Bryan Fuller: You know, it wasn’t so much trepidation as it was just excitement of the missing chapter, for me, and of when he was a practicing psychiatrist and a practicing cannibal. We had never seen that story. We had seen the prequel Hannibal Rising, when he was a young man around World War II, and certainly post-incarceration. But the unexplored chapter of the Hannibal Lecter story that doesn’t exist in literature or film or on television is when he was a practicing psychiatrist and cannibal. I thought that was a validity in and of itself, to bring this character back. I’m sure a lot of people were like, “Ugh, leave it alone.” But we ended on Hannibal Rising, which I wasn’t a huge fan of, and I wanted to get back into the heart of the character in a way that I saw him. I was never really connected to the Hannibal Rising version of the character because he was such a young man that I think who Hannibal Lecter is as a sophisticate and a man of the world just does not translate when you’re seeing a young man murderer. He seems more of a punk than someone who is well aware of life and stakes.
IGN: Of course, casting is always key, but here your main three characters have been played by multiple actors. And Hopkins’ especially was such an iconic performance. What was it you were looking for, and what was it you found with Mads to play this role?
Fuller: I think the key was we had to put up an orange cone where Anthony Hopkins had tread, as well as Brian Cox, because I think Brian Cox’s performance [in Manhunter] is as iconic as Anthony Hopkins. There’s much debate and hardcore Lecter-verse fans of who was the superior Hannibal Lecter, and for me both were excellent. I refuse to choose a favorite. Obviously Anthony Hopkins won the Academy Award, and Silence of the Lambs was a spectacular film, so he’s got more audience real estate than Brian Cox. But if we’re talking about performances, they’re both excellent performances. So we just wanted to make sure we weren’t going in either of those directions.
What I love about Mads and Mads’ approach is that when we first sat down -- first of all, he’s so charismatic, and he is so excited about what he does and his meticulous approach to crafting a character that I just knew was in great hands of a fantastic performer. But also, one of the things that we talked about in our first meeting was not so much about playing Hannibal as the cannibal psychiatrist, as previously portrayed by other actors, but more like Lucifer and how he was a dark angel who had this affinity for mankind and a fascination with the human condition. But he also recognized when people were not respectful of their rules or place in society and were rude, and felt that they deserved to have those places revoked. So if you’re a pig of human being, you deserve to be Hannibal Lecter’s bacon. There was a simplicity to looking at the role, particularly Mads’ portrayal of the role through the lens of “this is a devil at work here.” And it kind of gives him a greater mythology -- not that we have to tap into any sort of Judeo-Christian context at all -- but if you just watch the show and think that this is a devil at work and not a man there is a consistency with Mads’ performance, particularly when he gets very emotionally involved. Because Hannibal Lecter is unique in his crazy. He’s not a psychopath, because he experiences regret. And he not a sociopath, because he experiences empathy. So he is unique in his crazy, and that gives him a higher sensibility than just a mortal man.
IGN: I’m very intrigued by the portrayal of Will Graham, another person who’s been played by a couple of great actors in the past. Here, obviously a big difference between previous versions is that we are seeing much more of Will’s career before anything happens with actually catching Hannibal. In Red Dragon, he's married, but here, he’s very much a loner. You’ve got this very intriguing thing where he talks about where he is "on the spectrum" and the fact that he really has some problems with interpersonal relationships. How did that come to you?
Fuller: Well, we were looking at our timeline and saying, “Season 4 is Red Dragon”, so where Will is psychologically in terms of his confidence and approach to solving these crimes? We would see Molly in Season 3, and that’s when we would introduce that character. Also, how Will Graham got to be in a relationship based on his idiosyncrasies, that would be part of the story that we’re telling with him, as going from a man who is on the outside looking in at the human condition -- because he is so vulnerable and sensitive to other people that he has to protect himself from that. There are a couple of things in the book that were indicative of certain personality disorders or neuroses that I thought, “Oh, he’s actually much more complicated than any of the kind of stoic heroes that we’ve seen portrayed by William Peterson and Ed Norton.” So it felt like there was, like with Hannibal, an opportunity to explore a chapter in Will Graham’s life that we hadn’t seen, but was indicated in the literature, whether it was when he’s talking to a police detective or Molly’s son about how he caught the Minnesota Shrike or Hannibal Lecter.
There was a very thin history that we could work within, which was we knew that Will Graham was investigating a serial killer called the Minnesota Shrike and after catching him was so traumatized by that event that he had to go into psychiatric care. Instead of positing that he was just with a random psychiatrist, the break in the canon of the literature that we took was that that psychiatrist would be Hannibal Lecter. Because he doesn’t really know Hannibal Lecter in the literature. He had two meetings with him. One was to question him about a murder, and the second was a follow up. Then in that follow up he realized, “This guy’s the killer,” and then Hannibal guts him with a carpet knife, and Will captures him. So that was the extent of their relationship. What I thought, there was so much promise in the line where Hannibal says, “You caught me because you’re more like me than you’re willing to admit.” I thought that was the heart of the television series.
GN: It’s a really cool visual effect, but the wipes across the screen that we see as sort of a “Will vision”, what do you call those and where did that idea come from?
Fuller: [Laughs] We call them a couple of things. We call them the “flim-flum,” which is just the sound of the pendulum, but it’s a pendulum that -- there’s a line in Red Dragon when Will Graham goes to look at the crime scene. Thomas Harris has a line about how “In his mind a pendulum swings through the darkness.” It’s this kind of method of self-hypnosis, so he can get himself in the mindset of these horrible human beings. It is a version of hypnosis, but it’s also this kind of psychological time travel to the time and place that these events occurred, but before they occurred so he can piece them together from the perspective of the killer and actually walk in that person’s shoes and commit the crimes that they did. So we really understand how truly horrible it is for him to do what he does. He’s not just looking at clues, he’s actually taking the purple cloak of these horrible human beings’ minds and wrapping them around him.
IGN: Jack Crawford has a very interesting role in this story, especially because he kind of ends up using Hannibal as a sounding board, a confidant, as well. So will it be interesting to track both Jack and Will’s relationships with Hannibal, and will they differ dramatically?
Fuller: Oh yeah, there are big, big differences. It’s interesting to me to read different perspectives on how we’re going to approach the show. We go from the pilot to episode 13, which is such a dramatic arc, and it really kicks up around the last third of the season where the stakes of the story become dramatically richer and greater than what you thought they were at the beginning of the show. I think we cover a lot more real estate in those 13 episodes than people are expecting us to, and I’m looking forward to seeing how surprised people are. What they’re expecting us to do and what we actually do I think are going to be two different things.
IGN: There were some expectations early on when we heard the concept. “Okay, so it’s Will and Hannibal, and they’re sort of working together on cases each week,” which to some extent is occurring. But having seen the first five episode, there’s much more of a through line from the first case and the first episode and characters continuing from that. Was that sort of an interesting balance for you, to how much you put in the new killers and how much you continue that specific plot line set up in the first episode?
Fuller: For me, the “killer of the week” or “case of the week” had to have some psychological connection to what Will Graham was experiencing. There was an importance of not just being a case that you would see on a traditional crime procedural that involved rape and murder, because we have a brand that we’re honoring with what Thomas Harris has crafted in his own unique genre. So there was a devotion to the purple opera that exists with the characters and the types of killers that are presented in the Thomas Harris books that you see -- not only Hannibal Lecter, who is the cannibal psychiatrist, which right off the bat is a heightened, fascinating point of view of a killer, someone who can get inside your head and start consuming what he finds there -- but you have the Red Dragon, who is a man who feels like he is evolving into a super being because of his inability to deal with his own mortality and the finite nature of his life. You also have Buffalo Bill, who is a man who wants to become a woman, so he is making a woman suit out of real women that he can put on and achieve his own transformation of self. So there’s a great psychological component to all of the murderers that we’ve seen in the Thomas Harris literature that I felt a responsibility to tell stories in that same approach, that we needed an element of purple opera.
IGN: The previous shows that you created and were integral on always had a strong sense of humor and a witty tone to them. Certainly this, on the surface and the overall subject matter, seems darker. But was it interesting for you to find those places where you could still insert wit -- Hannibal himself has always been a character with a sense of humor – and find those moments where there could be some levity amongst the darkness?
Fuller: Absolutely. I think there is an element of this show that functions as a very, very dark comedy. When you have a serial killer whose approach is to eat the rude and refers to his victims as “free-range rude,” there is an inherent wit to that that was delicious. Hugh and I, we talked a lot about Will Graham’s psychology, and I would often walk him through where we’re going with the show and what’s happening and what’s coming up, so he knew where he needed to be on his arc. We would cackle like fiends when talking about certain things that happened in upcoming episodes, because they were so horrible and heightened in their own way that they didn’t necessarily read as true crime, but as a kind of amplification of reality and what you could actually do to a body and why you would do it. So we had a giddy glee at some of the horrible places that we were going. But when you put it into the tone of the show and you translate it into the horror vocabulary, it’s obviously not as laugh-out-loud funny. [Laughs] But if you break it down and say, “Oh, there’s a guy who’s actually making catgut strings out of people,” and it’s kind of snicker inducing. But in the context of that episode, it’s dark and scary, and the guy is a villain. But yeah, talking about it, it was easier to find the humor than actually seeing it, which I think is what we should do because we want to be true to the tone of the books, which was not heavy-handed in its humor at all, but there was definitely a dark humor at work.
IGN: Speaking of content, when this show was announced, there were people saying, “How can this work on network? This should obviously be on cable. It’ll feel softened on a network.” Having seen those five episodes, it doesn’t feel softened to me, but what were your conversations like with the network and how did you walk that line? What was the line?
Fuller: Well the line was really what was appropriate for the brand, and we are dealing with a brand. Hannibal Lecter is a franchise character, so we had to be respectful of honoring the genre in which this character lives. The early conversation with NBC was, “Will you let us tell the story the way it needs to be told?” And the answer was “Yes.” We talked about content, we talked about gore. Having worked on Heroes that first season, we went to some very gory place. We had Hayden Panettiere on an autopsy table flayed open right down the middle, and you saw the skinned meat of her breasts as she folded the flaps back over the open wound, and they healed. It was pretty gory! So I knew that we could go places, and I knew that television had evolved and needed to continue to evolve. We are a ten o’clock show, and we are an adult content show, and we are a horror movie. So we needed to have all those elements of a horror movie, and they were very supportive that we would go there. And there were certain things we weren’t allowed to do, but they weren’t unreasonable things. I found in doing -- because I was very excited about it -- we had to do the “Unsuitable for Broadcast Television” version of the show, where we got to show everything that we shot in its true-gore glory. There were over half of the episodes where there’s nothing more to put in them, because we had already shown it all.
IGN: What is the place intended for those versions?
Fuller: You know, it would either be on the DVD or some secondary market. I think that we should absolutely have the “Unsuitable for Broadcast Television” version of certain episodes, where you get to see a bit more -- for me, the main reason for showing those is that there’s great work and craftsmanship on display with our prosthetics team. As somebody who read Tom Savini’s Grand Illusions in seventh grade -- I have pictures of myself with all sorts of bloody gore effects from my childhood that kind of made the photo-processing place very nervous whenever I came to drop off film. So I always appreciate those things as a craft and going, “Oh my God, it looks amazing! Look at your detail and the brilliance of your work.” That’s sort of what I see first, a half-step ahead of the story, because I am an appreciator of fine makeup effects work. There are a couple of things that we didn’t do on the show. There’s a couple of places where I’m like, “Oh, they’ll never let us show that.” It always becomes a conversation of what we can show, what we can’t show, how much of what we can show. But I would say for the bulk of the episodes, we showed everything that we shot. There’s a little less than half of the episodes where there’s some pretty extreme stuff that we couldn’t show. But certainly nothing that… I feel like NBC was probably more lenient than the MPAA.
IGN: A big topic of conversation in January at the TCA [Television Critics Association] press tour was the whole violence on TV issue. I grew up a huge horror fan, and I agree with you as far as I love seeing that stuff and appreciating the craftsmanship and the fun of it. So where do you stand when this question comes up and people are saying, “Are you worried about this content and the influence of this content?” What do you feel about that?
Fuller: Well, I think we have a responsibility to the genre and the genre audience first. That’s where I feel my responsibility is as a member of that audience and somebody who has a voice in defending its merits. I take my role very seriously. I asked this to David Slade. We were in lockstep on our approach to the horror on this show, and we’re both horror fans, we both love the genre. We both feel we’re respecting the genre with the work that we’re doing, and we take that very seriously, because I don’t want to see a domesticated Hannibal. It’s the difference between a bear and a circus bear. I want to see the bear.
IGN: We have a sort of zeitgeist moment with The Following and Bates Motel and Hannibal all launching so close together. What do you think it is - just one of those things that happened where a bunch of people are working in a similar realm at the same time?
Fuller: I think it’s really about sentimentality, and we are sentimental creatures. We have these things from our childhoods or impressionable ages that had an impact on us. I remember in seventh or eighth grade going to a friend’s house, and I was obsessed with Friday the 13th and Halloween and The Fog and Black Christmas and all of those stock-and-flash staples of the genre. A friend of mine’s mom was like, “You have to read Robert Bloch, not just see Psycho, but you have to read the book and see the movie and become a student of the genre.” Because, yes, there is something very effective about horror movies. I do feel that horror as a genre is very operatic. Those stock-and-flash films of the ‘70s and ‘80s, which had a greater care in the approach to characters than what we have now, more consistently -- for me, you look at the original Friday the 13th -- which I think is a great film, and I think Friday the 13th Part 2 is a great film -- but if you compare it to the remake of Friday the 13th, the component that is missing for me is that in the original, those are all likable teenagers. They’re working at a summer camp for kids, and they care about the children. They have an intrinsic likability to them. In the remake, they’re all assholes and idiots. You’re just waiting for them to die. It’s just so kind of contemptuous of the characters. I thought they were missing the point of horror, which is, you don’t want to desensitize the audience to the experience. You want them to care about the person who dies. You don’t want them to see them as disposable byproducts. You want them to feel like there’s a loss of life there, which is increasing the effect of the horror. So really it does have an operatic quality, but instead of consumption killing off the young lovers, it’s Mrs. Voorhees or Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers or Freddy Krueger. So I think that... I’ve gone off on a tangent of horror, so you might have to pull me back to answer the question. [Laughs]
IGN: Just that you’ve got this, Bates Motel, The Following launching pretty close together – So do you think, yeah, it’s just a bunch of people at the same time saying, “This is the kind of stuff I grew up loving, and I want to explore these things again”?
Fuller: Yeah, and I actually know Kevin Williamson and love his work and love him as a human being. We were at a party, and he was like, “What are you working on?” I was like, “I’m doing Hannibal Lecter,” and he was like, “Oh! I’m doing Hannibal Lecter! I’m doing my own version of Hannibal Lecter.” So it was kind of funny that we were both greatly inspired by Thomas Harris and the world that he created. And yet Kevin was going off and doing an original take on the dynamics of the story and the characters and the villain. I was able to go back to the source, but we were both absolutely inspired by Thomas Harris in a way that is a lot of fun and kind of shows two different writers approaching the same material from two completely different perspectives, both of them valid. It’s kind of an interesting side-by-side comparison because both shows are very Thomas Harris-ian.
IGN: You mentioned the fourth season being the Red Dragon story. Do you think it’ll be 13 episodes a year? How do you see the whole thing going?
Fuller: Well, it’s absolutely 13 episodes a season. For me, Red Dragon is Season 4, and splitting the time over Season 5 and Season 6 would be the era of Silence of the Lambs -- we don’t have the rights to any of the characters that originate in Silence of the Lambs, but that’s not to say that Clarice Starling was the only trainee that Jack Crawford ever sent to interview a serial killer. You’ve seen the fifth episode, so you know that he’s done it before. So my dream is that -- because MGM has the rights to any character that originated in Silence of the Lambs, and we have the rights to any character that originated in Red Dragon or Hannibal or Hannibal Rising. We actually approached MGM because I desperately wanted to tell the story of how that head ended up in a jar in Silence of the Lambs. So we approached MGM -- who can’t use Hannibal Lecter in their Clarice Starling show -- and said, “If we let you have letters from Hannibal Lecter and have a relationship… You don’t necessarily see him on screen, but you can actually acknowledge the history of Clarice Starling. What if we got the rights to Benjamin Raspail and Jame Gumb/Buffalo Bill. That way, we could be telling the definitive Hannibal Lecter stories and acknowledge his existence in both shows.” They were like, “No, what’s ours is ours, and what’s yours is yours.” Then we said, “Pretty please?” And they said, “No, what’s ours is ours, and what’s yours is yours.” So we said, “Can we sit down face-to-face and talk about this?” We did, and they said, “What’s ours is ours, and what’s yours is yours.” [Laughs] So they were very definitive about where they stood. So what we did in the arc that we had for Benjamin Raspail and Jame Gumb in the first season, we did a different story about a patient of Hannibal Lecter’s who had ties to a serial killer in a unique way. Instead of Benjamin Raspail, we did Franklin Froideveaux -- Benjamin Franklin and then Froideveaux is a street that runs parallel to Raspail in Paris. So we were acknowledging in some way that’s the role that we were filling in this season, with those characters and that story you’re going to see.
IGN: Knock on wood, this show continues into future seasons. Are you hoping that maybe they’ll change their mind and something can be worked out?
Fuller: Absolutely. I hope they look at the show and say, “Oh, this is really cool, and it’s a classy approach to the material, and we want to be associated with it,” and that maybe they will change their minds. But they sold the rights to a Clarice Starling story to Lifetime, and it’s been in development for a few years. It’s turned around and then redeveloped and turned around and redeveloped. I’m sticking pins in a voodoo doll of that show and hoping that it just goes away so they can see that, really, this is the best thing for the audience… Which is always my approach to these things, because I do feel my place in the audience, and as somebody who’s been given a the opportunity to have a voice in how things can proceed, I do have a responsibility, very heavily. So I, as an audience member, want Clarice Starling to be tied into Hannibal Lecter and see one definitive source for the Hannibal Lecter story, which would be this show. But time will tell. Maybe we’ll launch a letter-writing campaign to MGM!