After the shocking events of the Season 2 finale, that left the fans and characters reeling, the dark and haunting NBC series Hannibal is back for its third highly anticipated season. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) is on the run in Europe with his psychiatrist, Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier (Gillian Anderson), and although he has a new identity, he is still the same very dangerous man. And as the lives of Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) and Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas) lead them on the path toward Hannibal again, you will learn that each of them have their own motivations to catch him, once and for all.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, showrunner Bryan Fuller talked about making a grand departure away from the FBI and any of the constraints of the crime procedural storytelling, where the relationship between Will and Hannibal is, what domestic life looks like for Hannibal and Bedelia at this point, digging into Hannibal’s past with Chiyo, why Will is drawn to Molly, Francis Dolarhyde (a serial killer in the second half of the season, who Will is called in to pursue) and the Red Dragon story arc, and the tremendous performance that Richard Armitage gives in the role. Also, that where the story will go next could make an amazing psychological thriller, what happens if they don’t get a Season 4, and their hopes for this year’s Comic-Con. Be aware that there are spoilers.
Collider: How closely did this season play out to how you envisioned it would?
BRYAN FULLER: It was still very close to the intention of the third season, which was always to make a grand departure away from the FBI and any of the constraints of the crime procedural storytelling, so that we could set out into new territory and we could tell a different sort of television serial with much more emphasis on character than solving crimes. I’m very happy with the first seven episodes, and am excited that it is such a clean departure away from what we’d been doing in the first two years. In a sense, I miss the tableaus of the crime scenes that we had a lot of fun with, in the first two seasons, but I wouldn’t trade those for the level of character storytelling that we’ve been able to do in the first seven episodes. There’s an even bigger shift planned, if there is a Season 4, where it really goes crazy.
It felt like Season 1 eased people into what this show would be, and then you pushed that boundary even further for Season 2. How far will Season 3 go?
FULLER: It gets pretty wacky. The fun of it is being able to break the show into two chapters, so that there’s no treading of water in the storytelling. We get to have two climaxes, and we don’t really waste any time on tangents. By the time we get into Episodes 6 and 7, in this chapter, it’s so bonkers and deviant, and yet you’re still rooting for the friendship of Will Graham and Hannibal, or ‘shipping them, as it were. And so many other twists and turns have been happening with other characters in the piece that it was exciting to see not only the Will and Hannibal story take new turns, but for the other characters in the show to have such radical changes to who they were in the first two seasons. Anybody who survived the Red Dinner is coming out the other side a different person because all that blood spilled was baptismal.
Are you worried, at all, about how fans will react to Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter being as separated as long as they will be?
FULLER: I’m not so much worried about it, as it felt necessary to give them both their time, after a very bad break-up, to reasses themselves. Anyone would give the advice to a friend who’s had that kind of destructive relationship crash and burn, that you do have to take a moment to recalibrate to your own self, before you can reapproach that person who hurt you so thoroughly. Both Hannibal and Will have hurt each other in incredible ways, and yet somehow come out the other side with a great mysterious love.
How does Will view their relationship, at this point, versus how Hannibal view it?
FULLER: If the first season was the bromance, and the second season was the ugly break-up, the third season is, how do you function, knowing that person is still in the world and you have to deal with your own feelings and their feelings, and come to a conclusion for that relationship that is beyond a break-up.
Now that the characters know what the audience has always known about Hannibal, that has to affect that character dynamic.
FULLER: Right, exactly! There is an openness to the conversations now and a fun, particularly with Bedelia and Hannibal because Bedelia will always be Hannibal’s therapist, in a major way. Her fascination with him, clinically, has spilled over to her personal fascination with him, yet we want to make sure that Bedelia is a strong character who’s at the center of her own story and driving her own story, and not just there as a reactionary piece, even though that occasionally happens because she is in the therapist’s chair.
What made you want to explore what domestic life would look like between Hannibal and Bedelia?
FULLER: Really, it was the chemistry between Mads [Mikkelsen] and Gillian [Anderson], which is so infectious and so inspirational. Watching those two actors on screen is an inspiration for me, as a writer, so how do I get to dig deep into what is happening between them and really tell a story about two adults and a complicated relationship, and keep it as emotionally honest as possible, given the circumstances that we’re talking about is a cannibalistic serial killer and his therapist. So, I have to give most, if not all, of the credit to Mads and Gillian.
How desperate is Will, in his search for Hannibal?
FULLER: You will find, in the subsequent episodes, that he’s not quite as lost as he seems. He does have his own bearings, and he does have his own agenda. It’s not just about a reconciliation. It’s about finding a way to resolve his relationship with Hannibal, in a way that’s going to allow him to move on with his life.
Does he dig into Hannibal’s past, as part of that attempt to find resolution?
FULLER: Yes. For Will, it’s a need to understand who Hannibal has been to better understand who Hannibal is and more effectively track him down.
You originally wanted to use the Lady Murasaki character, but then decided to go with Chiyo instead. How difficult was that decision?
FULLER: It was difficult. We had been going through the casting process and looking for an age appropriate actress for the role, and we weren’t finding the right chemical combination for someone to play off of Mads. As we looked deeper at the story that we were telling and this arc, it felt like a more mature, sophisticated woman wouldn’t put up with the level of bullshit that was necessary for the story. So, shifting Murasaki into Chiyo actually allowed us to better illustrate the surrogates that Hannibal has sought out for Mischa. Whether it be Miriam Lass or Abigail Hobbs or Chiyo, there’s always been a Mischa in his life, in one way or another.
How will the dynamic between Chiyo and Will be different from the dynamic between Molly and Will?
FULLER: Both Will and Chiyo have a tremendous amount of pain in their lives. When we meet Molly, she is a much lighter human being. She is someone who is very resilient and very likeable, and we see her make Will Graham laugh. In watching those scenes, where she’s cracking Will up and he’s so enjoying her as a human being, you understand that this is the light and the life that Will went to, and you understand why their relationship works. He’s with her and he’s giggling, and there’s a levity to him that you have never seen before, in the series. So, in that moment, you really get a clear picture of their relationship and the escape from himself that she provides.
We see Will Graham in Episode 2, but at what point will we learn what has happened to Jack Crawford and Alana Bloom?
FULLER: In Episode 4. The first four episodes tell a complete story. It felt like it was a narrative choice to begin this season as we left it, with Hannibal and Bedelia, and you can also feel the want and the yearning that Hannibal has for Will and his life, while still telling a story that is primarily about his relationship now with Dr. Du Maurier. The first episode is a little bit of The Talented Mr. Ripley. And the second episode is a little bit of Don’t Look Now, with someone dealing with grief, in a really difficult way, and being haunted by the loss of someone very important to them. When we get to our third episode, there’s this fun shift, almost into Hammer horror with the haunted castle and the keeper of the grounds and what secrets she may keep from Hannibal’s past. Will will be able to uncover them, in some way that allows him to better understand who Hannibal is. So, we really set out, not in terms of what the arc of these stories would be, but in keeping a consistency in the style. Each and every one of the first seven episodes is a movie paradigm for us. They all have a different feel, and I love that. I love that they all feel so different, yet are connected and have a consistency of tone and tale that makes them cohesive in a way where they could be disjointed, if we weren’t paying attention.
Francis Dolarhyde will also be making an appearance, this season, played by the terrific Richard Armitage.
FULLER: Oh, my gosh, he’s so good!
How will who he is compare to what we’ve seen from Hannibal?
FULLER: It’s a really interesting triangle. As always, everything has to come back to the Hannibal-Will relationship, but now they’re triangulated with this new person in their lives, and one that serves as a surrogate for the other gentleman in Will and Hannibal’s relationship. For Will, Dolarhyde is a bit of a Hannibal Lecter that he might be able to save, in a way that he couldn’t save Hannibal Lecter. And for Hannibal, Dolarhyde is a version of Will Graham that he may be able to corrupt, in a way that he couldn’t corrupt Will. So, each of them is getting a new perspective out of this new person in the thrupple. It’s a Dolarhyde-Hannibal-Will Graham thrupple.
Is that a story that we’ll see a conclusion to, this season, or is this only the beginning of that character?
FULLER: We will tell the complete Red Dragon story, this season.
Do you really have a scene, this season, that was so gruesome that you freaked your own crew out?
FULLER: Oh, yeah. The gasps that we had to carve out of the audio track was the biggest reaction that we’ve ever had. It’s an interesting dilemma. That’s in Episode 12, and there’s so much great stuff. It’s part of the Red Dragon story, so there is stuff that will be familiar to the audience, but once again, we take a different approach to it. So, even though it’s familiar, there is a change-up in how we’re telling that story. We’ll keep the audience on its toes and give them something that they can both predict and not predict.
Do you ever worry about not being able to get away with something you want to do on the show, or do you feel like all bets are off, this deep into the story?
FULLER: I have a great relationship with Joanna Jameson, who is our Standards and Practices executive at NBC. I adore that woman, and she has been so good to the show and so supportive. I work with her. I call her up and I say, “We have this scene coming and I know it’s going to push boundaries. Just let me know where we cross the line and guide us back behind the line.” She doesn’t set the rules. She has to enforce them. And we live in a country that has some really strange ideas about horrible, violent things with the human body being okay, but beautiful, loving things being not okay. That’s America’s problem. That’s not NBC’s problem. So, they’ve been such incredible partners. No other broadcast network would allow this show to exist, except NBC. Jen Salke at NBC, in particular, has been such a champion of this show. I would encourage anybody who has half the chance to work with her, to work with her because she really does keep her word and she is a great partner. This show is this show because of her support of this show.
The dynamic between Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen is so strong. How hard was it to find who you wanted to stand with them, for Francis Dolarhyde?
FULLER: I have mutual friends of Richard Armitage’s for years, and our paths kept getting close, but not crossing. All of our friends were like, “Oh, my god, you have to meet this guy! He’s such a great actor and a great human being.” So, he’s always been at the back of my mind as somebody I really wanted to work with. And then, when we were talking about this role, for me, this role had always belonged to Lee Pace, in my mind. When Lee wasn’t available, I thought, “Okay, now is the time to work with Richard Armitage.” Fortunately, he was interested and ready, willing, able and excited, and we got the best guy for this. I had been talking to Lee about this role for two or three years, and was dastardly poking needles into my Halt and Catch Fire voodoo doll, so that he would be available to do it. And, he wasn’t. I think that was great fortune for us because Richard has gone above and beyond my expectations. He’s this horrible murderer of families, and yet is incredibly heartbreaking in the role. I’ve been cutting scenes with him and we were watching a scene, and the editor and myself were both surreptitiously wiping tears out of the corners of our eyes because he is heartbreaking and soul-stirring and mad. He’s this poor, tortured, mad man. Now, after working with Richard, I can’t imagine anybody else doing it. He is so pitch perfect that it’s a coup. He rejuvenated the post-team. Everybody has been like, “Oh, my god, this guy is amazing in this role!” It’s a wonderful shot in the arm, and a great boost of energy. He is a lead in six episodes of the series, and holds as much screen time as Mads and Hugh. It really does become the thrupple.
After having one of the best season finales on television, with last season’s finale, how will the Season 3 finale compare? Will you leave us with such a big cliffhanger again, or will we feel more of a resolution to the season’s overall story, by the end of this season?
FULLER: Yes is the answer to that. There will be a cliffhanger, and there will be resolution. The thing about the Season 2 finale was that there was so much to be harvested from the first two seasons, in terms of Abigail still being out there with no body. The intention was always to bring her back and keep her integral to the story. Also, there was the heartbreak of the betrayal of Hannibal and Will’s friendship. I look at the emotional impact of that Season 2 finale and my instinct was not even to try to top it, but to tell the best finale that we could for this season, that took the characters to the next emotional level. Also, as you get into the Red Dragon arc, we’re telling a very specific story for Will and the realization of his relationship with Hannibal, and that only has so many ways that it can resolve.
Do you have a pretty well thought out plan for Season 4 already?
FULLER: Oh, yes. If we don’t get another season, it would make a great movie. It’s such a wonderful, contained story that launches out of the Season 3 finale. Once again, it redefines everybody and recontextualizes them in a brand new way, that you haven’t seen in the first three seasons. It feels like it’s an evolution of the story that we’re telling, as well as a radical step in a new direction.
Clearly, you’re not done telling this story yet. Three seasons deep into this story, do you have a contingency plan in place for finishing the story, if something does happen to the show, before you’re done telling it?
FULLER: It would be about trying to tell it as a movie. There’s a version of the Season 4 story that would make an amazing psychological thriller.
What are you most proud of, when it comes to what you’ve been able to do with this show, so far?
FULLER: I’m most proud of the cast that we’ve assembled. They’re incredible. I look at this show and I see the faces of the people who elevate what’s on the page to unanticipatable places. They’re pretty great. There is an episode coming up in the second half of the season where we’ve got Hugh Dancy, Mads Mikkelsen, Laurence Fishburne, Caroline Dhavernas, Gillian Anderson, Zach Quinto, Richard Armitage and Rutina Wesley. I was like, “This cast is sick!” So, that’s been the biggest bonus of the show. The caliber of cast that we’ve been working with is pretty fantastic.
Have fans ever impacted or influenced the writing process, as well? Do you ever listen to what they’re saying?
FULLER: Oh, yeah, I absolutely listen to the fan reaction. After some of the criticism of Alana Bloom’s character in the second season, I really wanted to make sure that the story that we told for her in the third season is not just subjugating her to the girlfriend role. So, I do listen. When it’s a good idea, I’ll take it. When it’s not, I’ll ignore it.
You have such an unbelievably devoted fan base for this show. What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen, either in the merchandise for the fans or from things you’ve been given by the fans?
FULLER: I don’t know that I would quantify it as crazy, as they absolutely are wonderful, ambitious and enthusiastic, in a way that I absolutely relate to. Really, the art that has been generated has been so stunning. The gifts that I’ve gotten over the last three years, whether it’s handmade dolls, action figures, toilet seats or aprons, it’s pieces of how they see the show and it is very unique, in a big way. I feel like they are peers who are inspired by the Thomas Harris novels, in a way that is not dissimilar from how I’ve been inspired by the Thomas Harris novels. We are all expressing ourselves creatively, in that fandom. So, I see them as my peers and my pals, and I share their enthusiasm. This show is a pretentious art piece, and I love pretension. I love that we are heightened and stylized in a way that gives the audience permission to also express themselves as artistically as the show is expressing itself. It feels very communal, in a wonderful way.
Will you be taking the show to Comic-Con, this year?
FULLER: That’s the plan. We’ll only be half-way through airing this season when we’re at Comic-Con. The hope is to sneak the first episode of the Red Dragon arc at a screening. We’re trying to figure out if we can afford to do that.
Hannibal airs on Thursday nights on NBC. Click here for all our coverage including episode recaps and more.