From showrunner Bryan Fuller, NBC’s Hannibal was truly one of the most creatively artistic shows on TV. Whether it was the chilling Red Dragon storyline, the cat-and-mouse dynamic between Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) and Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), the shocking Season 2 finale where it seemed as though the main cast could all have died at the hands of Hannibal, or the grotesquely crafted meals of Hannibal’s victims, it was always thought provoking, visually stunning and often a bit disturbing.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Mads Mikkelsen talked about his wish to find another way to do a fourth season (since the show was canceled by NBC), how bittersweet it was to think they’d be continuing and then find out they would not be, what he most enjoyed about being a part of the show, the Fannibals, why people were drawn to Dr. Lecter, and what he took home from the set. He also talked about now getting to be a part of the Star Wars franchise with Rogue One and the Marvel cinematic universe with Doctor Strange, and how highly secretive it all is. Be aware that there are some spoilers.
Collider: So good to talk to you about this show. If this is truly the end of the series, it will be sad to see it go, but I am grateful that it got to live as such a true piece of art, in this way.
MADS MIKKELSEN: That’s the way we all feel. If it comes to a point where we actually can make a full season, I think we will all make it happen because we’ve enjoyed it so much. If it doesn’t happen, we are very pleased and proud that NBC chose to air this, in the first place, as it’s a radical show in their world. Both are a win-win, I think.
Would you be game to do a two-hour movie to wrap things up, if that were the only option, or would you prefer a full season?
MIKKELSEN: I think the way that we’ve worked so far has been thriving on the pace that we had. We did not have to tell stories really fast or develop characters really fast. It could have its own pace, and I think that suits the show tremendously. I have a hard time seeing a film that could wrap that up, but never say never. As a magician, [Bryan Fuller] might pull that out of his sleeve.
Did you have conversations with Bryan Fuller about where a fourth season might go, or what you would like to see happen?
MIKKELSEN: Yeah, we touched the subject a few times, but at the time, nothing was finalized. He didn’t dig too deep into it, but he definitely pitched to us how at least the beginning of the season would be.
Has it been bittersweet to get excited about the possibilities, but then not know whether or not it will actually happen?
MIKKELSEN: Absolutely! For all of us, it was a surprise. After Season 1 and Season 2, there was a certain anticipation for not continuing for the next season. But for some reason, with Season 3, we felt we were rolling and that we were unstoppable, and that’s when we were stopped. It came as a surprise to us, actually, quite dramatically.
Looking back at your time on the show, what did you most enjoy about making it, telling this story and embodying this rather unusual character?
MIKKELSEN: Obviously, working with these talent people, from Bryan to all the actors to the art departments and the DPs. It’s been a solid group of enormous talent. When you do a TV show, there’s always the fear that it will become tired and you’ll know exactly what’s going to happen, but it never felt like that. It always felt like there was a surprise in there somewhere. He’s a character I tremendously enjoyed being inside. He was not necessarily completely different from episode to episode, but there was always something that was interesting and new to me, as well. I never grew tired of the character. Spending three years with him has been a fantastic gift. He will never leave me, at least not as an actor.
While the show received critical acclaim and fan praise, it never got huge ratings numbers, but that’s something you have no control over, as an actor. What ultimately makes a project successful for you? Is it how satisfied you are with the work, is it the feedback you hear, or is it something else entirely?
MIKKELSEN: As you say, the ratings were not crazy big. I think they were slightly bigger in Europe. It’s a big puzzle. I don’t understand all these numbers. But having said that, the success for me was that I am very proud of it. I haven’t seen anything on tele that looked like that or felt like that, or where the actors had freedom like that. That made it a big, big success for me. Obviously, we all wanted millions of people to watch it, but if you know how that works and you can tell me exactly what to do, you would be a billionaire. Everybody wants a big crowd. You get amazed sometimes with certain things that millions of people are watching and you go, “Serious?! Really?!” And then, there are things that you really, really enjoy and not a lot of people are watching. It’s very, very hard to predict how it works.
Because you’re not on Twitter and social media, when did you first find out about the Fannibals and what most surprised you about their support?
MIKKELSEN: Through some of the other people. Bryan, especially, was very much into it and would show us little things, so in the very early stage, I got a hunch for what it was. I saw it in reality when we did a comic con once. I was like, “Wow, this is big! These are dedicated people. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Since you were so good and so convincing as Dr. Lecter, do people ever see you on the street, and then back away from you because they’re a little bit afraid, or do you find the fans very embracing?
MIKKELSEN: I think 40 years ago, it would have been a little bit different because people had a tendency to think the actor was their part. I do find people who, all of a sudden, realize who is sitting in the restaurant and the first thing they react on is not necessarily, “There’s that actor,” but it’s, “There’s that killer guy.” But after a couple of seconds, they go, “Oh, no, he’s an actor. That’s right.” If you have been a fan of the show, it is quite intense to watch these characters non-stop for three years, and then see them in real life, for the first time.
Actors who play villains and bad guys always talk about not looking for the evil in their characters, so what good did you find in Hannibal?
MIKKELSEN: To answer your question I can actually ask a question. What is so fascinating about the character? It doesn’t matter who’s played him. There have been four people now playing him, but he’s always been a fascinating character. It’s there. There’s something there that interests us. It’s the dark side of the coin that, like a magnet, pulls us is. It’s something that we’re not allowed to look at, but we’re curious and thinking, “What the fuck is going on?” This character, specifically, has all these crazy manners and taste in life, music and food, and at the same time, he’s quite funny, as well. That combination, I guess, just makes it interesting. Before we know it, we start cheering for him, which would obviously be a disaster in real life, but it’s fantastic in a TV show.
What did you most enjoy about exploring the really deep dynamic and relationship between Hannibal and Will Graham, and working with Hugh Dancy?
MIKKELSEN: In many ways, even though Hannibal somehow has a very big social network, there’s a loneliness to the character. There’s something he’s missing out on. I’m not talking about a wife or a lover, but a soulmate, or someone he can actually reveal himself to. Will Graham was that for him. It was just a matter of time, how long it would take before he could reveal himself. In order to reveal himself, he also had to reveal Will Graham’s character because he is containing things that he doesn’t even know about. That whole back and forth has been absolutely fantastic. Hugh has become one of my very, very, very good friends. We knew each other from before, but it’s been so intense to spend three seasons together. I was there when he had his first little baby. It’s been a fantastic journey. We were just very, very lucky that we ended up with each other. Imagine if we had ended up with someone we didn’t like.
Do you have a favorite scene or moment from the show, or is it more about the overall experience for you?
MIKKELSEN: There are so many fantastic scenes. I tremendously enjoyed all of the scenes with Laurence [Fishburne], as well. All of these characters played a vital part in giving my character nuances. Hannibal was just slightly different with each individual, so that showed different sides of him. You always wondered if he was playing, acting or lying, but it turned out that he was honest with everyone. It was just different sides of him. It was tremendous to work with Laurence and Gillian Anderson, and everybody else, as well. I actually have two favorite sequences. When you see the show, you get amazed with the aftermath of the beauty of the show and go, “Wow, I never saw that coming.” I remember when Will Graham was in jail and Alana Bloom was visiting him, at one point, and she leaned in, almost like a dream sequence, to kiss him and she morphed into this creature. That was so over-the-top, but also so beautiful. It’s one of my favorite moments in the show. For one that I’m in, there’s the finale of the second season when Hannibal cleans up and is killing everyone. That was a very emotional scene for all of the characters, including Hannibal, and I thought it was a fantastic balance between the monster and the man with empathy, at the same time, doing this. That was some tough days, but I thought it played out really fantastic, in those last 10 minutes of the show.
Did you take anything from the set, as a memento, or do you not do that?
MIKKELSEN: I try to steal something, every time I do something. In this case, I stole one of the very beautiful suits. I stole a grey and red suit. And after a week, I got a phone call because the production really wanted to give me one of the suits as a gift and they asked me which one I would like. I said, “The grey and red one,” and they said, “We’ll send it to you.” I said, “That’s okay, I already have it.” So, that turned out really well. I didn’t turn out to be a thief.
Now, you’re also a part of the Star Wars universe, which is ridiculously awesome. Have you had a moment to soak all of that in? Is it surreal to be on a set like that?
MIKKELSEN: Not really. It doesn’t feel that weird or surprising, at all. For most actors, it is part of our jobs. We know it exists. We also know what a film set looks like, what we build, and what’s the cheating part and what’s not the cheating part. The big starstruck thing for a lot of actors is when they meet something that they’re not a part of, like a soccer player or a basketball player. That becomes unreal to us because that’s not our job. Having said that, you also have to lean back, once in awhile, when you come to an amazing, big set like the Star Wars films, for instance. You have to lean back and enjoy being 15 years old, for at least a couple of minutes, and then start working after that. If you can’t enjoy the magnitude of some of these things, it’s sad.
Were you a fan, as a kid, and did you own any of the toys, or are you new to the franchise?
MIKKELSEN: I’m one of the new ones to the whole franchise. But it’s so big that you can’t avoid it, even if you don’t watch the films non-stop, because everybody else is talking about it. So, I knew a fair bit, but not as much as the ones that are dedicated.
What can you tease about who you play in Rogue One?
MIKKELSEN: I’m sworn [to secrecy]. There is nothing I can tell you, even though I would love to.
With Doctor Strange, did they tell you about the role that you would be playing prior to being cast, or did you sign on because you wanted to be a part of the Marvel universe?
MIKKELSEN: The director, Scott [Derrickson] pitched it to me. We had a nice meeting. It’s still one of those crazy secret things, but he definitely pitched it to me, which was nice. It should be like that. Actors are very good at not revealing anything, so they’re safe.
What was it about that world, that cast and the character that you’re playing that most appealed to you?
MIKKELSEN: If I do say what it was, then I’ll be revealing something. But, the cast is quite amazing. I can’t wait to start working with these guys. I’ve only done rehearsals, so far. One of these days, I’ll have my first shooting day. But, it looks like it’s off to a good start.
Hannibal Season 3 is available on Blu-ray/DVD on December 8th.