Bryan Fuller on 'Hannibal,' the Elegant Killer
So Hannibal. How did the whole TV series come about?
I was on a plane at the same time with the president of Gaumont International TV. I had worked with her before and she asked, “What do you think about a Hannibal Lecter TV series?” I said, “Oh my god, yes.” I thought it was such a smart idea. My first question was, “Do you have the rights to Will Graham?” She said yes, and then I understood what the show was. Nobody has really gotten at the Will Graham that is in the novels: the very damaged guy who is riddled with personality disorders and has a hard time socializing. He really is a damaged man. We haven’t seen that version of him, so I was excited by that.
I was also excited about the idea of this being a bromance. We saw it in Manhunter and in Red Dragon, where he says, “You know how you caught me: we’re a lot alike.” Being able to tell the story from that point of view - that these men had a lot in common - interested me. The thing that appealed to me is that Hannibal is a very specific type of crazy. He is not a psychopath; he is not a sociopath. He experiences empathy and regret. He is a creation of literature because most psychopaths are assholes, but he is not. He is a sophisticate. So it was exciting for me to tell a story about this guy who sort of floats above society, then meets a man who he feels can see him for who he is and not judge him in the way that [the rest of] society would judge him. This is Hannibal Lecter’s first opportunity to make a friend. His strategy with Will Graham is, “I want to connect with another human being because I have not. Here I see in this man the capacity to be able to connect to me because he can empathize with even the most horrible thing.” So in a way, it is about Hannibal’s journey to try to find a friend on some level. Of course, we know that that friendship is horribly doomed. That was really exciting to me because it was emotional.
We care about these crazy people when they care about others. We saw Hannibal care about Clarice Starling, intimately, and we’ve seen him care about Will Graham in a way that is like a spurned lover. These are both heterosexual guys, but what I am fascinated with is that special bond between two straight guys that defies any kind of sexuality. At the root, it is just about making a connection, making a friend. That is what got me so excited about telling this story: that friendship.
What is it about the story of Hannibal Lecter that lends itself to so many iterations?
I think there is something very dramatic about cannibalism. There is something oddly taboo about it, yet you would if you had to. I think the fact that he is a psychiatrist and can get inside your head, and you as a food item can get inside his body was an interesting yin-yang relationship for him. I think there is a lot of primal stuff that happens with Hannibal Lecter. I have always been a horror movie fan, and I’ve always felt that [horror movies] are modern opera. Instead of consumption killing off your heroes and heroines, it’s Jason Voorhees. It’s Michael Myers. It is life written large because the stakes are huge, and it is operatic. That sensibility, being able to bring the elegance of Hannibal Lecter and his oeuvre to a very elegant horror television show was a really exciting opportunity for me. I think naturally I gravitate more towards the Mockingbird Lanes and the Pushing Daisies and that kind of sweet, sugar-coated horror, but I am still a hardcore fan of horror. I still subscribe to Fangoria. I’ve subscribed since 7th grade. It’s exciting for me to flex another muscle in the storytelling [genre] that I am passionate about.
How intense are you allowed to get with Hannibal on network television?
I think that if you see [Hannibal] kill a lot, he starts to lose his power, and it starts to lose its specialness. So my goal has always been: we don’t see Hannibal kill; we see him cook. By the way he cooks, you understand the way he died. So for instance in the first episode, we intercut an autopsy scene with Hannibal preparing his spoils from that kill. So when we finally do see Mads Mikkelsen [who will play Hannibal] leap across the table and chew someone’s throat out, it will startle you, and you will not have seen it before in the series. We will target that moment of opportunity, but we want to tell the [story of the] elegant villain, because your imagination of how he killed those people is going to be so vivid.
I think the consumption and the cooking part is going to be so fun. We’ve got Jose Andreas, a world-renowned chef as our cannibal culinary consultant. He’s teaching us how to eat people, how to cut them and prepare them. We’re going to have recipes cards and the whole thing.
The promotions for that are going to be hilarious.
We will offer meat substitutes so you are not always consuming people.
You are known for your dark quirkiness. Will that be brought in to Hannibal?
Oh yes. I think it goes with the territory. I think there is a lot of humor in “Eat the Rude.” That is the motto [of the show]. I think we have all fantasized about offing someone who is obnoxious or rude or what have you. Like Dexter has his own morality of, “he kills killers.” Hannibal’s morality is much looser, like a higher social power. Like, if you do not have the ability to appreciate the beauty that life presents you, you do not deserve to have your life. If you are a pig of a human being, you deserve to be someone’s bacon. I think a lot of humor and fun will come from that