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TV Goodness Q&A: Hugh Dancy and Bryan Fuller Discuss NBC’s Hannibal, Part 2 [INTERVIEW] 

Photo Credit: NBC

The more we get a chance to talk (or listen) to any of the actors or producers discuss this show and their characters, the more fascinated we become with Hannibal. We had some minor problems with the pilot, but for the most part we thought “Aperitif” was a great jumping off point for getting to know this story and these people in a different way. And after talking to executive producer and writer Bryan Fuller and star Hugh Dancy, we’re even more excited and intrigued to see where this goes. Check out part 2 of our Hannibal Q&A below.

Q: Why do you think we’re so fascinated by characters who have brilliant minds and no social skills?

Bryan Fuller: “I think we’re all closet tizzy people and would love to be more abrupt than we are allowed with social niceties. So I think what we identify with those characters is that we would all love to be a little bit more honest and direct with how we’re feeling about people. But because we’re in society and we’re civil that we control those urges. I think there’s a pleasure principle in seeing people behave in ways that we would sometimes like to behave but are just better groomed socially.”

Q: Do either of you think you’re socially awkward or have anything in common with Will or with any of these other characters?

Bryan: “Hugh [is] one of the most intelligent actors that I’ve ever worked with in my entire life and someone I consider to be a creative partner in this show and the crafting of this character. So it’s hard for me to sort of think [of] Hugh [as] socially dysfunctional because I see him as somebody who is so insightful, has the philosopher’s soul, and a wonderful vocabulary and incredible wit. [B]ut he is very much an observer and a very thoughtful human being. So you can hear the cogs turn and the observations and the insights that he makes about the world around him and those around him are as insightful as some of the things that Will Graham would say. So it is very fitting that he is playing this character because he clearly has that approach to life and that he is an observer and he is an appreciator of the human condition.

Hugh Dancy: “Wow. Well thanks. Thank you, Bryan. I would say what Bryan has in common, actually, also with Will and what renders him a fully social human being is enormous empathy. And you find that in working with him in his openness to collaboration. I’m sorry. This question just became an opportunity for us to praise each other… but it’s thoroughly sincere. As a collaborator, Bryan is remarkably open given the responsibility on his shoulders to other people’s thoughts and requests. And also in his writing you feel his involvement and engagement with every line. There’s something personal in every scene. And I think that’s because he has great powers of projection A, and, B because he cares which is what we want in anybody really when we’re interacting socially. So no, Bryan I’m afraid and nor I are socially incapable.

Q: Is it hard to get into the mindset of a killer and is it hard to shake at the end of the day?

Hugh: “You mean do I want to go home and kill someone? [No], I don’t have a hard time. I think what would get me down would be if I felt that we settled into routine. We’re going to solve this case. And, oh and by the way it’s hideously violent. I’d have trouble with that. But as an actor at least there’s a lot to, if you’ll forgive the phrase, to get your teeth into. And secondly just the quality of the cast. I’m going to work every day with Laurence and Mads and I mean all the way down the cast. [It] really gives me so much pleasure that that tends to be the feeling I come away with at the end of the day.”

Bryan: “One of the things that’s really gratifying in watching the dailies is that you’ll see this cast in very sober scenes of darkness. And then there’ll be cracking each other up and making each other laugh. So there’s a levity and joy on set despite the very dark subject matter.”

Hugh: “True. And I think that as Bryan said the violence weighs very heavily on Will, the character. I have to respect that and try [to] treat it honestly and make it real. But at the same time the type of violence is operatic kind of Grand Guignol, you know. There’s a little escape in there.”

Q: Serial killers and violence on TV is really starting to be big business. Can you talk about the appeal of that right now?

Bryan: “I think one of the reasons that horror is finding an audience on television now is that it really wasn’t represented before. [I]n the last 15 years that I’ve been working in television, I pitched many a horror series and had been told horror does not work on television. And what that basically means is that it doesn’t work until somebody proves that it does work. AMC proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is an appetite for horror. It’s a popular genre. And it’s certainly a genre of love for me. I’ve been reading Fangoria since I was 10-years-old and I now read it on my iPad. So I think it was just a matter of it hadn’t been represented before. And now it has. And it was successful. So that success changes perception of a genre. [E]ntertainment has a very strange cloudy mirror that it holds up to society. So I think we’re reflecting where people’s heads are in a certain way. I think that’s part of art’s responsibility in its role in society.”

Hugh: “I think it is about a genre distinction as much as anything else. There’s a particular type of violence in the shows that you’re describing, which as with all genres can be done well or badly and the bad version will be unthinking and a little numbing. But violence in a broad way has been on television for quite a long time actually and perhaps in a more desensitized way.”

Q: Is there anything that NBC has told you that you can’t do?

Bryan: “Oh yeah, there’s lots. [W]hat’s been really great about working with NBC on this project is that they recognize that they are doing a horror show and the show is called Hannibal Lecter. And they have put us on at 10 o’clock for a reason so we can maximize what we can show to honor the genre and also provide fans of the genre certain ingredients that they are expecting to see. But there’s absolutely places where they won’t allow us to go. [I]t’s always a push-pull because it’s like ooh, can we do this and we show it to them and they’re like ooh, not that one. So it’s definitely a collaboration and they’re taking it very seriously that they are presenting a horror show and they have to…honor that audience. I would love to be going a lot further. But NBC keeps on reminding me where the line is. And that’s the responsibility as [a] broadcast network but they have been very, very supportive in terms of what we can do and going as far as we can without being X rated.”

Q: Examples? What did they say no to?

Bryan: “Arterial spray. [T]here’s some episodes where going back through I was like ooh I hope we get to release the DVD version of the unsuitable for broadcast television collection of the show. So eye gouging, seeing people’s intestines being removed from their bodies in great noodle clumps. Those types of things they tend to say no. And they should because I think as an artist in the role of executive producing the show, I want to please the core audience more than anyone and it’s NBC’s responsibility that we don’t go so far that we alienate members of the audience who are willing to stick through some of the horror elements but we can’t drop a bucket of blood on them and expect them to have a good time.”

Q: Has there been anything that you’ve shot that’s actually grossed you out?

Hugh: “[T]here was one prosthetic which I don’t think I can really describe to you because it would be such a big spoiler. But it came as a surprise to me. So it’s a few months in of acting opposite the various creations of the prosthetic team and being complete[ly] unmoved by it because it’s a very technical process usually and then walking onto the set one day and I actually had to walk off the set and take a moment and come back. And I guess it was nice to realize that I could still be affected by that kind of thing.”

Bryan: “For me as somebody who read Tom Savini‘s books on makeup prosthetics and staged my own very violent recreations as a child to the horror of the photo processing store on a weekly basis, I’m always astonished at the craftsmanship. And that’s one of the reasons that, as a horror fan, I look at things through the craft more often and particularly being behind the scenes, I’m always just sort of like oh my God, [Francois] knocked it out again this week.”

Q: Your oeuvre is death. How do you explore that in Hannibal with these two characters?

Bryan: “[T]here’s a very dark comedy at the heart of the Hannibal Lecter character as a man who refers to his victims as free range rude. There’s a wit about it. And for me, my obsession with death is primarily an obsession with life and death is just the punctuation of that sentence. So it hinges on is it an exclamation mark? Is it a question mark? Is it a period? So the obsession with death is actually healthier than most would assume. And I think exploring a serial killer’s story not just through the deaths but actually through the really complex psychology of the protagonist Will Graham and his perception of life and his sort of the sobriety at which he approaches his job and which his job takes a toll on him felt like it was an opportunity to explore those issues that I enjoy sort of philosophically asking questions about, not just life and death, but really what is my role in the universe. What is our role in the universe? What is our responsibility in society? Where do we belong? And particularly what is our perception of reality and it coming to various ends? And as we explore with Will Graham’s character and his ever-changing perception of reality, it really becomes a question of who are we and how do we belong.”

Hugh: “The fact that [Will] lives in his mind is a great proximity to death, I suppose, and to violence. But almost because of that he clings that much more tightly to whatever likeness he can find in his life. And he’s engaged in exactly the kind of questioning that Bryan’s talking about, which is who am I? What is my role? [I]n a sense I suppose you could say he’s humanity (at large) not to make too great of a claim of the character. But in the sense that he carries this violence within him, which I think we all do to some extent. And he’s wrestling with what that means for him with what he can be the man he wants to be. And if you’re thinking about a character on those lines, you thinking about life on those lines, then let’s face it, death is an implicit part of it.”

Q: Can you talk about your cannibal consultant?

Bryan: “[A]s someone who loves adventurous eating, the idea of working with Jose Andres as our culinary consultant on the show was one that I had very early on in the process almost before I had even written the script. I called my agent and…once I got the job and sort of pitched my take to Martha De Laurentiis and got her stamp of approval to proceed, one of the first calls I made to my agent was how do I get in contact with Jose Andres because I want the food world of Hannibal Lecter to be very specific and distinct and respectful to someone as a chef. And so how do I get in contact with Jose Andres? And they’re like well we actually represent him and he just got the James Beard award and he’s having a reception next Wednesday. Why don’t you come as my date and so I did. And I was introduced to Jose and said so I’m working on this Hannibal Lecter project. And he was like, ‘Oh. Hannibal.’ And he started doing Anthony Hopkins impressions and was very excited. He’s like, ‘Please, can I be your consultant?’ And I was like, ‘Well I was actually just about to ask you or beg or whatever I needed to do to get you to do the job.’ He was so enthusiastic and…the lungs in the pilot, those were his ideas. [O]ne of my first questions [was] what can you eat on the human body and he said, ‘Everything. You can eat everything. You can grind the bones into gelatin to use in Jell-O molds’ and had very specific suggestions on what body parts to use and how to prepare them in a way that had no judgment whatsoever in terms of this is a human being we’re talking about as opposed to a pig or a cow or a duck, which I have great respect for because as an animal lover and as somebody who mainly eats fish and rice, I appreciated that he was treating human beings as equally as animals…without any kind of preciousness of oh, it’s a human being so we have to acknowledge that cannibalism is bad. He was just talking about preparing a fantastic dish with meat products and there was no kind of concern about where the meat came from, which I thought was sort of a wonderful thing about him because he was an equal opportunity eater. Not necessarily an equal opportunity eater but in terms of planning a menu he was equal opportunity.”

Q: It’s nice seeing people from your previous shows in completely different roles. Can you talk about that?

Bryan: “I adore actors. I love working with really smart actors. So whenever you work with somebody that you love, you want to work with them again. [W]hat was interesting about having Ellen Muth on the show…was that there was actually an opportunity to deconstruct…our previous collaboration in a very unexpected way. I mean her character has the same name and is a reinterpretation of that character and in fashion that was sort of the Mulholland driving of Dead Like Me. So it was fun for me creatively and it was also just an opportunity to work with people that I adore and enjoy not only their company but their craft.”

Q: Is there anything you can say about who Molly Shannon‘s playing?

Bryan: “I can’t really without giving away the part. Molly is a trained dramatic actress so it was fun to see her in a dramatic role. And she is infectious as a human being and as a spirit. So I was just excited to be able to work with her and also see her do something that she doesn’t usually do.”

Q: When is the team going to start suspecting Lecter?

Hugh: “[T]here clearly has to be some movement in that area because I’m playing the world’s greatest detector of serial killers. And at a certain point you’d start to wonder how the hell I got the job. But at the same time Hannibal is the most – not just the most intelligent but in a sense the most quick-witted man in the show I suppose. He’s always that one step ahead. So yes, there may be moments when a little alarm seems to go off. And I don’t want to give too much away about how the whole season progresses and this enormous distance that we travel.”

Q: With the explosion of cable TV does network TV have to push the envelope to survive in this landscape? 

Bryan: “The identity of ABC and FOX and NBC has changed so much over the course of the last decade but CBS has relatively stayed the same. So I think that particularly for those networks who aren’t in that consistent spot where their audience is incredibly loyal they have to try new things. And it’s not necessarily just pressing the envelope or pushing the envelope with gore and violence. I think that envelope has to be pushed with storytelling and venturing into unsafe places that aren’t haunted by doctors and lawyers and cops. And we have to start looking under different stones for stories to be told. And I think it will keep everybody on their toes because we are in a point of dramatic change for network TV. And I think everybody should take advantage of it and try new things because safe maneuvers fail more consistently than unexpected chances. [T]here’s so many television shows on the airways and not just now but that have existed since the dawn of network television that we have to do things differently or try to do things differently or try to bring a point of view that is valid to whatever we do. And we can’t just sort of like for lack of a better expression squat over a conveyor belt. [W]e have to really try to do our jobs as storytellers and broadcasters to provide truly original content. But I do think our approach to this show and certainly the cast’s approach to each of their characters I have felt inspired by. And I feel like we’re all trying to tell fresh version of the story. And I think it would behoove everyone to continue to try to do that themselves.”

Part 1 of this Q&A can be found here.

Hannibal airs Thursdays at 10/9c on NBC.

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