In the final part of Assignment X’s exclusive interview with Bryan Fuller about HANNIBAL (NBC, Thursdays at 10 PM), the series executive producer/show runner/creator – adapting from Thomas Harris’ novels – talks about fan reaction, food as a narrative theme and more.
ASSIGNMENT X: Is there anything about the fan reaction to HANNIBAL that has surprised you?
BRYAN FULLER: I am not surprised and more titillated [laughs]. I’m surprised in the sense that you’re surprised when you make a new friend and they’re somebody who likes the same things that you do. And a lot of the fan reaction has been coming from a place of creative expression over their appreciation of what Thomas Harris created, which is essentially what I’m doing with this show, [I think of] myself as a “Fannibal” who is expressing themselves creatively over the exploration of the Hannibal character. So I’m surprised in the way, “Oh, yay, I love you and you like the same things I do,” and then also just validated in a way. The show’s never got huge ratings, but there’s been a fan understanding and a critical understanding that more than makes up for any lack of viewership, because I think I said this on the call – it’s most important to be understood.
AX: Given that NBC/Universal owns both the network and the Universal Studios theme parks, have you thought about approaching Universal Studios theme park to put in some of prosthetic makeup artist Francois Dagenais’ HANNIBAL work for one of their Halloween mazes?
FULLER: Yes, we have. They were talking about doing it this Halloween. We absolutely went down the road, we had all of the stuff, we had a great meeting, there was lots of cool different – the Stag Man was going to be haunting and there would have been a trippier kind of experience as a Halloween maze. But there was [another] television show whose contract said that no new television shows could be involved in the maze while they were there, and we stumbled across that hiccup.
AX: Would doing something live like a Halloween Horror Maze help to get your feet wet for PUSHING DAISIES on Broadway?
FULLER: Oh, absolutely. The idea of doing something interactive like that with the Halloween Horror Maze, as somebody who goes every year and loves it, is incredibly cool and the PUSHING DAISIES, finding new life in that, is something that I’d very much like to do to remind myself of – it would be a shock to the system, going from the sort of very dark world of HANNIBAL and returning to something that is bright and life-affirming.
AX: And yet it’s still all about food production.
FULLER: Well, the dead things in the pies – there seems there should be a HANNIBAL crossover.
AX: What is going on with the PUSHING DAISIES musical?
FULLER: There’s still interest in it and every time I finish a season of HANNIBAL, we have a bunch of meetings, so ask me again in a couple of months.
AX: Between the themes of HANNIBAL and PUSHING DAISIES, are you finding that somewhere in the back of your mind is a deep desire to talk about food?
FULLER: Well, I think food goes along with all of the themes of life and death, since it is a generator of sorts. Particularly in the last three years, I’ve thought a lot about what I eat and what I’m eating. I got gout and kidney stones, and they’re hereditary in my family, so I try to avoid anything inflammatory. So I stay away from wheat and dairy and those things whenever possible and actually for dinner, almost every night, I have salmon and for lunch I have brown rice and tofu and for breakfast I’ll have an egg white omelet. So my diet is fairly restrictive and that whole thing about Einstein wearing the same clothes every day [so it doesn’t require time to make a decision], that kind of applies to how I eat when I don’t go out to a nice restaurant.
I’ve always been a huge animal lover and so because of my love for animals and writing a show about a cannibal, the lines get very blurry, and sometimes I think that cannibalism isn’t that big of a deal, because [if one is a carnivore] you’re already eating something that is emotionally sophisticated and has an intelligence and so there’s that fine line, but it’s people [laughs], and that line for me has become very, very thin with this show in a way that I don’t eat meat the way I did five years ago, if at all.
AX: It seems like the show HANNIBAL is implicitly pro-vegetarian, because if you really are a vegetarian, you can’t be tricked by the character Hannibal into eating something or someone that you didn’t mean to eat.
FULLER: [laughs] Exactly! And when we make those sumptuous dishes and put them on the screen, I would be lying if I didn’t say I had some kind of agenda with trying to get people to think about their consumption of meat and what exactly they’re eating. You can look at a leg of lamb and rationalize away, very easily, and I still sometimes do it – I’ll probably have meat once a year and it’s usually because I’m with somebody who says, “My God, you’ll never taste like this.” So I’m a bit of a hypocrite in that I’d break a rule for something experiential and then of course afterwards feel bad about it. But mostly I eat either fish or grains. I stopped eating octopus because I read so much about them and felt that it was probably unfair for me to eat something that’s smarter than me [laughs]. I was looking at this thing today that was on somebody’s [online] page about this bull that was saved from a dairy farm that was intended to be used as veal, and then there were humane issues around its captivity and then it was released to people who were going to raise it as a farm pet and they weren’t going to harvest it for meat and there was a boy laying with this cow, and scratching its belly, and the cow was nuzzling the boy and allowing itself to be held, and a dog came up and was nuzzling with them, and it’s hard to stop and say, “Okay, eating that is guilt-free.” Because for me, it’s not guilt-free, and therefore I don’t see a huge difference …
AX: There’s also a philosophical question of, how similar to you does a living being have to be before you say, “Okay, it has a right to its own existence, the way I have a right to mine”?
FULLER: Exactly. Any time that you look at a living life-form as less than you, it is a dangerous slippery slope. And any time you take someone’s humanity away, it’s a dangerous slippery slope if you start equating people with bugs or animals. And then, as animal lovers, I can make the argument that I find animals actually much more sophisticated in many ways than many people I’ve met, and would rather see those people eaten than these animals on a farm. And that’s all in screaming hypotheticals, but it’s hard to deny life when you’re looking it in the eye and you’re seeing cogs turn and feeling a sense of emotional sophistication. Pork and beef are things that are tricky for me to eat, because I can’t not know what I know about a pig’s sophistication and how they will cry out and try to warn their friends when going into a slaughterhouse. All of the social graces that animals afford each other that you see people denying other people, you think, “Who is the better species?”
And something I read recently – I can’t remember who the writer was, but it was like, “Things that I know as I turn sixty, little wisdoms that I’ve picked up,” and one of them was, “Looking into a dog’s eyes is the closest you will ever experience to seeing God.” And that applies to beyond dogs, [also] to an innate curiosity. When I look at those animal videos, you see the tiger and the bear getting along, and the cat and the squirrel, and all of these things where there is a “human” connection in these animals to other species that is not as divisive as human beings are and particularly now in the state of American politics, which is a boggling de-evolution of civility and civics, it makes you yearn for the days when – this is before when I was born, but in the Forties – they had civics classes to teach people how to behave in society with each other and we’ve lost that. All of the lessons that we are taught in terms of our behavior, we see them so grossly disregarded on the floor of the Senate and Congress and these unspeakably foolish representatives of America that it’s hard not to prefer an animal’s company.
AX: What’s happening with your and Michael Green’s adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s AMERICAN GODS for Starz?
FULLER: Well, we’ve been working with production illustrators and it’s been actually a lot of fun to flesh out this world. It’s a ball developing it, the illustrations are amazing and it was fun to share them with Neil and say, “This is what our concept is of the Bone Orchard. This is what our concept is of the Crocodile Bar.” And to see those things that have been kicking around in his imagination now passing the baton, or sharing the baton, with Michael Green and I, it’s been a lot of fun, because what we all love is mythology in our storytelling, and there’s oodles of it at the same time as the grounded, in a way. We talk about the show – I talk about the show as, “It’s CLASH OF THE TITANS by way of THE GRIFTERS.” Which, I want to see that show.
AX: Are there any other writers whose work you’re excited about?
FULLER: I’m always very excited about what [RECOUNT and GAME CHANGE writer and EMPIRE co-creator] Danny Strong is doing. I love Danny. He is such a neat guy and I’m so excited for what’s been going on with him and his writing. He’s a neat guy in a very special way.
I’m excited about the new WESTWORLD on HBO, there are amazing writers behind that show, and I’m always excited about what Ryan Murphy is doing, because he brings such a unique brand of storytelling and I’m curious about SCREAM QUEENS and AMERICAN CRIME STORY. The thing about television right now is, there’s spectacular writing happening right now on television. And whenever the Emmys come around, there’s so much competition that I don’t even hold my breath, because there’s such a wonderful glut of well-written, well-produced shows, and there’s something like three hundred dramas on the various channels, there’s a lot of material.
I love what Graham Yost did with JUSTIFIED and I loved FARGO, BOB’S BURGERS is a favorite, GAME OF THRONES, I love THE WALKING DEAD. I’m very genre-oriented and it’s funny – as a gay man, a lot of friends are, “Why don’t you watch LOOKING?” And it’s like, “Because there are no aliens and there are no vampires and there are no zombies and there’s no cannibalism and there’s no …” [laughs] I love genre, I seek out genre entertainment and whether it is comedy – a straight-ahead drama rarely catches my eye. But what I watch now – the things I watch now regularly are VEEP, BOB’S BURGERS, THE WALKING DEAD, GAME OF THRONES. PENNY DREADFUL I was so curious about, and then when I saw it, I was thrilled that it was so well-made and well-told. I can’t wait ‘til TWIN PEAKS and the new X-FILES, I’m very excited about those.
AX: Do you think HANNIBAL will be back?
FULLER: You know, I have no idea. I have no idea what the future may bring.
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Article: HANNIBAL’S Bryan Fuller on HANNBIBAL, PUSHING DAISIES THE MUSICAL and AMERICAN GODS – exclusive – Part 3