The twistedly haunting, creepy and unexpected NBC series Hannibal is one of the best shows currently on television. With shocking revelations, psychological cat-and-mouse games, and intricately detailed murders, it certainly stays with you, long after it airs. From show creator Bryan Fuller, the series stars Hugh Dancy, Mads Mikkelsen, Laurence Fishburne, Caroline Dhavernas, Scott Thompson, Aaron Abrams and Laura Jean Chorostecki.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, the show’s grand master Bryan Fuller talked about where the relationship between Will Graham (Dancy) and Hannibal Lecter (Mikkelsen) is headed, how Hannibal pulls off all of his murders with no one being able to prove it, finding the right time to refer to him as “Hannibal the Cannibal,” deciding who would be the first of the team to get murdered and why, how much they’ve had to edit for the network and the censors, the evolution of the relationship between Hannibal and Alana Bloom (Dhavernas), the big showdown between Jack Crawford (Fishburne) and Hannibal, the approach to Mason (Michael Pitt) and Margo Verger (Katherine Isabelle), how excited he is to introduce Lady Murasaki in Season 3, the chances of NBC ordering a third season, and what the international ratings are like. Check out what he had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
Collider: Now that Will is free again, and he knows who and what Hannibal is, and Hannibal knows that he can’t change Will’s mind anymore, especially with Will’s attempt on his life, where can that relationship go?
BRYAN FULLER: Oh, my god, so many places! The fun is that, now that Will is been free from incarceration and has been exonerated and is out in the world, he’s still the one guy who knows, without a shadow of doubt, that Hannibal Lecter is guilty. Now, their relationship is actually more honest and genuine that it ever has been before because everybody’s cards are on the table. The clarity of their friendship now is unique. Previously, we had seen Hannibal deceiving Will, and we saw, at the beginning of this season, Will deceiving Hannibal, and Will is continuing to play a game with Hannibal. It is very much a cat-and-cat game, at this point. But, Will has to have some honesty and genuine curiosity for what Hannibal has done to him and who Hannibal is and how Hannibal thinks. That is the new level of their friendship, that we get to play in the back half of the season, in a way that we haven’t been able to play before ‘cause there’s always been some level of gamesmanship. There still is, but the honesty in which they’re dealing with each other is at a much higher level than it has ever been before.
When you do a show like this, where you’re really essentially dealing with a cast of characters that are highly intelligent people, do you constantly have to think about how far you can believably go and how much you can believably have Hannibal do and get away with, without getting caught and without making the other characters seem stupid or crazy?
FULLER: Yeah, we’re very much concerned about that. The interesting thing about the show is that the hardest thing to navigate is what Jack believes and what Jack doesn’t believe. As far as what Hannibal is capable of, we’ve had a lot of connective scenes. For instance, we had Hannibal going into his basement and going out a secret door into the steam tunnels of Baltimore, which are actually fairly intricate and spread throughout the entire city, to tell the audience, “This is how Hannibal moves around. This is a glimpse of how he works and moves around without anybody ever seeing him.” We even had a scene that we shot, that will be included on the DVD, of Zeller and Price going to pick up Hannibal at his house, just after he’s framed Chilton. It was this elaborate sequence where, right before he goes over to Chilton’s house, he’s preparing a roast and sticks it in the oven, and then goes to business, puts on his plastic suit and has fun, and then comes back to pull the meat out of the oven, just as Zeller and Price are ding-donging on the door and saying, “We need to take you in.” But, we cut it because the episode was too long.
And then, we also cut the steam tunnel shots because we couldn’t produce them on our schedule. So, with the Hannibal stuff, I always imagine that he is doing the work that he needs to do, to accomplish these things, but what we’re not seeing is him hiring the movers to take the big slides of Beverly Katz to the observatory, and then killing and eating the movers. We don’t see those scenes, but in my mind, I can imagine them taking place in extreme conditions, in order to maintain a reality. In removing some of that “shoe leather” from the narrative, it does give Hannibal the appearance of even more superhuman abilities than what we’re imagining. So, I get where certain members of the audience would be like, “Hey, how’d he do that?,” and my answer would be, “Well, there was a series of events that he was able to do, over the course of the evening, to accomplish that.” But, that’s not as much fun to lay out. We get a little bit of our cake and eat it too, with regard to how exactly he accomplishes all of this, but we do have an idea of how he would accomplish it, if the parameters of reality were in play.
Much like it seems a lot of thought went into showing the face mask on willing and finding the right face mask, did a lot of thought go into the right moment to call him “Hannibal the Cannibal”?
FULLER: Actually, when I was doing a polish of that script, I was like, “This feels like the episode where everything is really coming to the fore. Will had said that Hannibal is a cannibal and has planted that seed with everyone, and it just became about who’s mouth those words could come out of, to have the best effect. If it were Will, it could disrupt the tone of his brooding piece. Jack’s not necessarily the right guy, either. What I love about Jack, and how Laurence plays Jack, is that he is listening to everybody and not committing to anyone’s point of view, which gives him this wily quality. But, it felt like Chilton should say it because he has that sense of absurdity to him and I thought it would be more fun to hear him say it. So, it wasn’t necessarily planned during that episode. It was something I added during the polish of that script. I just thought, “Now is the time.” I didn’t pre-plan it as much as wondering, “What is this scene about? Oh, wouldn’t that be interesting, if this is where that happened?”
How did you decide that Beverly Katz would be the first one of this team to be murdered, and was there a process for deciding how it would happen?
FULLER: I love the visual effect. It was very tricky. We were originally going to kill Beverly in the first season, and it was originally going to be her ear that Will vomited. Then, it became, “Well, we haven’t really done enough with the character, and also, we like the character, so why don’t we just do that with Abigail and keep Beverly around.” And then, as we were going into Season 2, we were originally going to have Hettienne [Park] for 10 episodes, but then after various negotiations, we got her for five. So, I thought, “If we have the character for five episodes, let’s make her great, and then kill her off. It will set into motion all of these events.” It was something that actually went into the pre-planning of Season 2. As we were looking at all of the contract negotiations that take place, it’s constantly a push-pull of how many episodes you can have. So, when we found out the number of episodes we’d get with Hettienne, we wanted to make the most of them.
What was her reaction to how her character would go out?
FULLER: Well, in the very first meeting with Hettienne in Season 1, I was like, “You’re not long for this world. We’re going to have a great time with you, and then you’re going to go away, and it will be this big, impactful moment.” We’ve seen the reactions online, because she was a beloved character and a great element to the show, it was a very hard decision, but we needed it to happen to our protagonist, in order for the story to take shifts and for our protagonist to take shifts. There were a lot of misogyny accusations, and people saying, “You just did this for man pain.” And it was like, “Well, actually, what we did it for was protagonist pain.” That’s what happens in storytelling. If it didn’t hurt, it wouldn’t have been effective. And as you see how the season develops, you’ll understand how so much is going to be happening before the end of the season, and that we had to have casualties. We also had to remind the audience that Hannibal Lecter is a bad guy. Up until that point, it was very easy to sympathize with the people that he kills because they’re either rude or threatening to expose him, in some fashion. When he takes a member of the family, you’re reminded that he is a very bad man. It should be confusing to sympathize with him.
Did you also know that Miriam (Anna Chlumsky) wasn’t dead and would return to the story, at some point?
FULLER: I knew. Before Anna shot a word, and before she was even on stage, in wardrobe, I told her that we were going to bring the character back and that she was going to still be alive, and that she was going to be part of what exonerates Hannibal Lecter, when all fingers point his way. It just became about figuring out the schedule, after that point. We originally thought about playing that card at the end of Season 1, and stacking all of the cliffhangers. But because Anna is committed to Veep, we could only have her for one episode and it was going to be impossible to schedule because of filming concurrently. We only were able to pull it off because Anna agreed to shoot it during her Christmas vacation, two days before she returned to Veep production. We’re so lucky that she was so game and wanted to come back to reprise the role. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have happened, and it was something that I very much wanted to happen, ever since I saw her audition and thought, “We can’t kill her. We have to do more.” And so, that was in the works for awhile. We knew absolutely from the very first episode that we saw her in that she was going to return.
Because this show seems like it would be a scheduling nightmare for the actors you’re working with, how much changed from what you originally thought you’d do in Season 2 to what you’re actually doing?
FULLER: We would have loved to have seen a lot more of Bedelia Du Maurier, over the course of the second season, but Gillian is doing not only Crisis but The Fall for the UK. So, that became about scheduling. There is no such thing as too much Gillian Anderson. That was another instance where Gillian, who was committed to these other projects, was absolutely also committed to Hannibal. We would talk to each other and she would say, “Okay, I have this date here. Can you film something then?” And I’d be like, “Okay, we can do that, and we’ll write this for you.” It really was catch as catch can with some of the characters because of actor availability. It was challenging, but with the exception of more Bedelia Du Maurier, we pretty much got as much of everyone else as we wanted and needed. Raúl [Esparza] was filming SVU, and he would finish shooting on one nigh, go to the airport, get on a plane, and be shooting the next day on Hannibal. It was only possible because of the dedication of the actors who were working with us, and their willingness to twist their schedules into pretzels to accommodate Hannibal.
With things being more gruesome this season, have you had to edit anything for the network or the censors, or are you surprised by the level of gruesomeness you’re getting away with?
FULLER: I am both surprised and also impressed. For instance, in the second episode when Ryan Field tears himself out of the human mural, seeing that was a very surreal experience and kind of out of body, in some way. I was watching it and was horrified by what I was seeing, and yet I accepted it as the reality that I was being presented. I expected Standards and Practices to pull us back from it, but we had removed a couple of flesh tearing shots before the version that has aired. It’s a tonnage issue. So, even though we had removed some of the shots, there was still the big one left and I thought we were going to get dinged on that because I was cringing and I wrote it. It was pretty impressive that we did actually get to air it. There were some things later in the season where they were like, “Okay, we need to pull back on that.” It’s all reasonable stuff. We’re lucky to be working with a Standards and Practices executive who works with us and says, “You can’t do this, but you can do this. You can’t show that, but here’s a way that you could possibly solve it.” She will cooperate with us, and it is very helpful.
When I spoke to you during Season 1, you had said that you were absolutely going to go there, as far as Dr. Lecter having romantic relationships. At what point did you decide to have something evolve between Hannibal and Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas)?
FULLER: That was in the plans, early on. Even in the first season, when he brewed people beer for her, he was very much flirting with her and had said, “Why didn’t we have an affair in the past?” So, we knew that there was a connection between them, and that they had known each other longer than any of the other characters on the show. It felt like a great opportunity for Will to see this woman that is as empathetic with him, as he is with the world. And then, when her perception of Will is lost to her, because the man that she had been defending as not being able to hurt anybody turned out to be as ruthless as the killers he seeks, that forever closed the door, in her mind, on that relationship. It felt like it was an honest thing for these two people who both suffered a loss to turn to each other, in that moment. And it felt like it was something that was genuine and human and natural in those circumstances, as opposed to a simple plot contrivance. Of course, anything that happens on any show is a plot contrivance because that’s just storytelling, but it felt like it was earned for us.
What went into the decision to start off the season with the big showdown between Jack and Hannibal? Did you ever think about holding off on that, until the point that it would happen in the timeline of the show, or did you always want to start with that and then come back to it?
FULLER: I was like, “I know how Season 2 is going to end. It’s going to be this big fight with Jack Crawford, and then there will be all of these other things with other people.” I just kept thinking about that fight and about how I couldn’t wait to see it. So, I thought, “Let’s just see it now, and then it will cast a shadow over all of the events to come, in the season, and also let the audience know that Jack is going to figure it out. It will be epic.” That fight sequence is the beginning of several shocking things, so I felt like it was okay to give that up early. There was so much more to come that it felt like the right thing to do, and also an exciting thing to do. For me, personally, it was just a selfish thing to do because I couldn’t wait to see it.
How did you approach Mason and Margot Verger? Did you want to make them feel familiar to people who know who they are, but also different because this is a different version?
FULLER: Absolutely! Looking at the novel Hannibal and looking at the relationship between Margot and Mason, it is very complicated and fascinating, but is also very, very creepy and very, very dark. He is a guy who repeatedly raped his sister and anybody else he could get his hands on, and I just didn’t want to do a rape story. In the book, Margot is a lesbian character, but it’s not clear if she is transgendered, or if she is just so pumped full of steroids and hormones that she’s become more masculine in her appearance. So, what I didn’t want to do is say that being transgendered or being gay is a direct result of horrific sexual trauma, because it’s not. I think being transgendered and being homosexual are natural things that occur in the creation of biological beings. There is something magical and boggling, at the same time, to consider being in the wrong body, and having the ability through science to get the right body and synchronize yourself so that who you are on the inside is consistent with who you are on the outside. Those are fascinating things, and normal, healthy, human things. So, I felt like it would do a disservice to many people who are transgendered or homosexual to suggest that bad things happen because of that. That’s not a message that I want to get behind. So, it really was about taking pieces of the story and taking pieces of what happened in the books and reimagining them in a configuration that fit a narrative that included Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham in a story where they are intricately woven into the lives of Mason and Margot, in a very specific way, so that it felt justified to make a meal of them as characters on the show.
Was it crucially important to find actors who would bring what you wanted to those roles?
FULLER: Yeah. What was great about working with Katie Isabelle again, after working with her 10 years ago on the remake of Carrie for NBC, was that she brings this Hitchcock-ian heroine element to the character. That was really enjoyable to see. She’s a brunette Hitchcock blonde. That was how we saw her. She’s not necessarily a femme fatale, but a woman who was the victim of her brother’s sadism, that was not sexual sadism, and that she has had enough of it and has taken things into her own hands and is not embracing being the victim. When we first find her in therapy with Dr. Lecter, it’s because she’s tried to kill her brother. That sets off a different series of events. In the book, when she first goes into therapy with Hannibal Lecter, it’s because she’s been repeatedly raped by her brother, but this version is her wanting to kill him for the sadism that he not only inflicts on her, but on the world. What’s that like to want to take the life of your brother, and actually be justified, in some sense? That was an interesting story to tell with her character because it does become about family, in very specific ways. And how that relates to Will and Hannibal is also intriguing.
And why did you want Michael Pitt for Mason Verger?
FULLER: When Michael Pitt’s name came up, I was like, “That’s perfect!” I knew that he could play a villain, and I knew that he could do wit. Mason Verger is a terrible sadist, but we also needed him to be fun to watch and have a likeability to him. He’s a terrible human being, but he has a good time. It’s hard to hate him, through and through, because there is very much an element of Joker. We talked about Mason Verger absolutely being The Joker to Hannibal’s Batman, in many regards, and I feel like Michael Pitt has captured that wonderfully.
Are there any other characters from this world that you have plans for and are excited about bringing into the story, at some point?
FULLER: I’m very excited about Lady Murasaki in Season 3. We will hopefully be seeing one or both of Lady Murasaki and Uncle Robertus in Season 3. What they bring to the story that’s new is that they’ve known Hannibal his whole life. Do they know what he is? Do they know what he does? I’m excited at the prospect of folding family into the Hannibal omelet, as well.
What happens if NBC doesn’t pick up the show for a third season? Is there a Plan B, if that happens before you’re done telling the story?
FULLER: Yes. NBC has been very positive, and I think there are great factions at NBC who are very invested in the show and very much want it to come back and see it as an NBC show and are very proud of it. And then, there are other factions who are like, “The ratings aren’t strong enough.” That is the reality of network television. So, I think if we don’t come back on NBC, it is not for the lack of many, many people at that network trying to bring us back. They are very vocally supportive of the show, and sometimes they just have to convince others that it’s worth the gamble on the third season. But, you never know who’s going to win that tug of war between the ratings and the creative support.
FULLER: It’s interesting because it varies on territory. We do really well in some territories, and we don’t do well in other territories. For instance, Italy didn’t even pick up Season 2, at all, because Season 1 didn’t perform to their liking. I don’t think Season 2 is showing in Italy, at all. But, there are other territories where it does very well. We certainly do well in Asian markets and certain European markets. But, it is a niche show. It’s such a strange thing because it is this poetic meditation on death, in various ways, and it’s not terribly literal. It’s literary, but not literal or reality-based. I came from a household where, if it wasn’t real, it was stupid. Science fiction was stupid, and fantasy was stupid, so you can imagine my frustration. And I think there are a lot of audience members like that, where it has to be grounded in reality and it has to be accessible, in that way, and we are frequently heightened and we are frequently dipping into the fantastical. It really is an alchemy of the tone. It’s not for everyone. I love it. I love the show, and I love the character. I think Mads Mikkelsen has redefined the character, in many ways. Anthony Hopkins is so brilliant and so iconic, and will forever be Hannibal Lecter in many people’s minds, but I’m so proud of what Mads has done with the role, in making it his own. And that’s not to even mention Brian Cox, who I thought was wonderful in Manhunter.
Hannibal airs on Friday nights on NBC.