In the new NBC drama “Hannibal,” a prequel of sorts to “Silence of the Lambs” and “Red Dragon,” psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) assists FBI profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) solve cases involving serial killers.
“Hannibal,” based on the characters from the book “Red Dragon” by Thomas Harris, premieres at 9 p.m. Thursday, April 4, on NBC.
Bryan Fuller (“Pushing Daisies,” “Wonderfalls”), who developed the series for television and serves as its writer and executive producer, and star Hugh Dancy took part in a recent media conference call to discuss “Hannibal.”
Here are some of the questions and answers that were covered:
Q: How much new territory did you feel there was to explore given what’s already been written on Hannibal Lecter?
FULLER: Well, given what’s already been written, I thought there was a lot that existed that hadn’t been explored yet. So I was really excited at the opportunity to really explore things that didn’t make it to any of the movies.
And, they’ve made a handful of films and because of the limited real estate that you have in doing a movie that we’re doing a television series that gets you 13 hours a season, we were able to get into much more specifics with the character, particularly Will Graham’s character who Hugh Dancy plays so magnificently and wonderfully neurotically.
He was traditionally played as, you know, a stoic leading man. And what we get because of the really complex psychology of the character that’s in the literature, we get to explore that in a way that nobody has before. So that was very exciting.
Q: Since Will was already established in the books, what was the biggest challenge for you to make to make him unique to you?
DANCY: Well, I think the challenge laid just in the fact that Thomas Harris created and then Bryan interpreted, I suppose, such a complicated character. I wasn’t worried about the fact that he already existed on the page. If anything I think that’s helpful to have a blueprint for your performance written by a great writer. You have something to turn to.
And I certainly went to the first place after I met with Bryan and we spoke, the first place I went to is back to the novel and really tried to use that as a launch pad.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about the cast and finding the perfect cast – why you felt that Hugh was perfect Will and especially why Mads was perfect for Hannibal?
FULLER: One of the reasons that Hugh was so ideal for the role is that Will Graham, who is kind of burdened by his own neuroses and personality disorders could come off as unlikable unless you have an actor who kind of invites you into his vulnerability with those neuroses and with those personality disorders that actually gives you permission to care for them as opposed to being pushed away.
And Will Graham is a character who pushes people away and has barriers that he throws up as social defenses. So we needed somebody who had a vulnerability that kind of transcends any sort of barriers that he throws up and takes you into the world and allows you to care for him even though he is so buttoned up and damaged.
That was the main reason. And Hugh was unanimous. When we all sat down and we talked about who was our Will Graham and Hugh Dancy’s name came up and it was very easy for all of us to say like, ‘Oh yeah, he’s the one. Let’s meet with him and see if we can hook him.’
Q: Hannibal is really playing with these people. And there’s that one scene where Will says to him are you trying to put distance between me and Jack. Is there any point – and either one of you can answer this. Is there any point at which they’re going to start to suspect him? I know he can’t be found out or we don’t have a series. But I mean he is doing some really obvious moves for the audience.
DANCY: I think that there clearly has to be some movement in that area because I’m playing the world’s greatest detector of serial killers. And at a certain point you’d start to wonder how the hell I got the job, you know.
But at the same time Hannibal is the most, not just the most intelligent, but, in a sense the most quick-witted man, in the show, I suppose. He’s always that one step ahead.
So, yes, there may be moments when a little alarm seems to go off. And I don’t want to give too much away about how the whole season progresses and this enormous distance that we travel.
I think it’s also more fun to feed that out in morsels, if you like.
Q: You recreate the murders in your mind as your character, so it’s become very dark throughout the episodes. Do you have a hard time kind of getting into that mindset and is it hard to shake when you’re done?
DANCY: You mean do I want to go home and kill someone? (Laughter) …. No, I don’t have a hard time. Again, I think that comes down to, well, to two things: the quality of the writing in that these cases – I think what would get me down would be if I felt that we were, you know, we settled into a routine, ‘okay, this is what we, you know, here we go again this week. We’re going to solve this case. And, oh and by the way, it’s hideously violent.’ I think that would – I’d have trouble with that.
But, as an actor at least, there’s a lot to, if you’ll forgive the phrase, to get your teeth into. And, secondly, just the quality of the cast. I’m going to work every day with Laurence (Fishburne) and Mads, and I mean all the way down the cast; really gives me so much pleasure that that tends to be the feeling I come away with at the end of the day.
FULLER: One of the things that’s really gratifying in watching the dailies is that you’ll see this cast in very sober scenes of darkness. And then they’ll be cracking each other up and making each other laugh. So there’s a levity and joy on set despite the very dark subject matter.
– Melissa Hayer
Follow me on Twitter: @MelissaHayer