Ahead of the release of season three of the devilishly addictive NBC drama Hannibal on DVD and Digital, Crave Australia got the chance to hear from Hugh Dancy, who stars as Will Graham, an FBI investigator who gets pulled into the twisted criminal world of the titular cannibal.
Opening up about the journey of both the character and himself as an actor, Hugh delves into the often confronting world of Hannibal and how important research is as he prepares for each season.
CraveOnline: I would like to ask you about as a character, as an actor, the same question for both of you the actor and the character. Would you think about to be sometimes Hannibal yourself?
Hugh Dancy: As an actor, you mean like to play Hannibal?
No, I never wanted to play Hannibal. I just wanted Mads to play Hannibal. Obviously, when I met Bryan, at that point they hadn’t cast anybody. He explained how he saw the show and we talked about Will obviously. The natural next question was, “Well, who’s going to be crazy enough to play Hannibal?” Mads’ name came up very quickly. I worked with Mads ten years ago now. That was very clear to me that that was the best possible outcome. I was fixated on that. I liked Will. I was very happy to play Will.
As a character, yeah, I think Will lives in terror that he’s going to embrace that side of himself. It’s like he was walking around in the dark and then finally, he saw this one person that he recognized and that recognized him. Unfortunately, that person is a cannibalistic serial killer. He’s still kind of navigating that.
How is Will different after last season’s events?
He has trouble digesting. I think he flirted as closely as he’s ever going to with that idea of joining Hannibal in some kind of buddy comedy. Whatever the dream was that they would go off over the horizon together, that was the closest he came to allowing that dream to blossom in his own mind. Now, it’s a different kind of parody that he’s got which is that he has to see it through. He can’t walk away. He can’t just let Hannibal go off into the sunset. He’s got to see it through.
The purpose of it is almost moot, whether it’s revenge, whether it’s reconciliation, whether it’s forgiveness. I guess you maybe saw that trailer which obviously comes from the scene in the kitchen at the end of the second season. Whatever it is, it’s A, maybe not the primary question in Will’s mind and B, something that I guess we’re holding back until the two of them reconverge somewhere further down into the season.
Hugh Dancy as Will in Hannibal (Photo by: Brooke Palmer/NBC)
When you read the script for this third season, did you have something that you wanted to find out what is happening specifically?
You mean what was I looking for?
I guess I was interested to know how Bryan would approach it. I have spoken to him, of course. I mean were we going to start off back in the kitchen, everyone’s still bleeding, or first of all. Secondly, knowing Hannibal is going to go on a journey and knowing that I’m going to go after him in some way like what exactly the drive of that was. Of course, what Bryan did is basically not answer any of those questions. I think that the first four episodes of the season are really interesting. When I first read them, I was thinking, “What’s he doing here?”
Then it dawned on me that he is playing with time because what happened in that situation, where Hannibal slaughtered everybody almost, is still circulating for all of them. Right there, it’s present in the way a traumatic event is present. The first episode where, as I think Bryan has already said, we’re off with him and Bedelia having a fine time. Then suddenly we’re back with Will and we’re back in the second episode, we’re back into this kind of circling dream world, where he’s back in the kitchen, he’s coming up to Hannibal.
He’s with Abigail, he’s not with Abigail. It’s not moving forward in the normal way. The third episode is something else. The fourth episode it circles back. I think that is a very bold and really provocative way to write television. I also thing it means that you don’t get any answers until much later.
Let’s talk a little bit about your research? Is it different in any way than what you research for a movie, where you have several seasons to go back to research?
It’s not like, for me anyway, I did the work that I did before it started. You film the first season. You come back for the second season. You have this whole body of understanding behind you. Obviously, the conversation between myself and Mads and myself and Bryan and all of us, so it’s much easier to tap back into. Even if, of course what you hope is that it’s going to take a sudden different direction just so you get interested and you’ve got something to play with. When I started, before we shot the first season, obviously the place to start was with Red Dragon, the novel, which I hadn’t read before. There’s so much to take from that.
It’s kind of been odd now that in the second half of this season as we actually go back into Red Dragon, it feels like a strange feeling of deja vu for me. There was a huge amount to take from that. Then the next stage from that was there were a lot of people that Thomas Harris had spoken to when he was thinking about profiling and so on. Then, of course when the books became a success, they were both books about profiling. That was great so we have that resource as well. That’s what I started with.
I don’t know. I never really think about it. It seems like … I think the show is risqué. In America, it’s on network rather than cable. That seems to be the distinction. If we’re on cable, they’d probably ask us to kill more people. Let’s make it a bit more racy. I just don’t worry about it. You think about the integrity of this show in it’s own world that collectively we’ve all created and try not to just swerve outside of the rules that we’ve made up. That’s it. You can’t take a bit of one show and add it to another. The best you can hope for is that people
There is no Sherlock without Moriarty. Can we have Hannibal without Will?
I think probably, but he’d be very bored.
Can you tell us about this chess plan of playing between the two characters, that they’re always trying to figure out the next move of the other and when they play themselves?
I think it’s difficult. I don’t think either of them really understand it. On the surface, it’s very clear. Initially, he didn’t know what he was dealing with. Then he was trying to maybe catch Hannibal or whatever. As I say, this season he doesn’t even know what he wants anymore, he just has to go towards the light kind of thing. Hannibal, on the surface level, he just want to get Will to admit that he’s really bad and likes to kill people. Clearly, it’s not just that either.
There’s a vortex that they can’t help spiraling around each other. All I will say, I think that as we get into further through the season that will get addressed very clearly.
With the dark subject matter and Will’s messed up psyche in the dreams, how does that affect you as an actor or a person?
I don’t think … It’s all great fun. You want to work with good people on good material. If anything, it’s been interesting to take part in because that wasn’t as first written. I guess it was there in the first episode you saw. I think in the second season, Bryan really started to stir the pot and particularly in that dream symbolism, that kind of other level that’s always there, even more so with this season I think.
That’s interesting because you can go, “Oh, I see. We’re going in this direction. Well, how can I serve that?” It’s fun. I’ve never gone home and had trouble sleeping, at least not because of that.
For most of the show, you’re always in physical or psychological pain, how demanding is it for you to play someone who’s …
Occasionally, some physical pain but never psychological pain. I think that you want to do your job with good people. I’m not that kind of actor who goes home at the end of the day and, “Oh, it was so tough,” because it was great. I got to sit opposite Mads or I got to be in an argument with Laurence or whatever it might be. You know that it’s good material and hopefully you’re doing the best work you can. I go home very humble. I mean I love going home at the end of the day, don’t get me wrong, but I go home happy.
Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal and Hugh Dancy as Will (Photo by: Brooke Palmer/NBC)
You were talking about new characters, and it sounds like Will gets a partner once he arrives in Italy. Can you talk a little bit about her, their dynamic and do they have the same agenda?
To answer the last question first, this day of the Bryan Fuller show, who knows. Yes, this is Chiyoh that I think you’re talking about, who is Lady Murasaki’s maid servant or whatever, as was and still is in Castle Lecter when I arrive there on my quest to essentially go back to the origin of Hannibal. She’s there kind of by choice and kind of not. She, like Will, has a very clear understanding of who Hannibal is and what he is capable of.
You could say she’s torn in a similar way to Will about his character. Yeah, then we set off together in another incredibly, unlikely development, taking a train across Europe. It was great. Just really fun and odd to suddenly play with different people in this very heightened little universe. Also, expect a patsy, who is obviously from the novels but inserted here. Another person is on the agenda when it comes to going after Hannibal.
Basically like the Avengers.
We watch the Avengers every week here.
In the show we see different kinds of pleasures, food, many killings, sex is underneath. I want to know if there’s sexual tension between your character and Hannibal sometimes?
That’s interesting. I never thought about it that way. I think that they have a … It’s absolutely some form of love, twisted love, whatever it is. Like I said, it’s that feeling of … The analogy again I’ve always used is for Will, it’s like for his whole life he’s been not only a great chess player but in fact the only person in the whole world who knows the rules of chess. Then another person walks in the room, who’s also a genius chess player and that sense of relief and gratitude and recognition is powerful.
That is kind of the feeling of falling in love. Like, “Oh, my God. I see you. I really see you.” Of course, the fact he doesn’t see Hannibal at that point but nonetheless whatever it is between them is there from the beginning. I think it’s platonic but I think at a certain point it’s bigger than either of them. Hannibal wants to be more in control but actually he’s willing to burn everything down to have contact with Will. At a certain point, that covers your whole world. I don’t think it’s sexual but I think it’s bigger than that to be honest.
I do. I don’t get to eat them that often. I think Will worked out pretty early that it’s not too smart to eat with Hannibal so I haven’t had the pleasure too many times. Obviously I come to work and I see Janet’s working at the table preparing these incredible things. She’s a master.
Going back to the theme of relationships, like you said you have a very peculiar relationship with Hannibal. Now, in the third season when you’re kind of trying to chase him and find him again, does Will retreat back inside or does he try to express a new relationship or dialogue with someone else to replace the role that Hannibal held for him?
He’s not looking for a replacement for Hannibal, no. I don’t think there is a replacement for Hannibal. There’s a sense that he has various companions along the way, real or otherwise. I’m not even sure that he knows precisely what he’s looking for. Again, as I say, going back to that trailer when he discovers in himself, running through that corridor that they’re both in, he finds himself the ability to forgive Hannibal.
I don’t know if you’ve been there but I’ve been there in a relationship where you kind of think maybe I’m the person who’s been wronged but even so I have to find the humility to be forgiving. It’s not planned. It’s like something breaks inside you, kind of go deeper. That’s not really an answer to your question but I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I think Will doesn’t know where this quest, if you like, it’s kind of a quest. It’s somewhat epic in a sense of going back to Hannibal’s place of origin. I don’t think he knows where it’s going to take him. He just has to go on it to see who he is going to become at the other end.
As Will, Garrett and Alana, close in on Hannibal, who’s really the hunter and who’s the prey?
I think we all … I mean in this show we are anyway. Nobody is only victimized with the possible exception of Frederick Chilton.