[Interview] "Hannibal" Creator Bryan Fuller
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[Interview] “Hannibal” Creator Bryan Fuller on Cannibalism, Diverse Representation, and the Unwavering Bonds of Male Friendship

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Some truly brilliant minds attempted to adapt Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter-centered novels to the screen, including Ridley Scott, Jonathan Demme, and Michael Mann, but none quite captured, bottled, and presented the essence of the wicked words on the page quite like show runner Bryan Fuller. Loosely based on The Red Dragon, Hannibal, and Hannibal Rising, Fuller’s television program simply titled Hannibal interprets Harris’ work with grace, humility, and even a little wit. Starring Mads Mikkelsen as Dr. Hannibal Lecter and Hugh Dancy as Will Graham, the show tells the story of a Graham, a special consultant for the F.B.I., who has resorted to therapy sessions with Dr. Lecter as a way to deal with his ability to empathize with the serial killers he helps hunt down. Little does Will know, the man he confides in the most is actually the copy-cat killer he’s been trying to track, and each of his therapy sessions has been a purposeful slow descension into madness, orchestrated meticulously by Lecter who seeks who frame Will for his murders. As the show drums on, it becomes clear that this crime drama isn’t just about telling the cat and mouse tale of a killer and the detective chasing him, but also, an exploration of the male bond between two monsters who only feel like men when they look into each others’ eyes.

As a gay man, creator Bryan Fuller has always been intrigued by straight male partnerships, and the way that they flourish. It’s only natural that eventually that interest would bleed into the show. “It didn’t start out as being homoerotic as much as it was about an exploration of male friendships, in a way,” explains Fuller. “As a gay man, I’ve always been fascinated with heterosexual male friendships, and seeing patterns of romance and devotion that are not sexualized, but are nevertheless very deeply felt. So, it was really about unpacking that in a way, and I think as it progressed, the lines became blurry”.

The lines blurred, indeed, as the seasons progressed, and Will finally realized that Hannibal was the man whom he was searching for, all this time spent searching for the copycat of the Minnesota Shrike and the Chesapeake Ripper, when all he had to do was turn and look at the man standing in front of him, charged to look after Will’s mental well being. Sadly, Will’s epiphany came too late, and fell on deaf ears, as Hannibal had already finished perfectly setting up Will as the deranged killer, and manipulated Will’s mind enough to make him believe that it was true. It’s not until Will has spent some time in prison and out of Hannibal’s sessions that he comes to terms with the reality of the situation, but by that point, no one will listen to the crazy man locked up in a straight jacket behind cold iron bars. What Hannibal does is without a doubt a betrayal, but for some reason, this backstabbing stings a little more than the average treachery. This feels more like the backlash of a jilted lover, rather than the cold deception of a casual colleague.

It takes a long time, and a little help on Hannibal’s end, but eventually, Will is released from his incarceration. Dead set on killing the man who condemned him to the shadowy corners of the law, Will devises a plan to set up Hannibal and let him be captured by the police, once and for all, so he can receive his just punishment, and Will can finally be at peace. However, his plan backfires, as he’s clearly underestimated his old romantic foe. Hannibal escapes and runs off to Florence, Italy, but not before carving a chunk out of Will Graham’s flesh as penance for his double-crossing.

Waking up in the hospital bloody and bruised, Will makes up his mind to chase after the man who put him in this bed, hooked up to all of these monitors, atrophied and broken. Will feels foolish, angry, and…a little bit hurt? Could it be that Will isn’t just feeling damaged because of his physical injuries, but because he’s been cast out of a meaningful, albeit destructive friendship with the only person who’s ever truly understood and accepted Will for who he is?

“If somebody’s wronged you in some way, like you’re mad at them for whatever reason, you just go, like, ‘Well that’s how they are and I can’t change them, and I have to accept them or reject them’…Will sort of accepts who Hannibal is” interprets Bryan Fuller. “It’s also narcissistic. Like, we fall in love with people who make us feel better about ourselves, like make us feel like we’re the better version of ourselves, and that makes us feel more secure in our bodies, and the dysmorphia of ‘who I am on the inside versus how I project on the outside’, that disconnect just sort of narrows dramatically when somebody sees you, understands you, accepts you, and loves you”.

Hannibal and Will undergo many dramatic phases of their relationship, as Will hunts down his old friend in Italy, and through outside forces out of his control, unintentionally brings his old friend back to the States to become a meal for Mason Verger and his hungry swine. After their narrow escape, and a short but much needed imprisonment for the good doctor, the odd couple comes together again to find and destroy the F.B.I.’s latest target, Francis Dolayhyde, a.k.a. the Great Red Dragon. Together, the two men go up against their greatest challenge yet, and nearly don’t live to tell the tale. Standing blood-soaked and broken on the edge of a cliff, the moment that fans had been waiting for for three full seasons finally happens, as Will and Hannibal grab one another in a loving embrace, before plunging off the side of the mountain and into the icy waters hundreds of feet below.

“I think one of the reasons that it seemed so organic for Will to go over the cliff with Hannibal at the end was that in his mind, as he understood the universe in his world, he had peaked,” Fuller comments with a saddened tone. “That’s also [him] stopping the monster, and stopping himself from becoming the monster, but I think part of him is thinking, ‘That was beautiful and I don’t think I can do that again and feel as high as I do now, and everything that’s overwhelmed in me went over the cliff,’ because there was an apex to his experience in a way that was poetic and dramatic.”

Apparently, Fuller was not present on the day of shooting the final scene in the series, but when he dropped by the next morning to watch the pick-up shots, Mads Mikkelsen excitedly filled him in the details, gleefully describing how he and Hugh Dancy had finally reached the sexual pinnacle hinted at during the entire run of the show. “Mads came bounding in, like he was across the room, he was so excited, like, ‘Oh, you’re gonna love the dailies! We got really close! We were almost kissing! You’re gonna love it!’ and I was like, ‘Well, but it should be authentic to the characters, so they’re not like…’ and he was like, ‘Oh no, we gave you everything, everything you need, you can take it, or you can leave it, you can do whatever you want, we gave you everything that you want in the that finale'”.

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Although there are undoubtedly some very obvious and very satisfying homoerotic overtones present in the complexities of the joining together of Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter, it was always important to Fuller to remain true and accurate as possible in the portrayal of the two men Thomas Harris wrote about back in the ’80s. Every aspect of their partnership needed to come across as relatable and believable, because in the end, it proved just as important and critical to the story as the anthropophagite and the gruesome murders he committed.

“For as pretentious and arty and cinematically aggressive and experimental as we were, I’m proud of the emotional authenticity of the relationship between these two guys” beams Fuller, “Because I feel like, if you take out all of the cannbalism, and everything like that, [you can] just chart a male friendship”.

As for the post credits shot at the very very end of season three, Fuller talked about how he read different interpretations of the scene with Bedelia, and what her amputated limb really meant, and although he found the different interpretations entertaining, he has his own vision for the story: “At the ending, the tag with Gillian, there’s two place settings for a reason,” teases Fuller. “For me, that scene was, Hannibal survived, and took her leg and was cooking it for her, and she grabs that fork because the next person that comes in that room, she’s gonna fucking stab that fork in them as many times as she possibly can, and then maybe we’ll see Gillian Anderson limping down the road with a wooden leg”.

He may have said it jokingly, but fear not Fannibals, Fuller definitely confirmed the survival of Hannibal Lecter.

“I would love to see Hannibal in Silence of the Lambs and see Mads Mikkelsen with Clarice Starling, and as long as I’m alive, I’ll still be trying to do that” Fuller promises.

As for Will Graham, however, it still seems more up to the fates to decide, although Fuller is definitely fond of him, and he isn’t nearly ready to give up on the idea of a fourth season of Hannibal.

“I still feel like the most interesting chapter of Will Graham’s life has yet to be told,” reasons Fuller, “Just like, he’s on the other side of it. Like, everything we’ve experienced so far has been on the other side of a wall for him, and the next chapter of his story is on the other side of the wall, so it just feels like there’s great opportunity to explore that psychologically”.

When asked about the future adaptation of Harris’ 1988 novel, Fuller revealed that he indeed, already has big plans for the cast.

“I wanted to cast Lee Pace as James Gumb, to have him be Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs,” Fuller says with a smirk, “and that may still happen. He’s into it! He’d love to do it!”

As for the opposing role of agent Clarice Starling, Fuller is less sure about who he wants to recruit specifically, but knows without a doubt that he doesn’t want to fall back on conventional casting when such an opportunity is at hand to shake things up.

“I think if you were going to do a traditional adaptation a la the movie, which is dangerous, because it’s a perfect movie with perfect performances, somebody like Ellen Page is great, and I think has that spark,” Fuller states matter-of-factly, “but I would rather cast a non-white actor in that role, because I think it changes [the story]. A poor white woman from the south is different from a poor black woman from the south, and has a completely different experience.

This wouldn’t be the first time that Fuller decided to go against the grain and choose actors to play his roles that wouldn’t normally make the cut. Whereas Manhunter features an entirely white cast made up of mostly men, Fuller gave fans their very first black Jack Crawford, their very first black Reba, and even stirred the pot with some gender swapping, with characters like Freddie (Freddy) Lounds, and Alana (Alan) Bloom, two people previously played by men.

When questioned about his refreshing choices regarding the cast, and why he purposely chooses to include more women and people of color in his execution of the story, Fuller had this to say: “Because it’s a more accurate representation of the world, and if we just did Red Dragon again, it’d be a sausage party with a bunch of white guys. I mean, when I first started writing, my protagonists were always young women, and there’s something about that point of view…you can do some things with a female character that you can’t do with a male character. Like, I always think that, to make a character female gives you so many more opportunities of expression.”

“I feel like what Thomas Harris wrote was so solid that it wasn’t dependent on gender or race to define the characters, although if we get the chance to tell Silence of the Lambs, I think it would be really interesting to have a black Clarice or a non-white Clarice, because as much as you want to say, ‘Oh, race doesn’t matter!’ Race totally matters. It totally changes your point of view, it’s a different experience, so that would be something that would make that story worth telling again”.

Tough truths, bleak moments and social commentary abound in Fuller’s extensive and thoughtfully complicated work, but even in the midst of all of the bloodshed, murder, mayhem, and heartbreak, the man who made Dead Like Me never forgets his sense of humor.

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Hannibal may be too disturbing for some television fanatics to even witness, but to Fuller, the fact that the show goes so far with the horror is quite uproarious. “I think the dark comedy comes from the absurdity of the situations, and I find certain things on the show hilarious because they’re so egregious and over-the-top ridiculous that it makes me laugh.” Apparently, Fuller’s sinister chuckles have even bothered those close to him. “I’ll watch horrific scenes with friends, you know, for instance, Chilton getting his lips bitten off, and just snickering because it’s so bonkers but enjoyable in its extremes, you know?” Smiles Fuller, “I was cackling so hard and like, it was one of those movie takes where like, three heads slowly turned simultaneously to wonder why I was getting such joy out of a guy getting his lips cut off, because it’s so dark it reaches the other side. You know, horror and comedy are right back-to-back, and there’s times when I think the horror on Hannibal just goes into comedy because it’s so fucking ridiculous that we’re doing this to these people. I think that horror is a great ingredient to mix into any genre”.

Looking back over the past few years, Fuller is undeniably saddened by the cancellation of his latest masterpiece, a show that despite its short time on air, arguably became one of the most elegant, intelligent, and enthralling pieces of horror television to ever grace the airwaves. However, despite his (hopefully) temporary loss, Fuller hasn’t lost sight of the gift he was given in being able to work on this program, and the lovely people he’s met along the way.

“I feel so spoiled coming out of this experience, because they were so good with me, and they were so good together, and it was such a great collaboration of everybody wanting to make the best show possible,” reflects Fuller. “There wasn’t anybody who didn’t know how to try hard at their job, and that was kind of fantastic.” Fuller even went on to describe his deep appreciation for his leads Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen, saying how their collaboration was so great, it was like “they were members of the writing staff”.

As for the final lingering question that’s left on every Fannibal’s mind, the answer is yes. “Hannibal absolutely is in love with Will Graham, because he represents humanity in a way that transcends sexuality”.

As for what else lies in wait for these two antiheroes, only time will tell, and hopefully, a renewal is in store, both for the fans of the show, and for the brilliant men and women who made this iconic program the unforgettable ride that it was.

Hannibal Season 3 DVD and Blu-ray hits shelves on December 8th, 2015.


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