Where stage are you at in regards to Season 2 of Hannibal?
I’m packing my suitcase right now. We’re starting shooting in two weeks, so I’m out of here in ten days. I haven’t seen any scripts though, I’m just as curious as everyone else. I have no idea where it will take off from, it will be very intriguing.
There was naturally some skepticism about a Hannibal TV show, so I think a lot of people were surprised by just how good the show was, and by quite how much you were able to achieve on network TV with this subject matter. Did you need to be convinced to join the show, knowing the parameters it was operating under?
Well, the first meeting was all about, ‘well, why should we do this?’ It’s been done to perfection before by Sir Anthony Hopkins. And after a couple of meetings Bryan [Fuller] was able to convince me that we would not be copying the films. This was taking place before he was captured, meaning he’s having a real life and making friends and having a real job. It gave us the opportunity to bring to life some other kinds of scenes and another kind of creature. Obviously he’s still a cannibal, and he’s still a food lover and a music lover, and he hates everything that’s banal, but we have the opportunity to create a character who’s hiding his true self and that was interesting.
Was it a challenge to play a character that audiences already feel they know intimately? Did you try to consciously move away from those wonderful performances by Anthony Hopkins and Brian Cox?
It’s not really a challenge, because they already won that one a long time ago. It’s more that the challenge was that we felt we had some really interesting material on our hands, and we’d like to take it on. We knew that we were going to be compared, and that there would be an ongoing comparison between this and what everybody else has done. But when we do stuff like this we just have to close our eyes and go, ‘you know what, we’re doing our thing, and this is a separate thing, so let’s go.’ Then we have to brace ourselves and wait to see how people react to it.
Does the fact that the audience knows the character actually free you up to do something different? It’s particularly interesting in the show that the audience knows a lot about Hannibal that the other characters don’t.
No, we weren’t trying to detach ourselves completely. We can’t. He’s still like the character in the films and in the books. He’s still a man who loves everything refined and hates everything banal, that’s the character. But Bryan was starting off this story before the books, and it’s for those reasons that he’s a different character. He could not enjoy himself, he could not be winking at the audience constantly because if that was the case the two cops would be the dumbest cops in the world. So he has to play his cards very, very slowly. So because of that he became different, but it wasn’t a deliberate choice of us wanting to detach ourselves.
What fascinated me about the character was that, even though we already know he’s a serial killer and a cannibal, when he starts to psychologically torture Will Graham and manipulate Abigail Hobbs, we’re still able to see new depths of evil.
Absolutely, and every time Bryan was pitching the story to us, it wasn’t that we weren’t paying attention to the individual crime plots in the episodes, but we didn’t pay as much attention to them as we did to the ‘bromance,’ as we call it. The whole story about Jack Crawford, Will Graham, me, and then obviously Abigail Hobbs, that was the essence and the base of the first season, how this mind game was evolving.
What did you feel Hannibal’s motivations were with Will and Abigail. Was he trying to assemble some sort of makeshift family?
He’s quite an interesting character in the sense that he doesn’t quite have the kind of master plan that a good Bond villain does, or Moriarty. He doesn’t have a big game plan. He captures a moment. Today is beautiful, and tomorrow is going to be even more beautiful. And if he’s in jail then that’s going to be a new challenge that he’s going to embrace. For him it starts off with one thing, and that can develop into something else. But one of the key things is with Abigail, and definitely Will, he sees enormous potential. He sees himself in them, he mirrors himself. So he’ll follow that for a while and see where it goes, and help them find the true path, and if that’s not working then he’ll have to go somewhere else. He can change his plan from one moment to the other.
How important was it for you to build up the rapport you established with Hugh Dancy?
It was quite important for both of us. He has his character, and I have mine, obviously, and his character is not happy around people in general. Mine is secluded as well, but he can cope, he’s a professional and he can control his empathy, whereas Will cannot control his empathy. So for us it was very important that we, after a couple of episodes at least, created some kind of warmth between us. There was something implicit there that they respected and liked each other on different levels. So we were constantly trying, even thought there was a lot of conflict between us, trying to create a base that was warm and find a balance with that.
The scenes you share with Gillian Anderson, where we see Hannibal on the other side of the therapists couch, are fascinating. It’s a side to the character we don’t expect to see.
The real Hannibal is obviously him alone in his private moments, sitting at home with a glass of wine, preparing a meal and listening to music. Whether or not he’s truly opening up with his own psychiatrist is a question that’s yet to be answered, because he’s playing her as much as he’s honest. He’s honest, obviously, but then there are times when we’ve just seen what he’s done and then he’s crying his crocodile tears, as if he’s no idea what has happened. But he’s honest with it, because we wanted him to be honest and not putting on an act, we wanted it to be as true as it can be, and that’s what makes him unpredictable. Is he really honest in that particular moment, or is it another game plan? Why does he open up? He doesn’t have to, he’s just doing what he feels is right.
The highly recommended first season of Hannibal is released on DVD and Blu-ray on Monday, September 2nd.