In Part 2 of our exclusive interview with Bryan Fuller, creator of HANNIBAL – which airs on NBC, Thursdays at 10 PM – we discuss Hannibal’s food philosophy, the possibility of a PUSHING DAISIES revival and much more.
ASSIGNMENT X: How did you decide on the first season’s spine? Obviously, you go from the A of Hannibal, played by Mads Mikkelsen, and Will Graham, played by Hugh Dancy, meeting to the B of whatever the end of the season is, but can you talk about how the interior of the season unfolded for you?
FULLER: It was something that I saw very clearly, the beginning and the middle and the end of the season. Once you establish that friendship [between Hannibal and Will], that has to run a certain course. And also, I was so fascinated with John Douglas, the criminal profiler that Will Graham is based on [by Thomas Harris, whose novels are the basis of HANNIBAL], who also had encephalitis, where he had to be hospitalized and they didn’t understand what was going on with him, and he was in mortal danger before they figured it out. So I knew that I wanted to incorporate that into Will Graham and to have someone who is so sensitive to the human condition, to then have his own condition betray him, because he starts to go mad from encephalitis, felt like it was the right kind of cocktail for HANNIBAL to make it interesting, to compromise Will Graham to such an extent that he was vulnerable to Hannibal Lecter’s manipulations felt like it was a great kind of arc for a bromance.
AX: Hannibal colludes with Dr. Sutcliffe, played by John Benjamin Hickey, in preventing Will from knowing he has encephalitis. Why does Hannibal then kill Sutcliffe?
FULLER: Well, there was so much. When [Sutcliffe] calls Will Graham “a pig” at that dinner table, he says, “How do you collect your pigs?” And I think there’s a moment there that [Hannibal says], “Oh, Will’s not a pig,” and also I think that the situation becomes clear to [Hannibal] that he may not be able to control this guy and his actions, and he may betray him in some way.
AX: As far as the Abigail Hobbs character, played by Kacey Rohl, did you know going into this that you wanted Hannibal – if this is what he’s doing – to try to form this little family with her and Will?
FULLER: Yes. That was something that I was always fascinated [by] – she was mentioned very briefly in RED DRAGON, that she survived, that Will visited her a couple of times afterwards, and then she grew up to be kind of normal. And so it seemed to me, given the back story of Hannibal with his sister Mischa and what happened to her [Hannibal’s little sister was murdered and eaten by war criminals] that as a man who is of a certain age may start to feel certain paternal instincts and also have other emotional connections to the younger sister that he lost early on in his youth, it seemed that it was a reasonable thing for him to have empathy for Abigail Hobbs and to seek to bond with her. Perhaps to replace the relationship that he lost a long time ago, or perhaps to create a relationship out of this kind of paternal instinct he has for a girl who had a cannibal father who was her teacher and [he is] now stepping in as a cannibal father figure of a different kind who’s going to be more protective.
AX: You’ve said that you’re largely a vegetarian in your own eating habits …
FULLER: Well, I am a loosy-goosy vegetarian [laughs]. When left to my own devices, I eat fish, but I try to stay away from everything with hooves or claws that peck around on the earth, but fish are something that I eat quite a bit of. For me, I’ve read so much about animal emotions and intelligence that it’s hard for me to separate, but when I go to somebody’s home, I will be polite and eat whatever they put in front of me. If I go to somebody’s house and they give me a steak, I’m not like, “Oh, my God, you’re a murderer!” [laughs] But I prefer to stay to fish and vegetables. I’m a dog lover, and it’s hard to separate a dog from a pig. The first sort of magical beast that I saw as a child was a cow. And I remember reaching my arm up at full length to touch the bottom of the cow’s belly, and the udder was so fascinating to me that I couldn’t imagine eating it afterwards. It was like, “My God, this thing is so docile and alive and intelligent and emotionally sophisticated.” I collect cow paintings from the 1800s, because I find them such beautiful creatures [laughs]. Everybody thinks it’s goofy that I collect all this cow stuff, but they’re magical beasts. So then to turn around and have a hamburger seems a little counter-intuitive.
AX: That question was leading to a discussion of Hannibal’s dietary philosophy. We know Hannibal kills and eats people – does Hannibal ever actually eat animals?
FULLER: Well, there’s a scene in the episode where he has Jack Crawford [Laurence Fishburne] and his wife Bella [Fishburne’s real-life wife Gina Torres] over, and he says that he uses an ethical butcher and that he does not believe in cruelty to animals in any way, shape or form, and that cruelty is something that is reserved for human beings. So then you have to stop and wonder, okay, is he saying that the foie gras is certainly not from a goose that was subjected to the gavage technique, which is horrifying? I believe that he occasionally does eat animals, but prefers to eat human beings. I think there is a philosophical issue, for this incarnation of Hannibal, at least, through the prism of violence – why would you eat a poor innocent animal when there’s an asshole over there who’s not really contributing to society and has more meat on his bones than that poor pig? So I love the contrast of that and the kind of social spoofing of meat eaters versus non-meat eaters and the culture that we’re in. One of the things I love working with Jose Andres [the chef who prepares the onscreen food in HANNIBAL] is that he was very much about not differentiating between man and animal. He didn’t show any judgment or squeamishness or preciousness about what he’s suggesting Hannibal is cooking. It’s “Meat is meat.”
AX: Are we going to learn more about Hannibal’s philosophy of killing people?
FULLER: We will be exploring that further. There are some revelations in the penultimate episode that [help viewers] understand his philosophy and his approach, and I think that we’ll go deeper into that in the second season, because we are dealing with two Hannibal Lecter serial killer identities, one as the Chesapeake Ripper, and another as the copycat. And so we explore the copycat killer in the first season and the Chesapeake Ripper in the first season, but that plane will land.
AX: There was one episode of HANNIBAL that didn’t air in the wake of the Boston Marathon tragedy. The arc parts that don’t contain the controversial material are available on YouTube, but what was the content that caused the episode to be pulled?
FULLER: It was Sandy Hook. The decision [to not air the episode] had been made before the Boston Marathon, so it had nothing to do with the Boston Marathon whatsoever. It was a story about a woman who was creating her own family by destroying other families. She’d abduct a child, brainwash it and force the child to kill its family, and then she would be its only family. The sensitive issue was that it was children killing children. When [NBC] released the first five episodes [to the press prior to HANNIBAL’s premiere], that [episode] was not included, because they were already feeling sensitive about the episode before the [Sandy Hook] tragedy, and afterward, the conversation didn’t go away. I kept hearing every day about a child who had killed another child with a gun, whether it was an accident or intentional. And we just felt sensitive to that, and it felt like it wasn’t part of the show, part of what we were doing, and that it was distracting. We’re not ripped from the headlines. We don’t do those stories. We’re have a kind of fantastical, almost X-FILE-ian villain, very strange murders that are kind of purple and operatic in their psychology.
AX: Will the episode be in the home video release?
FULLER: Absolutely, yeah.
AX: Caroline Dhavernas starred in your series WONDERFALLS. Did you write the role of Alana Bloom specifically for her?
FULLER: Well, Alan Bloom exists in the book [RED DRAGON] as a supporting character, and I thought, “We should have more female energy on the show – we have Jack Crawford, we have Will Graham, we have Hannibal Lecter, and now we need to have the female point of view represented on this show,” and so I had called Caroline and said, “I’m doing this show HANNIBAL, and I would love for you to be on it, and there are a couple roles that I’m thinking about that you would be right for, and which do you want to do?” And she said, “Oh, Alana Bloom, absolutely.” And I was like, “Great.” Done and done.
AX: You made Freddie Lounds a woman, played by Lara Jean Chorostecki.
FULLER: Yes. She’s kind of modeled after Rebecca Brooks, who was the editor of the News of the World, who had all of the scandals with the wire-tapping. I thought, “Oh, the tabloid journalism of the novel is from a different era,” and so I thought, “Okay, I want her to be slightly more savvy and political than the tabloid journalism that we saw with Freddie Lounds, who was played by Stephen Lang in MANHUNTER. I thought, we can make her just a little smarter, no less manipulative, no less a galaxy-class schmoozer, but effective in her own right. She is going to have a big role coming up – she’s peppered in throughout the first season to great effect and she’ll have a much more significant role in Season 2. I wanted to have more of a [gender] balance. In the last six episodes, I was so happy with the richness of the female characters and how they were representing many different points of view of the world’s stories, and I was excited that I was seeing such great actresses as Caroline and Kacey Rohl and Lara Jean Chorostecki and Hettienne Park and Gillian Anderson, and also that they were so different from each other.
AX: Besides Caroline Dhavernas, Ellen Greene from PUSHING DAISIES and Ellen Muth from DEAD LIKE ME have turned up in recurring roles on HANNIBAL. Might any of your other previous actor colleagues appear?
FULLER: I’m hoping so. I’m excited about having Ellen back on the show. She did a small cameo to set up her character in Hannibal’s world, and of course I’d love to see more of her and I’d love to see Swoosie [Kurtz] – there’s not anybody from PUSHING DAISIES that I wouldn’t love to have on the show. We have Raul Esparza in a recurring role; he had a recurring role on PUSHING DAISIES. Gina Torres and Molly Shannon did PUSHING DAISIES. We were going to have Lee [Pace from PUSHING DAISIES] do an arc in the first season. He was doing a play and wasn’t available, but we’d love to work together. So it all depends on his schedule and what he’s available for, but he’s a brilliant actor and has such subtlety.
AX: Speaking of PUSHING DAISIES, any thoughts of doing a Kickstarter campaign to make a conclusion to the series?
FULLER: Yeah. We’re looking into that right now. It’s funny, because it’s such a different paradigm with VERONICA MARS, because [PUSHING DAISIES is] almost three times the budget of what VERONICA MARS would be. When you get into that level of financing, it’s hard to do without the studio and studio distribution, so right now, we’re having those conversations of, what would the studio participation look like? Would we be allowed to finance something with crowd funding on that scale? I talked to [VERONICA MARS creator/producer] Rob Thomas – he was [saying] it was a year before they even launched on Kickstarter, so he’s way ahead of the game on me, but I am very intrigued by the prospect. I would love to revisit that world and play with those actors again. It would be wonderful to be on set with them again in whatever capacity, but especially so if we were making a PUSHING DAISIES film.
AX: What can you say about the new pilot you’re working on now?
FULLER: Yeah, we’re working on a sci-fi project for the Syfy Channel. It’s called HIGH MOON. It’s based on a children’s story called THE LOTUS CAVE, which is about a group of explorers on the moon who find a plant. That’s also kind of a heightened reality exploration of what happens when you take a moon colony world, where you’re going back to almost a Cold War setting, where the world is very small, and placing that on the moon and all of the different approaches to what happens when you discover something that has no business existing and how everybody feels about that, but it is also a fun, rambunctious pilot that almost harkens back to Eighties Spielberg. It’s almost as if 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY were a comedic thriller.
AX: HANNIBAL has a level of gore that is almost like the writings of Clive Barker. When you initially went to NBC, did they say, “How do we do this show without having Broadcast Standards say, ‘We have to make so many cuts that your episodes are each two minutes long’?”
FULLER: At NBC, they were very supportive of the show and they knew with HANNIBAL that we needed to up the ante, that there had been success with graphic horror on cable – THE WALKING DEAD, AMERICAN HORROR STORY – and I think they were really curious to see how that would work on network airwaves. We got put up against two juggernauts [SCANDAL and ELEMENTARY] that had been going all season and had developed such a loyal fan base that by the time we came on, their audience had already been established, so we were carving out our own audience. What was interesting was that all of our Plus-3 and Plus-7 numbers go up eighty-eight percent with the time shift factor, which was really interesting, because it meant that people may not be watching it live, but they were watching.
But what I’m very proud of is that we have carved out such a dedicated fan base, and we’re very active on social media and myself and [director] David Slade and [producer] Martha DeLaurentiis and Hettienne Park [who plays Beverly Katz] and Aaron Abrams [who plays Brian Zeller] and Scott Thompson [who plays Jimmy Price] and Lara Jean Chorostecki – all of these cast members like to Tweet every episode and engage each other in conversation as it’s going on, and they’re also Tweeting behind the scenes pictures and storyboards and illustrations to really make it a full multimedia experience for the audience that either sample those things while they’re watching or during the commercial break or look at them afterwards. It’s wanting to give the audience as much as they are hungry for to craft an even more interactive viewing experience.
AX: And also to say, “Thank you for watching, we’re aware of you”?
FULLER: Yeah, absolutely. You’re asking people to take an hour of their time to sit down and watch something that you’ve done. I absolutely appreciate that.
AX: What’s your reaction to the renewal of HANNIBAL for a second season?
FULLER: So excited that the meal has many more ahead of it. The season finale will definitely leave the audience hungry for more.
Related: Exclusive Interview with Bryan Fuller on HANNIBAL – Part 1
Related: TV Review – HANNIBAL – Season 1 – “Aperitif”
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Article: Exclusive Interview with Bryan Fuller on HANNIBAL – Part 2