Bryan Fuller Talks ‘Hannibal’ Season 3 and Red Dragon

Bryan Fuller Interview on Hannibal Season 3
Caroline Dhavernas as Alana Bloom, Laurence Fishburne as Jack Crawford, Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal Lecter, Gillian Anderson as Bedelia Du Maurier, Hugh Dancy as Will Graham, and Tao Okamoto as Chiyoh in ‘Hannibal’ (Photo by: Elisabeth Caren / NBC)

NBC’s critically acclaimed Hannibal starring Mads Mikkelsen, Hugh Dancy, Gillian Anderson, and Laurence Fishburne kicks off the much-anticipated third season on June 4, 2015 at 10pm ET/PT. Hannibal season two ended with Will Graham (Dancy) and Jack Crawford (Fishburne) fighting for their lives while Hannibal (Mikkelsen) and his therapist Bedelia Du Maurier (Anderson) seated next to each other on a plane. The plot description for episode one of season three reads as follows:

“Having successfully escaped FBI capture, Hannibal Lecter is moving through the European landscape, with Bedelia Du Maurier in tow. But Dr. Lecter’s old habits and opulent tastes are still on display as he settles into a new identity and life in Florence, Italy, working at the Palazzo Capponi museum. Glimpses into the past help inform his relationship with Bedelia, a pairing not clearly defined as friend or foe.”

With the premiere of season three just days away, executive producer/writer Bryan Fuller participated in a conference call to discuss what viewers can expect from the upcoming season. Fuller also provided a little insight into Hannibal and Bedelia’s relationship as well as details on how this third season will be a departure from seasons one and two.

Bryan Fuller Hannibal Season 3 Interview:

Can you talk about the decision to make Gillian Anderson’s character more of an accomplice this season?

Bryan Fuller: “Well, really it kind of boils down to this fabulousness of Gillian Anderson and more of her is always a good thing. We had so much fun working together in the first two seasons and she’s such an iconic actress and brings such a specific energy to the show that it seems like a really logical next step for the series to flesh out that relationship, expand it, and get more of the chemistry between Mads Mikkelsen and Gillian Anderson.”

Do you have a favorite scene in the new season that you’re really looking forward to viewers getting a chance to see – without giving away any spoilers?

Bryan Fuller: “Oh boy, there’s quite a few in this season. One of the most fun things about this season is the departure from the crime procedural storytelling, and this first chapter of season 3 was really designed to do the show as a pure character-driven story. And in adapting these books, there are so many lines that Thomas Harris has written that I’ve […]put into actors’ mouths and I’m always surprised how they elevate them and ground them and make them their own in context of the story.

So far as the favorite scene with that, there’s a dinner scene in episode seven. There are many scenes before that I adore but there is a particularly fun dinner scene in episode seven that Mason Verger is hosting that I’m excited for people to see because it’s laugh out loud funny. Joe Anderson is so infectious in his portrayal of Mason Verger stepping in for Michael Pitt and he has brought so much of his own energy to the role but also marking the interpretation by Gary Oldman in the Ridley Scott film. So I’m excited for people to see that scene in particular because I think it’s one of our best dinner scenes that we’ve ever filmed.”

How would you describe the connection between Bedelia and Hannibal? Is it geniune?

Bryan Fuller: “Well, there is a genuine connection between Bedelia and Hannibal. It’s different than the connection between Will and Hannibal as Bedelia states at one point in the season that Will’s relationship with Hannibal is a much more passionate one than her relationship with Hannibal. Yet, they have an intimacy that goes beyond the psychiatrist-patient relationship, yet I would say at its core Bedelia will always be Hannibal’s therapist first.

I wanted to make sure with her portrayal in the role that she did not all of a sudden become one of those women who write to serial killers in prison thinking that they can change the man and make him a better person because of their love. She is absolutely not on that course and she knows exactly who she’s dealing with. And I love the turns in this season where we see Bedelia, particularly in Episode 6, on what she’s done and also illustrate that she’s had a plan all along and she’s no dummy.”

Can we expect any deaths? Are there main characters we should be concerned about?

Bryan Fuller: “I think it’s always wise to be concerned about the main characters in the show. If not for the immortality, for their psychological well-being. And one of the fun things in developing this season is that everyone who survived the Red Dinner of the finale of Season 2 has been broken and reborn in a way that has shifted their perspective. So there’s certain things with key characters where we get to see them transformed into new versions of themselves. But, yes, you should absolutely be worried for Will Graham always and the steps that he takes to resolve his relationship with Hannibal. If the first season was the bromance and the second season was the nasty breakup, the third season is really that point in the relationship where you’re looking back at what you’ve lost and still needing a point of closure for that relationship and how drastic that point of closure is will be major part of Will Graham’s arc in this season.”

What can you tell us about Richard Armitage’s portrayal of the infamous Francis Dolarhyde and how is that different from the version we’ve seen Ralph Fiennes portray in Red Dragon?

Bryan Fuller: “Well, you know, there have been a couple of great performances as Francis Dolarhyde. Tom Noonan in Manhunter is a strange man who breaks your heart because you really get a feel for how desperately he actually needed this human connection and how it may have actually saved him from himself and the great Red Dragon.

The shocking…I guess it’s not shocking or surprising but a wonderful confirmation of Richard Armitage’s ability as an actor and he’s so thoroughly trained, excuse me, that he approached the character with such gravitas and earnestness that the tragedy of the story is really one that we wanted to bring to the forefront because the arc in the ‘Red Dragon’ chapter of the season is very much a trouble between Hannibal and Will and Francis Dolarhyde because Dolarhyde represents something unique in the triangulation of Hannibal and Will and that he provides Will Graham a version of Hannibal that he may be able to save and provides Hannibal a version of Will Graham that he may be able to corrupt. So each of them is getting something dynamic out of that relationship, and we get to see how the triangulation through Dolarhyde changes the relationship between Will and Hannibal in a drastic way.

I can’t talk enough about Richard’s presence on this production and how masterful he was, how he surprised the crew, how he elevated the material, how we brought that sense of tragedy to Francis Dolarhyde in a way that was both accessible and sheer madness. You know, in editing the different episodes, I’ve been in the post suite with an editor and watching scenes between Richard and Rutina Wesley, who plays Reba McClane, the object of his affection, and we were both wiping tears out of the corners of our eyes because he is just so heartbreaking. And one of the things that I wanted to challenge the audience with is, yes, this is a horrible killer of families, yet he is so tortured by his madness that I wanted to confuse people with their sympathy for him and the revulsion by him and really deliver a different kind of serial killer story that you don’t see on television that often.”

Where does Red Dragon arc come within this season?

Bryan Fuller: “Well, there’s two chapters in Season 3. There’s kind of the Hannibal, the novel, mashed up with Hannibal Rising, the novel, first chapter, that’s set primarily in Italy. And then the second chapter that begins with Episode 8 starts the Red Dragon story. And that is using six episodes to tell a broader, more in-depth version of the story than we’ve been allowed to see previously in the film adaptation just simply because of the real estate that we have in six hours that they didn’t have in two hours.

So the fun for us is really making that last…it’s almost like a Red Dragon miniseries in the last half of the season. We tell that story to completion and find ways to weave in our existing characters and change up some of the dynamics that you may have been familiar with in the novels or the films and shifting them around so they feel fresh. And once again, the approach with this show has always been provide some familiarity and then shake it up, so the audience that may be familiar with the previous adaptations is getting a new experience that is somewhat familiar mashed up with the new incarnations of characters that we’ve developed on the show. You’ll get a nice, fat six-hour Red Dragon miniseries at the end of Season 3.”

Is Bedelia essentially Clarice from Hannibal?

Bryan Fuller: “No. That’s an interesting question because in that novel we see Clarice being brainwashed and partially hopefully, but the big question is how much is she in control of her own actions but she surrenders to the troll of Hannibal Lecter in the novel. And for our purposes, I always wanted Bedelia to be driving her own story. So it would have been very easy for us to say Bedelia has been brainwashed and this is why she has gone off into this adventure with Hannibal Lecter, but the more interesting route for me as a storyteller is for that character who is a strong female character being in charge of her own story with her own drive, with her own curiosities about the human condition and a lot of what she’s doing is for her own edification. That was a very important point for us to make with that storyline because I feel like we would be doing the actress and the character disservice if we just made her a drug-induced pawn of Hannibal Lecter’s plot. We very much did not want to tell that story even though we were looking at telling that story in a different way in this series eventually. But he’s absolutely in control.”

You said you’re transitioning away from the procedural approach of the show. How is that transition going to work in terms of incorporating your cast of characters from the FBI? What kind of challenges or opportunities did that give you for this year’s storytelling?

Bryan Fuller: “Well, the challenges were to keep our FBI personnel integrated into the story. The first half of the season it was really about finding ways for this story to be personal to Jack Crawford and how he is functioning outside of the FBI. [spoiler deleted] But it was really about doing what we were doing with all of the other characters which was finding the personal connection for them to the story that exists outside of their occupation and for Jack, since he had gone down this journey and recruited Will Graham and lost Will Graham and found Will Graham again is now worried has he lost him forever that gave him a very intimate connection to the storyline that we could unpack as opposed to having him in the FBI looking at evidence.

And, of course, in the second half of this season, which is a six-hour Red Dragon miniseries, the FBI has woven in more naturally because that is an active investigation and a return to the crime procedural but in a way that you don’t often get on network television. We are looking at one case over six episodes as opposed to one case per episode and having a killer of the week, which was a bit of our format in the first two seasons which was a lot of fun and we got to do some really wild, dysmorphic things with the human body and are storytelling.”

What was the hardest part of the creative process for you this season?

Bryan Fuller: “You know, the writing process is always complicated on this show because it is something that is very hard to guide because I feel like with every time I sat down to do a pass at a script, I’m teaching myself how to understand this show. I think that is a good thing in a way because it always feels fresh and challenging and utterly daunting to make significant something that has been thoroughly explored in the past. But I think the key to this show is and to every scene, something that I tell the writers that every scene has three major components. One is Thomas Harris – that we have to honor the literature. I scour the novels. If I’m stuck in a scene, I scour the novels for a turn of phrase or quote that we haven’t used and sort of sampling Thomas Harris’ DNA and injecting it into this scene, so it feels true to his vision of the world even though we were taking such radical departures in certain ways that we have 1/3 Thomas Harris.

A third psychology, like some sort of psychological philosophy that we are exploring with the relationship between the characters, I do a tremendous amount of research in psychological journals to see what’s current, what are people exploring in terms of belief, perception, reality, senses of self. All of those issues, it’s exciting for me as somebody who set out to be a psychiatrist before I understood just how much schooling it involves and it scared me away to Hollywood. So 1/3 Thomas Harris, 1/3 of contemporary genuine psychology, and 1/3 of our own magic sauce for what we are exploring in this very complicated world of relationships with a serial killer. And that was one of the things that excited me about doing this series the most, is that we had seen Hannibal in the previous adaptation as very much a lone wolf. This was an opportunity to see him with friendships and to see him interacting with his fellowmen…or actually not his fellowmen because he sees himself as more than a man. But telling a story of the Hannibal Lecter who can actually care about another human being. And even though he’s doing atrocious things to those other human beings, part of him is doing it because he feels that it will access a truer, more honest sense of that person’s self in his dastardly deeds.”

Have you ever thought about putting together a bodies exhibit of all the artfully done kills from the past seasons?

Bryan Fuller: “I would love to do that because I would love to see a bodyworks exhibit of François Dagenais’ work on Hannibal. He has created such unique pieces and the scope of them is often hard to translate on screen when you’re looking at them in person. There have been several times where the cast has actually had to look at the piece and then walk out because they were sort of horrified by it. And then they have to re-approach it from a craft perspective to get back into the scene.

You know, the big obstacle in that exhibit is that we reused a lot of the same bodies over and over again. We’ll cut off heads and put like a [different] head on the body and that sort of thing. So they’ve been cannibalized, for lack of a better word, in their revisitations in the show. But I’m so glad that you think that way about the show’s representation of this body dysmorphia artwork which is very Cronenbergian in its inspiration. I do look at them as pieces of art, and oftentimes they are inspired by art where I’ll see a painting in Paris and take a picture of it on my iPhone and then bring it in and say like, ‘How do we do this?’ Like the Treeman from Season 2, there was this wonderful exhibit in the Museum of Hunting in Paris which is a spectacular museum if you get a chance to go see it. It’s wonderful. They had these paintings that were botanical and basically botanical meat. And so those things have a tendency to stick in my craw then I’ll say, like, ‘How do we bring this to life? How do I communicate how struck I was by seeing this image for the first time to the audience and share that with them?’ A lot of the instinct is just to share things that I think are cool and hope that the audience isn’t too freaked out.”

What was your favorite so far?

Bryan Fuller: “One of the favorites would be the Cello Man because the nature of that. I love the cello as an instrument. I think it’s gorgeous and sumptuous and creates such a resonant sound that the idea of turning a human being into that beautiful of an instrument even in its horror and stringing a cello with the vocal chords and playing them with a bow was kind of delightfully perverse. And also in the development of that story, the conversations that I had with Brian Reitzell about the first musical instruments being made from bones hollowed out to become flutes and things like that, that it felt sort of connective in a way that when you listen to a piece of music and it travels right through your sternum and you feel connected to it and you have an emotional reaction, it feels like there’s something almost primal in music coming from the body, traveling through the body and elevating into an artistic experience.”

There was an early episode where a young girl at Quantico in Will’s class walks up to him like she’s going to ask him something and then walks away. Was that Clarice Starling?

Bryan Fuller: “I know exactly what moment you’re talking about. We had talked about is this her class? Is this Clarice Starling’s class? And there was the motivation there to hint at a Clarice-type character. But also there was a little bit of Indiana Jones and Raiders of Lost Ark of the young woman (who painted) ‘Love You’ on her eyelid, and Will Graham bringing such a charmer in his own strange way that he was eliciting that response from his student as well.

You know, we talk about Clarice quite a bit on the show. And as you may know, there’s certain rights issues tangled up in it. But there’s something about if we do ever tell Clarice Starling’s story, I think it might be interesting to change ethnicities on Clarice and get a different perspective of a Southern young woman’s experience and put race as a component in that woman’s view of the world. Race is oftentimes a tricky subject just because it makes some people cringe, but I think it is absolutely a defining trait of people and characters and fictions.

Part of me wants to do a Clarice that would be a non-white Clarice and have a different angle into that story that gives it layers that we haven’t seen because it’s going to be really hard to top Jodie Foster. When you said Clarice about that young woman, you know, that young white woman, my reaction was first I’m hoping if we ever do that that we don’t cast a white actress. But if we do, I hope it’s somebody like Ellen Page.”

And one quick Heroes Reborn question. How do you feel about Heroes coming back as Heroes Reborn?

Bryan Fuller: “I’m actually very excited about it. It’s funny because they’re filming in Toronto and I’m good friends with Jack Coleman and Zach Levi so I’ve been getting to see those guys. We’ve had breakfast in a few times and loving catching up with them and hearing about the show. It sounds fantastic and exciting.

And I love that experience. That first season of Heroes was one of the best television experiences I’ve had. It was such an amazing collaboration. There were so many wonderful writers working on that season and everyone had such a passionate voice in the direction of the storytelling. I think that translated to the screen, and so I have really good feelings about Heroes and I hope that Reborn connects with the audience in a wonderful way.

Of course there is a part of me that would love to write for Hayden Panettiere again. I had so much fun writing for her in that first season. And if my dance card wasn’t full, I probably would have been very aggressive with Tim Kring and NBC in saying, ‘Let me collaborate on something with Hayden and let us write a great episode for Claire,’ because I can’t tell you what a great gift it was to be a part of that first season and what wonderful energy it was and to have the network behind the show and the way it did. I have incredibly fun memories of Heroes so I’m hoping it connects again.”

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