Given how iconic Hannibal Lecter's movie outings were, what made you want to tackle the character again for television?
"I felt that there was an opportunity to tell a chapter of his story that hadn't been told before. We've see him incarcerated, we've seen him post-incarceration having escaped, and we saw him as a young man, but we haven't seen him as a practicing psychiatrist and a practicing cannibal.
"That's the most interesting part of his life and for some reason, it hadn't been the subject of any of the stories. The backstory was the only indication that we got of what he was like when he was out in the world. It just seemed like it was rich, unexplored territory - so it seemed like that was valid.
"Also, for me… it was going to get done whether I was involved in it or not, and I am an enthusiast of the character, so I wanted to make sure that whatever was done with this part of the story would be something that I wanted to see.
"When it was broached to me, I thought, 'There are as many bad screen versions of this as there are good versions, and whatever version I do - whether it's bad or good - at least I'll know it's something that I want to watch' - so it was very selfish on my part!"
You didn't want to see someone else do it badly?
"Or just in a way that I didn't want to see - cos there could be a version of it where it's all about the eating people and the one-liners... with a broader sensibility. I knew what I wanted to see was something that was as elegant as Hannibal's persona.
"He's somebody who was going to be wearing the beautiful suits and driving the beautiful car and having the beautiful home and office. I could imagine aesthetics for a show that was befitting of my interpretation of the character. So yeah, it was totally selfish!"
I imagine Hannibal must have been the hardest role on the show to cast?
"Oh yeah, absolutely, because everyone - between the network and the studios and the international distribution - had an idea of what he should be. We all know Anthony Hopkins and most of us know Brian Cox, who had completely different approaches to the character...
"Brian Cox was cool, intellectual, almost python-esque - not Monty but the snake! He had this creeping, slithering menace in the cage.
"Anthony Hopkins was, of course, a little more demonstrative of what lies beneath. So what was easy about it was… I thought, let's not go to either of those places, cos they had been done before by very accomplished actors and I'm as big a fan of Brian Cox's performance as I am of Anthony Hopkins.
"People forget about Brian Cox, because Silence of the Lambs was the Best Picture [at the Oscars] and Manhunter was this kind of... quasi-art film for the time. It was so stylised that people were like, 'What is this?' - but Brian Cox's performance is fantastic.
"I just wanted to go someplace completely different - go back to the source material and imagine who Hannibal would be in this era of his life. In the book, of course, he has the sixth finger and red eyes...
"He's also Eastern European, so I thought, let's do something European - whether it's a British actor or a French actor or a Danish actor - let's do something that has a non-American aesthetic to him, because that's part of his appeal, I think, as a villain. It's the American perception and the threat of anything that's non-American... sort of like, 'Oh, you think you're better than us, so you're already scary'."
Like how all villains are English in Hollywood movies...
"Right, exactly! So I guess there is a psychological aspect of tapping into that fear of the other in some way. But it was also just about finding the right actor for the role and Mads… I can't imagine anyone else doing it now. He's so made it his own.
"What I love about Mads's approach to the character is that, in our first meeting, he was adamant that he didn't want to do Hopkins or Cox. He talked about the character not so much as 'Hannibal Lecter the cannibal psychiatrist', but as Satan - this fallen angel who's enamoured with mankind and had an affinity for who we are as people, but was definitely not among us - he was other.
"I thought that was a really cool, interesting approach, because I love science fiction and horror and - not that we'd ever do anything deliberately to suggest this - but having it subtextually play as him being Lucifer felt like a really interesting kink to the series.
"It was slightly different than anything that's been done before and it also gives it a slightly more epic quality if you watch the show through the prism of, 'This is Satan at work, tempting someone with the apple of their psyche'. It appealed to all of those genre things that get me excited about any sort of entertainment."
Hugh Dancy mentioned that you've planned out multiple seasons of Hannibal, with Red Dragon being the basis for a fourth season?
"Right. In Red Dragon, there's just a few pages of backstory and one of the things we had to figure out was... where are we on the timeline? We know that Red Dragon takes place 5 years after Hobbs [is involved in] the 'Minnesota Shrike' - then a year after he marries Molly...
"Our show is about the bromance between Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter - Hannibal is so unique in his crazy and Will is so unique in his crazy, and these two crazy men need each other to understand themselves.
"It felt like we were delivering on the promise of that line in Red Dragon, where Hannibal says, 'You caught me because you're more like me than you're willing to admit'. That's the series, that's the story and that's the relationship between these two men.
"In the books, Will Graham met Hannibal Lecter twice - they didn't really know each other or have a relationship. Will Graham was so traumatised by the Minnesota Shrike that he goes into therapy and is committed to a mental institution. In our show, he's not in therapy with any old psychiatrist, he's in therapy with Hannibal Lecter!
"That's the main deviation from the source material. As a fan of the books, I wanted to be true to the novels and yet be able to go to new and different places with the characters. But you have to honour the source material, you have to respect it, because… it's great! If it's not broken, don't fix it!"