Bryan Fuller is an American screenwriter and producer famous for his work on a number of acclaimed series, including Dead Like Me and Pushing Daisies. Hannibal, the intimate story of Thomas Harris’ serial killer Hannibal Lecter, is soon to enter its third season and we were lucky enough to get the chance to speak to Fuller, the creator and one of the minds behind the show.
STARBURST: How did the show come about and what was it about the characters that you thought would make for a television show?
Bryan Fuller: Basically the show came about when I was asked if I thought one could be made from the Hannibal franchise, and my first response was absolutely! The hinge of it for me was always going to be the relationship between Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham. It’s hinted at in the novel, a kind of connection but it’s never really explored. At one point Hannibal even says to Will, “The reason you caught me is because you’re just like me.” It was the strange promise of there being this whole world that we hadn’t seen in any of the adaptions so I wanted to explore that friendship. This led on to relationships between heterosexual men, a bonding and a brotherhood based on respect, and what has the potential to be psychologically eroticised rather than physically so. This would give us a base that would always be rooted in character.
With such a character driven piece casting is everything. How did you go about it?
The approach was to try and get the most fantastic actors we could. The first person cast was Hugh Dancy, whose work I was familiar with and I knew he’d be able to play this incredibly complicated, very tricky man with accessibility and likeability. On occasion Will Graham is a dick, so it certainly helps to have someone likeable to bridge that “dick gap” .
That’s true, because for much of the show you never quite know who you’re really rooting for.
There are certainly things that Will does that are questionable and bad for him; whether he can admit it or not is the thing. He’s trapped in Hannibal’s thrall, who has such an incredible influence on him. When we are seen by another and being seen gives us a reason to engage it becomes very addictive. When he’s with Hannibal he knows things and understands things that he doesn’t when by himself, and that becomes very seductive.
I went back and watched Silence of the Lambs and there are some notable similarities and some notable differences, and then more references truer to the books. Do you feel a responsibility to tell the definitive Lecter story?
We set out to tell the definitive story that exists outside of the previous interpretations, so I guess we did. We also wanted to bring something unique to the story because I certainly don’t want to just Xerox someone else’s work. I want to make sure that I have, within this amazing toy box and writing, the ability to play with it as I see fit and perhaps either expand or contract certain characters’ stories. It’s almost like a mash-up; a bit of this from The Silence of the Lambs, and a bit of that from Red Dragon, and you then get the satisfaction of experiencing something both familiar and new.
I mean this in the best possible way, but is the series terminal given you’ll crossover with the books at some point perhaps? I guess I’m asking do you a have a master plan.
I see every season as an end point as this is the first time I have had a series make it into Season 3! I also want to craft something that leads to a natural end point with each season, as it’s fun to back ourselves into a corner and then have to figure a way out in the next season.
I wondered, what guided the decision to set the story at the time period you do?
Really it was about finding a period in Hannibal’s life that hadn’t been explored. There is a brief moment at the beginning of Red Dragon when you see him giving a dinner party, but no-one had ever illustrated him as a functioning psychologist, helping people in his brilliant way. So that all felt very fresh. That again gave us the chance to observe Will Graham differently.
There are points in the series that are extremely gory, particularly in the first half of Season 1. Did you have planning meetings about how to kill people off?
The first episode after the pilot with the mushroom man was interesting. We had this story about someone who killed everyone in a fast food restaurant and we couldn’t see what was interesting about this other than the black comedy about that culture. We wanted something that would impact psychologically. Finally we came up with the idea of a mushroom farm being grown off of people and we did a load of research on the properties of fungi. That became very telling in setting the style for the show in creating this tableau and fitting it into Will Graham’s search. He makes connections similar to the mushrooms and that gave us our theme.
Why do you think there are some famous films and names from films being adapted for the small screen? I’m thinking Norman Bates and Fargo and the like.
I think there’s now an acknowledgement of a lot of sentimentality towards shows and films of our youth. The television market now is so seductive for creatives as you have more scope to express your own approach. Anything that is valid in its own right is acceptable. If you were just doing a carbon copy then there’s little interest in that, but if you’re bringing something new with a different perspective then that’s what makes it valid.
What else are you involved in right now?
We have American Gods and it’s thrilling to be working with Neil Gaiman as I’ve been a fan for so long. It’s such an interesting novel with so many pockets that we can explore in so many different ways.
Hannibal’s Season 3 debuts in the UK exclusively on Sky Living on June 10th.