Bond villain. Renaissance radical. Igor Stravinsky. Dr. Hannibal Lecter. What do they all have in common? They’ve all been played by the Danish crossover star Mads Mikkelsen, and his latest star-making turn has been as the cunning, ruthless and megalomaniacal psychologist Hannibal, who helps solve psychopathic crimes – while hiding a dark secret himself. HeyUGuys chatted to the actor, who described how he felt people would react to his interpretation of an iconic character, why TV can do what cinema can’t, and what his favourite dish from the show was. Yum…
I can see that right now, television can get away with things that films cannot get away with… on TV, we are as radical as can be. With TV, we’ve found a way how to make it better, tackle it better, instead of bowing to heritage – which is something that we wanted to do. That’s one of the reasons…. or maybe it was just one thing. I don’t know! [laughs]
As an actor, is there anything you feel you can get away with more, as being part of a television show?
I’ve been quite conscious in film, and back home in Denmark, you see, it’s not restricted to [whether] a specific amount of people watch this or that; it’s all about the subject – it’s always been a director’s film. And I’ve had a couple of films that I’ve actually really wanted to be in. But to be able to do the [stuff] I’m doing, that’s half as radical as this one [in Hannibal], … I’m very grateful that I could be part of that.
Are there any other television shows in the pipeline, or any directors that have moved to television, that you might want to work with?
Well, if I were to be [into] that world, I would know much more about it than I do. I mean, there are a couple of things… Breaking Bad, The Wire, The Walking Dead. But I’m not as educated in TV as other people are – I rarely have the time, I wouldn’t know what to do. But there are a lot of interesting people out there that, hopefully I will be one day called up by.
Before The Dark Knight came out, people didn’t seem to like the fact that someone other than Jack Nicholson was going to play the Joker. And I feel that Dr. Hannibal Lecter is a similarly iconic character. So how did you feel when you were first taking on the character?
Well, I wouldn’t know how to respond firstly. I couldn’t put a foot wrong. Everything was all about… but it was not what we were looking for. Outside in the real world, time would be our friend. So we had an opportunity to do something different. And for that reason, I said ‘yes’ – but I was also aware that everyone’s eyes were on us, and if he [Hannibal] did not look and walk and talk like him for a second, there was something wrong. And I think there were quite a few reactions like that for the first couple of episodes, but the ones who stayed on were incredibly pleased that it was a different character, that it was going somewhere else, and it – hopefully – won’t go away.
How did you feel, when you watched the show for the first time, watching your character – your interpretation – of the character?
It’s good for me. I read somewhere that Anthony Hopkins had a screentime of 15 or 14 minutes [HeyUGuys: it was actually 16] and obviously we have week, after week, hour after hour; so we had a different build-up, a slow build-up. So we could not anticipate the [full experience] of the character in one episode, or a few episodes. So I was watching it, and I knew what we did – and like I always do, watching it through the eyes of a man who’s critical, I saw that we did what we set out to do. And I was pretty pleased with that. But I was also aware that we might not give the people exactly what they wanted. Then again, other people wanted different things.
And do you feel that you got what you wanted from the show?
Absolutely. I think that we have written our thing, and this is what we set out to do, what we wanted to do. And the state of Will Graham’s character and Hannibal’s character; that’s what we set out to do, and we got praise, and people were pleased.
Will and Dr. Hannibal’s relationship in the show is an interesting one. I feel that they’re kind of two sides of the same coin. Was that one of the things that drew you to the role?
Hannibal definitely recognises something in Will Graham’s (Hugh Dancy) character that reminds him of himself. But Hannibal is not a man who quits with a master plan up his sleeve – but as for a man walking on his own two feet, that’s Will Graham.
Do you feel that Will sees perhaps more of himself in Hannibal’s character, rather than Hannibal seeing himself in Will’s character?
I’m not the correct one to answer that one – I would say that Hannibal sees a lot of himself in Will. And Will Graham’s curious enough to see what he sees in Hannibal, to to stake him out. And he’s the only person that he stays around, and he takes more and more seriously. And then also, you start to wonder yourself who he really is. Will Graham definitely sees something in Hannibal that he recognises as well – but he’s not as happy about it as Hannibal is.
Do you have a favourite dish from the show?
There are quite a few really delicious things. I remember there was one thing they were serving with foie gras, and I remember we screwed up the scene a couple of times just to get the extra portions.
Hannibal Season 2 is out now on DVD and Blu-ray.