How did you feel when you were first approached for Hannibal? Were you aware of the Lecter movies?
"I had actually seen Red Dragon - the Ed Norton version - but quite a long time ago, and because they were filmed out of order, I think I had lost a sense of where everything fell. I've not seen Manhunter.
"Before I read anything or had seen anything, I wondered... why revisit the characters and the world, and why do it as a TV show? I wanted to know, were the motives good?
"I read the first script and it seemed to be ambitious and interesting - it was well-written, with good dialogue, and raised lots of interesting possibilities... but that was as much as I had.
"I met with Bryan Fuller, I said pretty much exactly what I said to you to him, and he laid out the first five seasons of the show as he was carrying them around in his head. That basically answered all my questions!
"He not only made it clear that there would be a lot for me to do, but made it clear as to why one might want to do [this show] on a broader level. People love the books and the movies - and so does Bryan, incidentally - but he explained why we were going back to them and why we were doing it in a long-form way."
What do you think Bryan brings to Hannibal as showrunner?
"Well, he's a f**king great writer! He can have these hallucinogenic insights into character and he can write a type of heightened dialogue which very few people can get away with, because as an actor, there's just enough underpinning there for you to ground it. It's really fun, meaty stuff - that's the first thing.
"Secondly, for such an open, genuine and very sweet man, he has such a dark mind. But he doesn't do it to try to be dark. I never got a script and thought, 'Oh I see, this is the part where they're trying to be gross', - he's coming at it from a genuinely interested, character perspective."
Your character Will Graham is an unusual protagonist - you get the feeling that he could flip to the dark side at any time...
"Yeah, and that was a big part of the appeal. That wasn't particularly how Bryan sold it to me, although I understood the trajectory of the first season, which definitely raises that question. That's the fulcrum, if you like, in Will's mind that Hannibal is leaning on.
"But yeah, as a protagonist, he has this capacity for empathy, which we normally think of as such a kind thing - but for whatever reason, in him, it's particularly directed towards violent criminals. That was an interesting place to start."
Mads Mikkelsen is such an interesting screen presence - what is he like to work with?
"Wonderful. I worked with Mads before, about nine years ago on [2004 film] King Arthur. It was pretty broad - every so often we'd kill an ancient Briton and then we'd carry on chatting and hanging out! We had six months to get to know each other and became friendly, but it was a very different type of job.
"What can I say about Mads? He's detail oriented. Once he's got his teeth into something... that sounds like a bad pun! But once he gets his teeth into something, he won't let go.
"He has amazing technique, but primarily he will interrogate something until it makes sense to him and nobody's going to question it as much as he will. I think when you're taking on a character that's already iconic, that people already think they know, that's absolutely the best type of actor to come at it."
Hannibal has attracted an amazing cast - Laurence Fishburne, Gillian Anderson, Eddie Izzard...
"I don't know if you're Jewish or not, but there's a bit in the Passover ceremony where they say, 'It would've been sufficient' - it felt a bit like that!
"It was like getting a ticket to watch Oprah tape one of her shows... and then getting a free car! It really is an astonishing cast. I've admired Laurence for years - his first work was Apocalypse Now... which is ridiculous!
"And if one has a mental list of people you'd like to work with, Mads is right at the top of it, so for me it was wonderful."
There's been a lot of talk about how Hannibal and shows like The Following are pushing the boundaries for violence on network television - what are your thoughts on that?
"Well, I haven't actually seen The Following, I'm ashamed to say. I think that what's new is the positioning of violence, what's new really is the genre - horror - rather than the violence.
"I can only really speak about our show and I never question the fact that the violence on Hannibal serves as a vital insight into Will's mind, and ultimately into Hannibal's mind.
"But particularly Will, because he's somebody who lives with it - that's what he has to carry around every day. Without that, he's just... grumpy! So you need to understand what his burden is. I've got no problem with violence in entertainment as long as it has purpose and consequences."
A show like Hannibal could easily become procedural, killer-of-the-week stuff, but there's an ongoing arc here...
"Oh, I think it's all about the ongoing arc. When you're tuning into something week after week, with a week in-between, you do need a little something to get you through. You need a weekly pay-off.
"But for me the engine driving the show is the developing relationship and the situation between Will and Hannibal, and the tipping balance in Will's mind. That's what's going to pull us through, that's what's going to hook people."
Since people know on some level what's going to happen to Will and Hannibal, does the show have the feel of a tragedy?
"Well, do people know what's going to happen? I don't know. To some extent, that's true, but we've got a long way to go before we reach Red Dragon - it's not like we finish this first season and, bang, it's Red Dragon..."
I think Bryan Fuller has said that Red Dragon would be your fourth season...
"Exactly, so before we get there, Will is going through the wringer. If you go into it thinking you know where we're heading, you're in for a surprise!"