Before there was an imprisoned Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter in the Thomas Harris novels “Red Dragon” and “The Silence of the Lambs” and the feature films made from them, Lecter was at loose in the world, working as a psychiatrist and occasionally eating his own murder victims.
On Thursday, April 4, NBC premieres “Hannibal,” a crime thriller series that brings the Hannibal Lecter character into today’s world — but the events still take place prior to his imprisonment — and pairs him with his “Red Dragon” nemesis, FBI profiler Will Graham.
As reimagined by writer/producer Bryan Fuller (“Pushing Daisies”), Graham, played by British actor Hugh Dancy (“Elizabeth I”), is on the hunt for a serial killer. Even though he has the ability to find his way into the psyches of the criminals he’s chasing, this particular quarry proves too complex even for him.
So Graham calls on the expertise of respected psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter, played by Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen, unaware that Lecter is on a killing — and eating — spree of his own.
In the meantime, Dr. Lecter also has a therapist, Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier, played by Gillian Anderson (“The X-Files,” “Great Expectations”) in her first American TV series role in 10 years. Laurence Fishburne (“CSI: Crime Scene Investigation”) also stars as another Thomas Harris character, Dr. Jack Crawford, head of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit.
Noting that Hannibal Lecter has usually been seen as a lone wolf on the prowl, Fuller tells Zap2it, “I was really excited about showing a story where Hannibal was engaged in relationships with not just Will Graham and Jack Crawford but also with his psychiatrist, played by Gillian Anderson.”
Fuller also wanted to get into the complexity of Graham’s psyche, which also interested Dancy.
“He’s wrestling with a lot of fear,” says Dancy, “because he is so good at his job, in a sense. He has the strange capacity to fully empathize with people who do very dark things. This is frightening not only because it takes him to an uncomfortable and unpleasant place, but also because it makes him wonder what it is about himself that makes that possible.
“That’s what we explore when Hannibal comes into the picture and later on in the season. Hannibal looks at Will and says, ‘OK, there’s something in this guy that I find interesting and maybe even recognize,’ thinking, ‘What can I do to bring that out? What can I do to encourage that, maybe even make him my friend?’
“It’s that struggle for Will’s soul, I guess, that is the heart of who he is and the center of this season of the show.”
In an interesting coincidence, Dancy’s wife, actress Claire Danes, stars in Showtime’s “Homeland,” in which she plays a CIA investigator who is also mentally unstable.
“Yeah,” says Dancy, “she’s saving the world from terrorism; I’m protecting us all from serial killers. It is a little odd. We haven’t been exchanging notes.”
Graham projects himself into the minds of killers, much as a writer projects himself into the minds of characters. In “Hannibal,” Fuller’s hair and beard, even his glasses, look somewhat like the hair, beard and glasses Dancy sports in the role of Will Graham.
“That may or may not be accidental,” says Dancy. “I don’t know.”
“Early on,” says Fuller, “when we were having dinner with Mads and Hugh, Hugh looked at me and said, ‘You know, if you squint your eyes and cock your head, it’s like you are a Photoshop blend of me and Mads.
“I said, ‘You’re both handsome guys; I’ll take that as a compliment.’ “