Before Hannibal Lecter was recognized as being the serial killer we all know him to be — thank you Anthony Hopkins — he was a brilliant psychiatrist who consulted to the F.B.I. At least that is the story for the NBC series “Hannibal,” which is a prequel to the books written by Thomas Harris.
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In “Hannibal,” Mads Mikkelsen plays a younger version of the shrink, whose job it is help profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) stay sane as he tunes into some of the most heinous criminal minds in existence in an attempt to bring serial killers to justice.
“Hannibal” premieres Thursday, April 4 on NBC, and executive producer Bryan Fuller, who while very much aware that people feel they know the story, thinks they have succeeded in telling a fresh version of the tale.
So dish up some fava beans with a nice Chianti and get ready for a creep fest. But first, here are five things you need to know for the premiere of “Hannibal”:
No. 1: How Hugh Dancy and Mad Mikkelsen got their roles: When it came time to cast Will Graham, a man who keeps people at a distance, can’t look them in the eye, and has really high psychological barriers, the producers wanted someone with an openness that would allow the audience to still root for him, even though he is damaged.
Watch the Trailer for “Hannibal”:
“One of the reasons that Hugh was so ideal for the role is that Will Graham, who is kind of burdened by his own neuroses and personality disorders, could come off as unlikable unless you have an actor who invites you into his vulnerability with those neuroses and with those personality disorders, and actually gives you permission to care for them as opposed to being pushed away,” Fuller says. “When we all sat down and we talked about who was our Will Graham, Hugh Dancy’s name came up and it was very easy for all of us to say, ‘Oh yeah, he’s the one. Let’s meet with him and see if we can hook him.'”
As for Mikkelsen as Hannibal the Cannibal, the producers were impressed because he had a different take on the role than either Anthony Hopkins [“Silence of the Lambs,” “Red Dragon”] or Brian Cox [“Manhunter”].
“One of the very first meetings that I had with Mads, he was talking less about portraying Hannibal Lecter in terms of how he’s been played before and more about playing Lucifer and this very dark, fallen angel who had an admiration for the beauty and art of the human spirit, so much so that if you were not respectful of that beauty, he could be quite punitive and send you to hell in his own very distinct way,” Fuller says. “So right off the bat, I knew that Mads was going to bring something totally new to this character.”
Watch a Sneak Peek:
No. 2: There will be some movement toward suspecting Hannibal is not all he seems to be: Hannibal really plays with the unsuspecting FBI agents minds with none of them suspecting it — at least initially. There’s one scene where Will says to Hannibal, “Are you trying to put distance between me and Jack [his boss, played by Lawrence Fishburne]?” But then they move on and Will and Jack appear clueless.
“There clearly has to be some movement in that area because I’m playing the world’s greatest detector of serial killers,” Dancy says. “At a certain point, you’d start to wonder how the hell I got the job, you know? But at the same time, Hannibal is 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.”
No. 3: Hannibal, of course, is from the book, but where do the rest of the serial killers come from? Since a TV season is much longer than the number of books that Harris has written, Hannibal and the Minnesota Shrike are from Harris’ imagination, but the rest of the serial killers are the creation of the show’s writers.
“Our approach was, ‘How can we tell a slightly more heightened quality of serial killer tale each week to honor the style and the genre that Thomas Harris has really created in and of himself?,'” Fuller says. “Look at Francis Dolarhyde in Red Dragon, who is a man looking to evolve outside of the simplicity of his life that was corrupted by various abuses to a God-like being that existed inside of him. Or Buffalo Bill [Silence of the Lambs], a man looking to transform into a woman and the horrible deeds that he did to craft a human suit out of real females. There is a sort of purple operatic quality to those style of murders that we tried to respect … [to give you] something a little more grand than what you would see on other crime procedural shows.”
Watch an Interview with Hugh Dancy:
No. 4: With “Hannibal” airing on NBC, a broadcast network, not cable, what are the restrictions? Even as the restrictions for network television loosen, they still do not have the freedom that cable networks do, so even though “Hannibal” is on at 10 p.m., there won’t be arterial spray, eye gouging, seeing people’s intestines being removed from their bodies in great, noodle-y clumps. That said, it will try to give fans of the genre the ingredients they want to see.
“There’s absolutely places where they won’t allow us to go,” says Fuller, who hopes some of the banned footage makes it onto the DVD. “So it’s definitely a collaboration. They’re taking it very seriously that they’re 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.”
No. 5: “Hannibal” hired a chef to be its cannibal consultant: To make the food world of Hannibal Lecter be very specific and distinct, José Andrés was hired as the culinary consultant for dishes made from body parts, such as lungs, which Hannibal serves to his unsuspecting guests.
“As a bit of a foodie and someone who loves adventurous eating, the idea of working with José Andrés 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,” Fuller says. “One 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 he 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.”
“Hannibal” premieres Thursday, April 4 at 10/9c on NBC.