The twistedly haunting, creepy and unexpected NBC series Hannibal has returned for its second season, with more shocking revelations and psychological cat-and-mouse games. Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) is locked in a mental asylum, accused of Dr. Hannibal Lecter’s (Mads Mikkelsen) crimes and fighting to prove his own sanity while convincing those closest to him he is innocent of murder. From show creator Bryan Fuller, the series also stars Laurence Fishburne, Caroline Dhavernas, Hettiene Park, Scott Thompson, Aaron Abrams and Laura Jean Chorostecki.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, executive producer Bryan Fuller talked about the pressure of making the show worthwhile for the audience, making sure they do the best version of the show that they possibly can, why he focuses more on where they ended up with Season 1, instead of all the points along the way, pushing the boundaries even further this season, when they’ll return to the shocking opening scene, that they’ll be killing off some characters this season, playing with the change in position between Will Graham and Hannibal, creating their own face mask, having such great guest stars, and whether he’s had any luck in getting David Bowie on the show. Check out what he had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
Collider: After you had such a strong first season and proved that you really can have cable-quality programming on network television, did you feel like you wanted to surpass that for Season 2? Do you always put that pressure on yourself, to up the quality?
BRYAN FULLER: Yeah, I think the pressure is always there. I probably put more pressure on myself than the network or the studio possibly could, just because I have a great fear of mediocrity. If I’m going to do something, and I’m asking you for an hour of your time, I want to make sure that I’m making it worth your while. I feel like my first responsibility is to the actors. They’re giving me their faces and their talent to play with. I also feel responsible to the audience. I’m a big fan of television and movies, in general, so I understand the passion that we have, as the audience. It’s a special relationship. So, I don’t want to waste anybody’s time. I want to make it worth their while.
Because this show is a bit existential and often quite creepy, were you worried that people wouldn’t connect with or get what you were trying to do?
FULLER: I wasn’t really worried about it because I just felt like, “Okay, this is the show that we have to do, and we have to be honest with the show and to the spirit of Thomas Harris.” It was about telling the best story that I knew how to do. So, I wasn’t worried about whether people got it until later. In the second season, you’re working on it and you’re so immersed in it. You’re fighting all of these battles to make it the best it can possibly be. And then, you stop and wonder whether you were successful at it, or if you were able to carry it off. You want to keep the audience as excited and as engaged as you want to be when you go see a movie. I love showing up for a movie and getting the movie that I expected. So, I wanted people to show up and get what they were expecting, and a little bit more. There have been five movies, and there have been so many different interpretations that I thought, “If we’re going to do Hannibal again, we have to do it as well as we possibly can.” Whether we’re successful at that is up to the audience to tell us, but we just have to try our best.
FULLER: There’s minutiae where I think, “I wish we didn’t do that story. I wish we had done a different story instead.” Particularly early on in the season, there were things where I was like, “I wish I knew then what I know now. I would have changed that, and not done it that way.” I mostly concentrate on where we ended up. There is a danger in living in the frustration of what we weren’t able to do. You hear certain arts say, “I have absolutely no regrets,” and I’m like, “Oh, my god, I’m riddled with regrets. I don’t know how you get by.” It’s that internalized pressure of just wanting it to be as good as it can possibly be.
The first two episodes of Season 2 are more gruesome than anything you had last season. Did you use the first season as a gauge to see what you could get away with?
FULLER: There was the gauge of it, but there’s some stuff in the second episode, in particular, where I was like, “Oh, my god, that’s too much!” Watching friends that I’ve shown it to and seeing their reactions, I was like, “Is that a fun thing? Do you enjoy those cringing moments because it’s like being tickled?” The human mural stuff, when the guy tore himself free, I was like, “I can’t believe we’re getting away with this!” But at the same time, if they had censored us on it, I would have fought to keep it, just because I thought it was integral to the show. But NBC has been remarkable, in their support. They want to do a horror show. They love that this show is sophisticated, and they seem to be embracing that. They’ve been remarkable. We’ve only gotten one note that has to do with the acupuncture episode, which is Episode 4, where I was like, “That’s what you’re bumping on. We have somebody tearing themselves free, and you’re bumping on this thing?” It’s never for what you expect. But, no other network would let us get away with what we’re getting away with. Nobody would. NBC is really embracing and supporting this show, 100%. Part of the battle is just to have people on your team.
FULLER: That will be bridging Episodes 12 and 13. I think what viewers should take from that is that everybody is in danger. We do something similar later on in the season, where you see what happens to Alana and that confrontation, and how that goes horribly wrong for her. We’re killing off some characters in this season. You can’t just dance with the devil and expect to walk away. I hate killing characters because I love working with the actors. When we brought Eddie Izzard back for the second season, people were like, “He got killed in the first season,” and I was like, “He got shot.” He’s Eddie Izzard. We’ve gotta have him back. He can’t die. He’s wonderful. I think he’s even better this season than he was on the first season. He gets more to do, and he gets more screen time. And that scene is also the Hitchcock thing. You want to show them the bomb and that it’s going to go off. Laurence [Fishburne] is such a beloved actor. To see Mads Mikkelsen and Laurence Fishburne throw down was, for me, just the peak of excitement.
As Will Graham thinks his memories are returning, are they really his memories? Are we supposed to question the validity of those memories?
FULLER: I think they’re real. We do that, over the course of the season. We have a few points where he remembers back. It’s also tightening up the storytelling of the first season. We did a lot of things where it was like, “How did that happen?” We’re saying, “This is how it was done.” We do that in three episodes, where we come back to events from the first season, see them from a different angle, and see how they were able to be pulled off. That grounds the storytelling a little bit. At the same time, it also is interesting. You’re in Will Graham’s shoes, so you want to remember. He tells Hannibal, in the first episode, “I’m going to remember, and when I do, there’s going to be a reckoning.” So, you want to see him go on that journey. It’s also part of keeping good on that promise because you want to see Will remember and feel like he’s not losing his mind. This did happen. It’s a reality. He was violated in such an extreme way that it’s one way to see him get his power back.
FULLER: Oh, yeah! At the beginning of the season, when we had our production meeting, I was like, “We have to design our own mask. It’s gotta be reflective of what Anthony Hopkins wore, but also it’s own thing.” So, I was excited about that, as far as fetishizing The Silence of the Lambs, to the point that we all have because it is such a fantastic film with amazing performances, and the mask is so iconic. If we are subverting Will, the way we did at the end of the first season, to be able to see him strapped onto the gurney with the facial restraint mask, it seems like something that we should do, just being true in completing the subversion of the characters.
What can you say about the role Cynthia Nixon will play?
FULLER: We’re talking about getting her back in the second half of the season. She’s in the first three episodes, and then you won’t see her again until later in the season. We’re trying to figure out how to work with her schedule to get her back to complete that story. If we can get her back, she’ll play a bigger role in how things go down in the second part of the season. I didn’t want to make her a villain, and just a shrill bureaucrat. I wanted her to be smart and insightful. I just didn’t want her to play a bitch. That’s no fun, and it’s just not that interesting. So, we do some things in the first three episodes with her, and then we don’t really do much with the character. The plan is to bring her back at a certain point that actually reveals more to her relationship with Jack Crawford and how she is instrumental in certain events.
Have you had any luck with getting David Bowie on the show?
FULLER: Not yet. It’s one of those things where we’re gonna try to get him. He’s hard to get ahold of. He doesn’t have an agent. It’s basically, if we aren’t able to secure him for Season 2, then I’ll hold that story off until the third season and try to get him then. I just would love to be in his presence, in some way, and work with him, in some capacity. I think he is such a brilliant performer and such a popular cultural icon. I think his album was brilliant. I’ve been listening to it, non-stop. I listened to it on the way here. I’ve been listening to it, every day. There are those artists that you just want to be able to touch, in some capacity. And he kind of looks like Mads Mikkelsen. If that happens, you’ll probably hear my screams of joy from across the world.
Hannibal airs on Friday nights on NBC.