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Having overseen 'Pushing Daisies' and 'Heroes', Bryan Fuller has now brought Thomas Harris's characters Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter to the small screen in gorily gripping new crime drama, 'Hannibal'. At a recent press conference, he talked about his influences, the graphic content and the casting of 'Casino Royale' villain Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal himself.
What made you think you could bring something new to this?
‘I was excited that there was an opportunity to tell a chapter of Hannibal Lecter’s life that we hadn’t seen before: him while he was a practising psychiatrist and a practising cannibal. I’m a huge fan of the books, so we took every opportunity to get Thomas Harris’s DNA into the series.’
Was Thomas Harris’s ‘Red Dragon’ your starting point?
‘Absolutely. I saw “Manhunter” in 1986 and promptly went out and got the book and was so surprised at how much of Will Graham’s character really wasn’t explored in the movies. We were able in the series to go deeper and he’s very psychologically complex, and has a bundle of neurosis and personality disorders.'
It’s extraordinarily uncompromising.
'We have some very graphic content that is not necessarily exploitive, because we are talking about a man [Will] who is severely damaged by the things he exposes himself to. He has this condition called Echopraxia, where you never completely establish your own identity when you’re in social settings.’
Did you have Mads Mikkelsen in mind as Hannibal Lecter from the beginning?
‘There were three actors that I had in mind while I was writing it and Mads was one of them. What sealed the deal was his pre-existing relationship with Hugh Dancy [who plays Will Graham]. They did a movie together called ‘King Arthur’ and became friends: I thought it would be great to take advantage of their off screen chemistry, since this is a story about romance between these two men. Mads didn’t want to do Anthony Hopkins or Brian Cox, he wanted to do his own version.’
Mads had become a huge star, and you’ve got him to commit to a 13-part series. If it gets re-commissioned, he’ll be going on for years…
‘Oh, we own him for six years. He has no choice now! He had the choice to do “Hannibal” or “Thor 2” and he chose “Hannibal” because he was feeling limited in certain science fiction roles: something was always going on with his eyes, he had either an eye patch or was weeping blood or something.’
Why aren’t you showing episode five in the States?
‘We were exploring a very complicated idea of a perversion of the family unit that involved some children. At the time, it was so outrageously horrible that we couldn’t concede of anything like it happening in reality. Then, of course, the Sandy Hook tragedy occurred, so it was about being sensitive to the US audience. Internationally, the episode will be available.’
'Hannibal' looks beautiful. Were there particular influences?
‘David Lynch, Stanley Kubrick and Alfred Hitchcock. We even do the bathroom scene from “The Shining”! It felt like it was valid for our storytelling and also a way for me to scavenge… We have to bring a more refined aesthetic to television, because we’re haemorrhaging viewers to all sorts of different ways to see content. We have to make sure we’re providing the audience with a unique experience.’
Do you have any idea what Thomas Harris thinks of the show?
‘Yes! I saw an email of his that said, “I love the show. Mads is difficult to understand sometimes.” That was his response!’
If you have all seven seasons mapped, at some point we would presumably arrive at the story of ‘The Silence of the Lambs’?
‘We have the rights to any character that originated in “Red Dragon” or “Hannibal”, but not to any character that originated in “The Silence of the Lambs”.’
What’s your favourite version of these Thomas Harris characters, prior to your own series?
‘I loved “Manhunter”, but it was this sort of indie art house movie and abbreviated certain things in the book. “The Silence of the Lambs” was a very faithful adaptation. They did Clarice Starling so well, that I was glad that no one had drawn a complete picture of Will Graham as he’s represented in the books.'
Wasn’t there a Clarice Starling show in development?
‘There’s one in development for [US network] Lifetime – I’m not sure what happened with that. I’ve been putting pins in the voodoo doll for that show so that it dies and then we get the access to the characters…’
As a writer did you find any of the cases particularly difficult to write?
‘Yeah, it was interesting to take on such dark subject matter because traditionally I’ve written things that are witty and fun and ghoulish, but they’ve a sense of humour and a brightness to them. This sounds pretentious, but I suffered for the art in a way. I was up in Toronto for eight months away from friends and family and my dog, so I felt Will’s isolation a lot. I did a lot of research on dementia and psychological conditions, which was very educational, but also it depressing. We needed to make that stimulating and vivid for the audience. Jack Crawford [Will’s boss, played by Laurence Fishburne] says, “Well, I would rather Will Graham go a little mad and save a life. That’s worth the cost.” And as the series progresses, Jack may realise that cost is too great.’
You must have very grandiose serial killing going throughout the series.
‘We go to some really great places: a guy who makes a totem pole of his murders over 30 years. And our Buffalo Bill version of the story: instead of making a woman suit, he’s disembowelling people and using the gut to make strings for his string shop, where he teaches children how to play strings on what they don’t realise is actually people…’
'Hannibal’ starts Tuesday May 7, 10pm, Sky Living. For Time Out's verdict, click here.