Bryan Fuller started out as a writer and producer for “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” and “Star Trek: Voyager.” He was a self-professed “rabid Trek fan” of the type in “The Big Bang Theory.” He went on to write for “Heroes” and create several TV series, including “Pushing Daisies,” “Mockingbird Lane,” and the new NBC show, “Hannibal.”
“Hannibal” explores the relationship between Dr. Lecter and criminal profiler Will Graham, fleshing out a story touched upon in the novel, “Red Dragon,” by Thomas Harris about the two working together on cases prior to Lecter’s incarceration. Harris never gave readers much to “chew on” with regard to that history, so Bryan Fuller has grabbed hold of that aspect of the story and run with it. I had the chance to chat with him on the phone about his contemporary, dreamlike take on the world of Hannibal Lecter.
When asked if he or Hugh Dancy (who plays Will Graham) had done psychological research or consulted with criminal profilers, Bryan said their strategy was primarily to work with the source material in the original novels. “We’re pretty grounded in fiction in a strange way,” he told me.
“We had an FBI consultant for a while, and we would call that person and say, ‘What are the kinds of mechanisms in the Bureau that support people in these fields? What would happen in this case? What would happen in that case?’ It frustrated them pretty quickly because they were like, ‘Well, why don’t you call us when you have something real to discuss?’ They sort of weren’t along for the fun ride that we’re going on,” he said.
He explained that the particularly macabre types of serial killers in Harris’ original Hannibal Lecter novels are, fortunately, uncommon in the real world. “Most serial killers are just mean people who are narcissists and aren’t as psychologically complex as we’d hope them to be,” he said. “They’re just psychopaths.” He went on to give me a psychological assessment of Francis Dolarhyde, the very strange serial killer in Harris’ book, “Red Dragon” (portrayed by Ralph Fiennes in the 2002 film adaptation).
I asked Bryan how the casting of Hannibal Lecter came about. “After I finished the script, when we started talking to people, there were three actors that I thought, ‘If I get one of these three, I’ll be over the moon.’ And one of them was Mads Mikkelsen,” he said.
Then, he discovered that Mads and Hugh had worked together before and were good friends.
“I’d seen Mads in ‘Camino Royale,’ and I’d seen ‘Valhalla Rising.’ I’d seen him primarily play villains. It wasn’t until I saw this movie called ‘After the Wedding’ in which he plays a heartbroken man who is trying to win back his lost love. And it’s so endearing and engaging and vulnerable. And I thought, ‘Oh, that would be so interesting to see a bit of that in our version of Hannibal who is seeking a friend in his psychopathy to share the world with,'” he said.
“That, combined with the preexisting friendship between Hugh and Mads, just seemed like it was a great opportunity to take advantage, not just in terms of the quality of the cast, but the quality of the chemistry that these two actors would bring to their roles.”
Gillian Anderson will appear as Hannibal Lecter’s psychiatrist during which, Bryan said, “we’ll learn some of what is in Hannibal’s head.” But he was quick to tell me not to worry about Anderson’s well-being. He told her he would write as much for her as she wanted and keep her on the series. “She was thrilled to be working with Mads and so impressed with him as an actor,” Bryan said. She also specifically requested scenes with Laurence Fishburne.
“The first time I was exposed to Raul was watching the Tony Awards one year, and he performed ‘Being Alive’ from Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Company.’ And it just penetrated my soul,” Bryan said. “His performance was so raw and vulnerable, so that’s why I sought him out for ‘Pushing Daisies’ because I thought, ‘This guy’s good!'”
Then, the “Hannibal” team thought of Raul for Chilton. “Raul has this accessibility to him when he’s playing a bastard,” Bryan said, “and I thought our Chilton should be this man of questionable ethics who is a bit of a rat. I thought we needed somebody who is handsome and is talented and is going to give us a depth beyond just being a jerk, and also somebody who seems like he is a pawn in Hannibal Lecter’s greater manipulation of Will Graham.”
Bryan makes it a point whenever possible to work with actors he loves. “That’s why I keep calling up people who I’ve worked with in the past because I enjoyed working with them, and I enjoyed them as human beings,” he said. “I look at the screen, and I see the face of a friend and also the face of an artist. So, there’s selfish motivations there, too. Raul is an artist, and he has a wonderful approach to character. And he’s fearless in what he’ll try.”
Molly Shannon will show up later in the season, and Eddie Izzard is on board to play a serial killer. I asked Bryan if he purposely seeks out actors who not only have dramatic chops but also comic abilities.
“Absolutely,” he told me. “I think there’s got to be a recognition of the absurdity in life. When we have actors who have an innate comedic ability or a sense of timing, it also applies dramatically. Eddie, who was very careful in his career initially as an actor to make sure that it was being differentiated from his career as a comedian, took on all these very serious roles. When we worked together on ‘Mockingbird Lane,’ it was this wonderful blend of his comedic side and his dramatic side and was a new version of his acting persona.”
Bryan is clearly excited about the cast he has assembled for the show. These include series regulars Caroline Dhavernas, Hettienne Park, Aaron Abrams, Lara Jean Chorostecki, and Scott Thompson.
“It’s very cool for someone who has great admiration for actors and how they work through their interpretation and their expressions,” he said. “It was great to see very finely skilled artists at work and watching these micro-expressions and connections and elevations of the words – very, very gratifying.”
The show uses dream and reverse sequences, as well as slow motion, to heighten the drama. I asked Bryan if this was an idea he had from the beginning.
“It was absolutely a part of the dream state aesthetic of the show,” he responded. “I was very keen in creating a psychological atmosphere, and what was so wonderful about having a partner in [director] David Slade was he shared that same desire to give the audience something that is different than what they’ve come to expect in a crime procedural.”
Bryan also told me about his influences. “When I sat down to the script, I was very consciously saying, ‘What would David Lynch do with a Hannibal Lecter character? What sort of strange, unexpected places would he take this world?’ I’m a great admirer of his work and his aesthetic and his meticulous sound design. Those were all components that I felt very strongly needed to be part of our Hannibal Lecter story. Between Lynch and [Stanley] Kubrick, there’s a lot of inspiration,” he said. (Watch for a certain bathroom homage to Kubrick.)
So, what’s in store for the remainder of the first season of “Hannibal”? Well, in expressing his passion for the show, Bryan actually disclosed a few spoilers to me, but my lips are sealed. What I’ll tell you is that they have some pretty intriguing twists in store.
“I’m really proud of the trajectory of the storytelling on the show,” Bryan said. “We sat down and were very diligent about how can we keep ratcheting this up.”