Hannibal is a show that, even as I was watching it on the air, confused me as to how it could actually be on the air. The NBC horror-opera aired for three seasons under the tutelage of Bryan Fuller, who yielded some of the most violent, psychologically upsetting, and generally fucked imagery I’ve ever seen on television, network or not. And as Collider’s very own Steve Weintraub recently learned in an in-depth, exclusive 90-minute interview with Fuller and star Hugh Dancy, this singular creative vision changed dramatically pretty early in its shape.
Based on Thomas Harris‘ well-known books about the cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal Lecter and the obsessive FBI profiler Will Graham (which also inspired the iconic Silence of the Lambs), Hannibal stars Mads Mikkelsen as the titular cannibal and Dancy as the profiler who’s not quite sure of Lecter’s real designs. Its pilot, with visual stylings from director David Slade, seemed to know exactly what the show was from the gate. It was such a confident episode, in fact, that it caused Fuller to throw out a ton of the remaining season:
“For the first season, it was interesting, ’cause I wrote the pilot and it was so closely tuned to what Thomas Harris had written, and there was so much from the books that was going into it. Then I think we had four or five scripts, and then I saw the pilot, and I saw the work that Hugh and Mads were doing, and I saw the work that David Slade was doing, and I looked at those four or five scripts that we had written, and I said that they weren’t good enough, and I threw them out. And then we started over. I think we shut down for two weeks between the pilot and the rest of the show. So, after seeing the pilot and going, ‘This is actually really good, and this cast is phenomenal and they deserve better material,’ [we changed our approach] because the four or five scripts that we had done were very procedural, and very sort of strange.
One of the episodes was about a mass shooting in a McDonald’s, and we were trying to make this commentary on fast food culture and gun culture. Now, looking back on that, I’m like, ‘What the fuck were we thinking?’ ’cause there’s no way to skin that and not be offensive to somebody. Not that I care about offending people, but it just was sort of inelegant and cheap and not necessarily elevating the genre. I feel a deep responsibility to try to elevate the genre of whatever I’m doing. So we tossed all of those scripts out, and then it was a scramble for the rest of the season.
And it was really hard on Mads because English is his second language, and a lot of the shit that Hannibal is saying are words that I have to look up, to go like, ‘Is that right? Is that a word?’ So it was really difficult for him. The first season was insane, it was very depressing, and it felt very much like I was in Will Graham’s head a little too far. And I remember there was one time when Hugh and Claire [Danes, Dancy’s wife] and I were walking around a park and it was just nice to be with people who weren’t expecting something from me that I knew I couldn’t give them. To just have general support and go, like I said, when Hugh and I had our first dinner, I was like, ‘Oh, this is gonna be my friend. This isn’t just a working relationship, this is somebody whose company that I adore.’ So those moments kind of got me through the complexities and the real hardships of season one. And then after surviving something you go, like, ‘Oh, I can survive.’
Damn! It sounds like working on season one of Hannibal was taxing as all get out, wearing on the creator and cast’s well-being in intense measure, causing quite a bit of production chaos. And yet, Dancy wouldn’t change one second of it: “Truthfully, in the chaos that we experienced and that Bryan was kind of in the frontline of, in retrospect it didn’t compromise for me the ability to submerge ourselves in it. I honestly don’t know why that should be, except for the fact that… he, and we all, felt that responsibility, right? Not even to anybody else, just to ourselves, right?” Fuller finished Dancy’s thought for him: “As artists.”
Check out these two artists discussing the ever-evolving path of Hannibal‘s first season below, and be on the lookout for the rest of our 90-minute interview with Fuller and Dancy early next week.