and she will be telling the story that Jack Crawford knows to be true. That will change the dynamic a little bit. I think there’s something really exciting about Freddie Lounds being an unexpected ally of Will Graham’s in the second season.

Somewhat related to that, you have to do this really tricky thing here, where Hannibal Lecter is doing all these terrible things right under the noses of some of the top minds associated with the FBI. And you have to make him into a believable supervillain without making them look like super idiots. What was your philosophy about that?

Bryan Fuller: That was really about representing somebody who, if you look at Hannibal Lecter, he is, beyond the European dandy aesthetic and the accent, you’re essentially dealing with Frasier Crane. It would be like suspecting Kelsey Grammer. Most audiences wouldn’t suspect him of doing horrible things. Frasier Crane is very uptight, very fussy, he wouldn’t dream of doing something terrible, because he’s such a gentleman. That was the idea behind portraying Hannibal Lecter as an idiosyncratic guy, as opposed to somebody who instantly sets off everybody’s alarm bells. Because he doesn’t do anything in front of the other characters that would give him any suspicion. It was about the characters didn’t see him doing anything to give them suspicion, and the actor wasn’t doing anything to invite suspicion, either. The fun of that is going to be more complicated in a second season, where we will be getting closer and closer to the world knowing who Hannibal Lecter is. There’s a few twists and turns coming in that second season, and a couple of surprises that Hannibal has in his back pocket, that will exonerate him at the right moments.

Last one: Lecter insists to Jack, to Alana, to his own therapist, that he considers Will a friend. Yet he’s been setting him up to be his patsy. Is Hannibal Lecter actually capable of feeling an emotional bond like friendship, or does he see all humans just as meat to be used or consumed?

Bryan Fuller: In my mind, everything that he has done to Will – including setting him up to take the fall for the series of murders – is a radically unorthodox form of therapy, that Hannibal Lecter himself believes will allow Will Graham to get closer to his truer self. Whether that maintains itself to be true as the second season goes on and Hannibal is now looking at Will in a different light will be interesting territory to explore, both philosophically for the character, but also dramatically to see the hoops that we’re going to send both Will and Hannibal jumping through. But I do believe that Hannibal’s feelings for Will are sincere, that he does care about Will, but it’s an example of bad parenting, in a way. You can have a bad parent who thinks that something that’s not good for you is good for you based on their philosophy of life. That’s where Hannibal is coming from. Based on his philosophy of life, getting Will to accept the fact that he is a murderer and could take a life will actually help him become a purer human being, in a way. I think that’s where the fun of the argument of whether that is a bunch of hoo-hah or something very basic about human nature and survivalism. Could Will ultimately embrace that? Will Hannibal Lecter be able to convince Will that as an unreliable narrator to his own story, basically, that the time he doesn’t remember, he could have done horrible things? I think there will be an interesting dance around that subject matter, and I’ll be curious to see how Will becomes the manipulator in that dynamic.

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com

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