HANNIBAL Scoop: Bryan Fuller Interview

After the Season 2 finale shocker, where it looked as if HANNIBAL dared to kill off nearly all of its principal characters and heroes, fans are undoubtedly going to be anxiously awaiting to find out just who survived and how and just what Season 3 could possibly hold in store as the show races right into its third season.  

As creator and executive producer Bryan Fuller explained in a recent press conference call, answers will be coming as to all the characters’ finale fates, but not necessarily in the first retiring episode.  So fans and viewers will want to tune in for the first couple of episodes to finally get those answers.  But rest assured, more diabolical killings and the tense dance of desire and duplicitousness continues as Hannibal Lector (Mads Mikkelsen), his new wife Bedelia (Gillian Anderson), and Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) return.
Can you talk about the decision to bring Gillian Anderson’s character deeper as his wife and kind of makes her more of an accomplice this season?
BRYAN: Well, really it kind of boils down to this fabulousness of Gillian Anderson and more of her is always a good thing. And we had so much fun working together in the first two seasons and she’s such an iconic actress and brings such a specific energy to the show that it seems like a really logical next step for the series to flush out that relationship expanded and get more of the chemistry between Mads Mikkelsen and Gillian Anderson.
What is a favorite scene that’s coming up that you’re waiting for people to see?
BRYAN: Oh boy, there’s quite a few in this season. One of the most fun things about this season is the departure from the crime procedural storytelling and this first chapter of Season 3 was really designed to do the show as a pure character-driven story.  And in adopting these books, there are so many lines that Thomas Harris has written that I’ve better sized and put into actors’ mouths and I’m always surprised that how they elevate them and ground them and make them their own in context of the story.  So far as the favorite scene with that, there’s a dinner scene in Episode 7. There are many scenes before that I adore but there is a particularly fun dinner scene in Episode 7 that Mason Verger is hosting that I’m excited for people to see because it’s laugh out loud funny and Joe Anderson is so infectious in his portrayal of Mason Verger (stepping in for Michael Pitt) and he has brought so much of his own energy to the role but also marking the interpretation by Gary Oldman in Ridley Scott film. So I’m excited for people to see that scene in particular because I think it’s one of our best dinner scenes that we’ve ever filmed.
With the relationship between Hannibal and Bedelia. You’re not entirely sure who’s in control. Is Hannibal controlling her?What’s going on?  She has a darkness to her. Would you say those are underneath at all? There’s genuine feeling there for each other underneath that they share for one another?
BRYAN: There is a genuine connection between Bedelia and Hannibal. It’s different than the connection between Will and Hannibal, as Bedelia states at one point in the season that Will’s relationship with Hannibal is a much more passionate one than her relationship with Hannibal.  Yet, they have an intimacy that goes beyond the psychiatrist-patient relationship, yet I would say at its core Bedelia will always be Hannibal’s therapist first.  And I wanted to make sure with her portrayal in the role that she did not all of a sudden become one of those women who write to serial killers in prison thinking that they can change the man and make him a better person because of their love. She is absolutely not on that course and she knows exactly who she’s dealing with. And I love the turns in this season where we see Bedelia, particularly in Episode 6, on what she’s done and also illustrate that she’s had a plan all along and she’s no dummy.
Can we expect any deaths? Obviously, there’s going to be deaths this season of like people that Hannibal encounters and stuff. But as far as main characters, are there any we should be concerned about?
BRYAN: I think it’s always wise to be concerned about the main characters in the show. If not for the immortality, for their psychological well-being and one of the fun things in developing this season is that everyone who survived the Red Dinner of the finale of Season 2 has been broken and reborn in a way that has shifted their perspective. So there’s certain things with key characters where we get to see them transformed into new versions of themselves and – but yes, you should absolutely be worried for Will Graham always and the steps that he takes to resolve his relationship with Hannibal. If the first season was the bromance and the second season was the nasty breakup, the third season is really that point in the relationship where you’re looking back at what you’ve lost and still needing a point of closure for that relationship and how drastic that point of closure is will be major part of Will Graham’s arc in this season.
What can you tell us about Richard Armitage’s portrayal of the infamous Francis Dolarhyde and how is that different from the version we’ve seen Ray Fiennes portray in “Red Dragon”?
BRYAN: Well, there have been a couple of great performances as Francis Dolarhyde. Tom Noonan in “Manhunter” is a strange man who breaks your heart because you really get a feel for how desperately he actually needed this human connection and how it may have actually saved him from himself and the great Red Dragon.  The shocking — I guess it’s not shocking or surprising, but a wonderful confirmation of Richard Armitage’s ability as an actor — he’s so thoroughly trained that he approached the character with such gravitas and earnestness that the tragedy of the story is really one that we wanted to bring to the forefront because the arc in the Red Dragon chapter of the season is very much a trouble between Hannibal and Will and Francis Dolarhyde because Dolarhyde represents something unique in the triangulation of Hannibal and Will and that he provides Will Graham a version of Hannibal that he may be able to save and provides Hannibal a version of Will Graham that he may be able to corrupt.  So each of them is getting something dynamic out of that relationship and we get to see how the triangulation through Dolarhyde changes the relationship between Will and Hannibal in a drastic way.  So I can’t talk enough about Richard’s presence on this production and how masterful he was, how he surprised the crew, how he elevated the material, how we brought that sense of tragedy to Francis Dolarhyde in a way that was both accessible and sheer madness. In editing the different episodes and watching scenes between Richard and Rutina Wesley, who plays Reba McClane (the object of his affection), we were both wiping tears out of the corners of our eyes because he is just so heartbreaking.  And one of the things that I wanted to challenge the audience with is: this is a horrible killer of families; yet he is so tortured by his madness that I wanted to confuse people with their sympathy for him and the revulsion by him and really deliver a different kind of serial killer story that you don’t see on television that often.
Where does the Red Dragon arc come within this season?
BRYAN: There’s two chapters in Season 3. There’s kind of the “Hannibal” the novel, mashed up with “Hannibal Rising” the novel as the first chapter that is set primarily in Italy. And then the second chapter that begins with Episode 8 starts the Red Dragon story and that uses six episodes to tell a broader, more in-depth version of the story than we’ve been allowed to see previously in the film adaptation, simply because of the real estate that we have in six hours that they didn’t have in two hours. So the fun for us is really making that last.  It’s almost like a Red Dragon miniseries in the last half of the season and we tell that story to completion and find ways to weave in our existing characters and change up some of the dynamics that you may have been familiar with in the novels or the films and shifting them around so they feel fresh. Once again, the approach with this show has always been provide some familiarity and then shake it up, so the audience that may be familiar with the previous adaptations is getting a new experience that is somewhat familiar mashed up with the new incarnations of characters that we’ve developed on the show. So you’ll get a nice, fat six-hour Red Dragon miniseries at the end of Season 3.
Is Bedelia essentially Clarice from the film “Hannibal?”
BRYAN: No. That’s an interesting question because in that novel we see Clarice being brainwashed and partially hopefully but the big question is how much is she in control of her own actions but she surrenders to the controll of Hannibal Lecter in the novel. And for our purposes, I always wanted Bedelia to be driving her own story. So it would have been very easy for us to say Bedelia has been brainwashed and this is why she has gone off into this adventure with Hannibal Lecter.  But the more interesting route for me as a storyteller is for that character who is a strong female character being in charge of her own story with her own drive, with her own curiosities about the human condition and a lot of what she’s doing is for her own edification. That was a very important point for us to make with that storyline because I feel like we would be doing the actress and the character to service if we just made her a drug-induced pawn of Hannibal Lecter’s plot. So we very much did not want to tell that story even though we were looking at telling that story in a different way in this series eventually. But he’s absolutely in control.
Are you having any conversations with “broadcast standards” at this point? 
BRYAN: No.  Actually, Joanna Jameson, who is our Standards and Practices executive at NBC, is one of my favorite people. She has been such a doll with the show and her support of the show. She knows exactly what we’re trying to do artistically and also narratively with the franchise that we’re exploring in Hannibal, the Cannibal.  So I always make a point to reach out to her whether it’s a sex scene and we have some very beautiful sex scenes in the show with Margot Verger, who is in the second season. We have this kaleidoscopic lesbian love scene that is beautiful. And I actually got a note from Joanna afterwards where she said the Standards and Practices Team all applauded this sex scene because it was so sensual and erotic but played within the parameters of what we could broadcast.  So it’s absolutely a partnership. And we know that we are pushing the envelope and they know that we’re pushing the envelope and they want to facilitate us telling as rich and complex an adult story as possible but there are parameters because we’re living in a country that has some really backward views on how we can do terrible things to the human body but we can’t do beautiful things to the human body and that is not NBC or any broadcast network’s role. Their role is to enforce those rules to the best of their ability and also allow for creative expression.  So I can’t thank Joanna Jameson enough for how she’s allowed us to navigate these issues and actually has led us in on the process and told us “This is how you can get away with more,” “This is where we have to draw the line,” and there are things where I’m – you know, I always deliver a cut to the network that is reasonable but leaning towards assertive in its depiction of adult content. And I’m always met with a glad desire to make whatever we can work. And so whatever notes that we do get from Standards and Practices we’re very eager to do them because it’s been such a collaboration, though it’s such a unique experience for me working in television. There were things I’m pushing daisies that don’t even breach the content that we do on “Hannibal” that would get shot down by ABC because of the Disney ownership of the network and the parameters were much more restrictive.  And the thing that I love about working with NBC, particularly Jen Salke, who has supported the show above and beyond meager ratings and has allowed us to continue to tell the story that we want to tell and we would not be able to do this show on any other broadcast networks and it’s big thanks to Jen Salke for allowing us to tell the story and the way that we want to tell the story.
Now that the show is transitioning away from the procedural approach of the show, how is that transition going to work in terms of incorporating your cast of characters from the FBI?  
BRYAN: Well, the challenges were to keep our FBI personnel integrated into the story. The first half of the season it was really about finding ways for this story to be personal to Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) and how he is functioning outside of the FBI. Once we tether that to a personal agenda with his connection to Will Graham and his connection to Hannibal Lecter and understand that he is operating outside of the law and his appearance in Italy, all that will become clear in the fourth episode. So SPOILERS! But it was really about doing what we were doing with all of the other characters which was finding the personal connection for them to the story that exists outside of their occupation and for Jack, since he had gone down this journey and recruited Will Graham and lost Will Graham and found Will Graham again is now worried has he lost him forever that gave him a very intimate connection to the storyline that we could unpack as opposed to having him in the FBI looking at evidence.  And, of course, in the second half of this season, which is a six-hour Red Dragon miniseries, the FBI has woven in more naturally because that is an active investigation and a return to the crime procedural but in a way that you don’t often get on network television and that we are looking at one case over six episodes as opposed to one case per episode and having a killer of the week, which was a bit of our format in the first two seasons which was a lot of fun and we got to do some really wild, dysmorphic things with the human body and are storytelling. But what a great relief it is to focus solely on characters as somebody who loves to write character, first and foremost, and has always resisted the crime procedural aspects of the story which is why dress them up in this very [powerful] stories that allowed us to do something visually dynamic that kind of provided a thematic umbrella under which we told a deeper part of Will Graham’s story.  Yet now with the first chapter in Italy it’s all about the characters and them resolving their issues from the first two seasons, moving on into new issues and new complicated relationships.
Is there any one character that you can look at and say: It’s really this person’s season? 
BRYAN: In the first half of this season the story is always going to be about Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter at the center. And what I love about this season in particular in the first chapter is how great the ensemble has come together.  This is also spoilery. But when we get into Alana Bloom’s story in Episode 4, it was exciting for me to have listened to some of the reaction to Alana’s story in the second season and there was a significant amount of feedback in terms of frustrations that she had been relegated to the girlfriend role, triangulated between Will and Hannibal and she wasn’t necessarily following her own story. I was determined at the beginning of this season to make Alana as interesting a character as any of the characters in this season and her change is perhaps the greatest from the first two seasons and the link that she goes to deal with her own damage from being in that relationship and finding out new things about herself as a result. So I’m thrilled with what Caroline has done with that character and having a long history with that actress going back to WONDERFALLS, it was a delight to see her really shape the character’s arc in a new way, embrace these radical changes in her personality which having survived the Red Dinner gave us the motivation to really make a shift in her character.  So I’m thrilled with what we see of Alana and her story arcing out.  But I do think that Gillian Anderson has a great role in the first half of the season with her arc and better understanding her relationship to Hannibal and we go to places and answer questions in the second half about things that we’ve hinted at in her history and we see those things come to pass in the second half as well as in the first episode.  So I’m I’m a big fan of the ladies and I love what Caroline and Gillian and Katie Isabelle have done with their respective roles in the first half of the season and that’s not even get into Tao Okamoto who is the new member of our cast and provides a different perspective on the story as what we’ll discover as the first in a long line of Mischa surrogates that Hannibal has fostered from Chio to Miriam Lass to Abigail Hobbs and his instincts to both foster and corrupt, the young women in his life that remind him of his sister.
What was the hardest part of the creative process for you especially this season in the writing process?
BRYAN: The writing process is always complicated on this show because it is something that is very hard to guide because I feel like with every time I sat down to do a pass at a script, I’m teaching myself how to understand this show and I think that is a good thing in a way because it always feels fresh and challenging and utterly daunting to make significant something that has been thoroughly explored in the past. But I think the key to this show is, I tell the writers that every scene has three major components:  one is Thomas Harris that we have to honor the literature.  I scour the novels. If I’m stuck in a scene, I scour the novels for a turn of phrase or quote that we haven’t used and sort of sampling Thomas Harris’s DNA and injecting it into this scene, so it feels true to his vision of the world even though we were taking such radical departures in certain ways that we have 1/3 Thomas Harris.  A third psychology, like some sort of psychological philosophy that we are exploring with the relationship between the characters, I do a tremendous amount of research in psychological journals to see what’s current, what are people exploring in terms of belief, perception, reality, senses of self. All of those issues — it’s exciting for me as somebody who set out to be a psychiatrist before I understood just how much schooling it involves and it scared me away to Hollywood. So Thomas Harris is 1/3, 1/3 of contemporary genuine psychology, and 1/3 of our own magic sauce for what we are exploring in this very complicated world of relationships with a serial killer. That was one of the things that excited me about doing this series the most, is that we had seen Hannibal in the previous adaptation as very much a lone wolf, and this was an opportunity to see him with friendships and to see him interacting with his fellowmen or actually not his fellowmen because he sees himself as more than a man. But telling a story of the Hannibal Lecter who can actually care about another human being. Even though he’s doing atrocious things to those other human beings, part of him is doing it because he feels that it will access a truer, more honest sense of that person’s self in his dastardly deeds.
It must be hard that the show is not more popular and more in the in the pop culture realm. What can we can do? What’s your best sales pitch to get people to commit to this given that there’s so much other content out there?
BRYAN: Well, really, I feel like you’re doing it and writing about the show and talking about the show. That is for me the fan reaction to the show. And the critical reaction to the show means so much more to me as an artist than big ratings. Yes, big ratings would be amazing. But being understood is an even more amazing thing.  So I think what we can do is just continue talking about the show, talking about its merits and also using Season 3 as a brand new entry point that if you haven’t seen HANNIBAL in the first two seasons, Season 3 is actually a great place to jump in and allow yourself to be swept away.
Have you you ever thought about putting together a bodies exhibit of all the artfully done kills that you’ve done over the past couple of seasons?
BRYAN: I would love to do that because I would love to see a bodyworks exhibit of François Dagenais’ work on HANNIBAL. He has created such unique pieces. And the scope of them is often hard to translate on screen when you’re looking at them in person. And there have been several times where the cast has actually had to look at the piece and then walk out because they were sort of horrified by it. And then they have to reapproach it from a craft perspective to get back into the scene.  The big obstacle in that exhibit is that we reused a lot of the same bodies over and over again. And we’ll cut off heads and put like a head on the body and that sort of things. So they’ve been cannibalized, for lack of a better word, in their revisitations in the show.  But I’m so glad that you think that way about the show’s representation of this body dysmorphia artwork which is very Cronenbergian in its inspiration. And I do look at them as pieces of art.  And oftentimes they are inspired by art where I’ll see a painting in Paris and take a picture of it on my iPhone and then bring it in and say like how do we do this, like the Treeman from Season 2, there was this wonderful exhibit in the Museum of Hunting in Paris which is a spectacular museum if you get a chance to go see it. It’s wonderful. And they had these paintings that were botanical and, basically, botanical meat. And so those things have a tendency to stick in my craw than I’ll say, like, how do we bring this to life, how do I communicate how struck I was by seeing this image for the first time to the audience and share that with them. And a lot of the instinct is just to share things that I think are cool and hope that the audience isn’t too freaked out.
What was your favorite presentation, so far?
BRYAN: One of the favorites would be the Cello Man because the nature of that. I love the cello as an instrument. I think it’s gorgeous and sumptuous and creates such a resonant sound that the idea of turning a human being into that beautiful of an instrument even in its horror and stringing a cello with the vocal chords and playing them with a bow was kind of delightfully perverse.  And also in the development of that story, the conversations that I had with Brian Reitzell about the first instruments – the first musical instrument being made from bones bones hollowed out to become flutes and things like that that it felt sort of connective in a way that when you listen to a piece of music and it travels right through your sternum and you feel connected to it and you have an emotional reaction, it feels like there’s something almost primal in music coming from the body, traveling through the body and elevating into an artistic experience.  So that’s probably my favorite for a lot of reasons.
In an early episode, there was a young girl at Quantico in Will’s class. She walks up to him like she’s going to ask him something and then walks away. Was that Clarice Starling?
BRYAN: In that moment — we had talked about:  Is this her class? Is this Clarice Starling’s class? And there was the motivation there to hint at of Clarice-type character. But also there was a little bit of “Indiana Jones” and “Raiders of Lost Ark” of the young woman who painted “Love You” on her eyelid and Will Graham bringing such a charmer in his own strange way that he was eliciting that response from his student as well.  And we talk about Clarice quite a bit on the show. And as you may know, there’s certain rights issues tangled up in it. But there’s something about if we do ever tell the Clarice Starling’s story, I think it might be interesting to change ethnicities on Clarice and get a different perspective of a southern young woman’s experience and put race as a component in that woman’s view of the world.  Race is oftentimes a tricky subject just because it makes some people cringe. But I think it is absolutely a defining trait of people and characters and fictions. So part of me wants to do a Clarice that would be a non-white Clarice and have a different angle into that story that gives it layers that we haven’t seen, because it’s going to be really hard to top Jodie Foster. I’m hoping if we ever do that that we don’t cast a white actress. But if we do, I hope it’s somebody like Ellen Page.
In the season finale, all these people are left for dead and then in the season opener, you don’t really tell us what happened until the next episode.  Did you always plan that right along or did you come up with it last season?  How does that come about?
BRYAN: No, that was always the intention all along because we left the audience with Hannibal and Bedelia and I thought it was very important to continue that telling that story in the first episode of this season and almost giving the audience permission to move on from the first two seasons in a way that would both provide a yearning for needing to know what happened to those characters and also just plunge right into the story that’s right in front of us. So in a way, holding it off is narrative-edging, if that makes sense. But, hopefully with the anticipation, they’ll be more excited to see Will in the second episode after being denied him in the first.  Episode 4 is actually the episode that kind of picks up after the events of the finale. So there were conversations being had about like maybe Episode 4 should be Episode 1. And it’s like, “No, we really need to do it this way because it’s emotional storytelling as opposed to plot storytelling.” And I think a lot of the dream-like images on the show and the way stories unfold surreally is really about embracing a post-traumatic shock. So that second episode for me, which is probably the artiest, artiest thing that we’ve done on the show. And I love pretension. I love cinematic pretension. I think it’s a lot of fun. It was really about a poem to grief and what it is for Will Graham to have survived the first two seasons and really getting his head to the point that you don’t know or if you’re awake or if you’re still dreaming.
There are parts coming up that we are not sure if it really happening or is it just imagined.
BRYAN: Like when he makes it into that beautiful feathered wing — or he’s eating the guy that he stuck an ice pick in his temple and feeding them to his colleagues. So that really happened.  Well, he’s probably in the meat locker having been broken down and prepped. Hannibal disposes of his victims by digestion, instead of burying them. . .  As to Eddie Izzard?  He’s actually there. I love the chemistry between Maz and Eddie and for Dr. Gideon at the table in the black and white flashbacks.  So that was one of the themes of that episode is exploring the nature of Hannibal’s relationships outside of the Will Graham relationship — and  contrasting how he deals with Bedelia, with how he deals with Gideon who’s a bit of a brat in his home and making noise with snail forks and that sort of thing. So he was there unconscious and being forced to eat himself as part of his punishment for being a pretender to the throne in the first season.
Dr. Chilton, any hints on when we will finally get to see him again?
BRYAN: Yes, we reintroduced Chilton to the show in Episode 4 and he has a very big role in that episode.  One of the things that was interesting in talking about how Chilton would be changed we saw him in the first season being gutted by Eddie Izzard’s character. And in the second season, he was shot in the face by Anna Chlumsky’s character. So he’s a bit of arcane for this series that we do something absolutely horrible to Dr. Chilton in every season. And what happens to him in this season is probably the most horrible.  But the fun of it in doing it with that character is that Raúl Esparza brings such a different energy to the show, a vital energy to the show where he understands his role as comic release in this world and provides a perspective of the madness that is grounded at the same time as witty. And so we do some very fun things with Dr. Chilton this season. And Will is always cracking the stage up with his antics. And the blooper reel for this season — he definitely is the highlight of that.  So he comes back in and plays a pivotal role in both chapters, the first chapter and the second chapter. And we will see very clearly how he managed to survive those things, so we don’t just sort of magically have him show up and everything is fine. We see exactly what happened from a bullet’s point of view and how we survived.
To find out just how Will Graham and the other heroes survived the Season 2 finale fateful Red Dinner, and just what is going on with the unexpected marriage of Hannibal and Bedelia, be sure to tune in for the Season 3 premiere of HANNIBAL on Thursday, June 4th on NBC at 10:00 pm. — and be sure to tune in for the subsequent episodes Thursday nights this Summer for even more answers as the thrilling third season unfolds!