Exclusive Interview: Bryan Fuller on ‘Hannibal,’ Clarice Starling & Barney

Hannibal Bryan Fuller

If anyone could have pulled it off, it would have been Bryan Fuller.

The creator of the acclaimed television series "Pushing Daises" and "Dead Like Me" took the reins of "Hannibal," transforming what could have been a crass cash-in on Thomas Harris's cinematic legacy – which had already inspired the acclaimed films Man Hunter and The Silence of the Lambs (and the less-than-acclaimed films HannibalRed Dragon and Hannibal Rising) – into one of the must-see shows on television. The series reconfigures the origin of the brilliant, mentally fragile F.B.I. profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), teaming him up with serial killer psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) long before anyone knew he was a cannibal.

Bryan Fuller is remarkably open about his series, possibly because so much of the material is adapted from already well-established stories, and has a lot to say about the future of "Hannibal," what previously published and/or filmed material he considers canon, and how he hopes to incorporate fan-favorites Clarice Starling, Barney, and actor Frankie Faison into the series.

Will Red Dragon be a TV mini-series? Bryan Fuller says it's a possibility in this exclusive interview at CraveOnline.

[Spoilers lie ahead for "Hannibal: Season One," now available on DVD and Blu-ray, and for several other stories in the Hannibal Lecter series.]


CraveOnline: Was this an original idea on your part, or did you hear they were looking to make “Hannibal?”

Bryan Fuller: I had been on a flight and ran into a friend of mine who was sitting a row ahead of me, and was like, “What are you up to these days?” She’d just become the CEO of Gaumont Television in the U.S. She said, “Well, we just acquired the rights to the Hannibal Lecter character. Do you think there’s a TV show?” I said, “Absolutely there’s a TV show. There’s such a popular character. There’s just as many wrong ways to do it as there are right ways.”

She went, “Well, how would you do it?” And I essentially laid out the pitch for the show, which was [that] it’s got to be… You have the rights to the Will Graham character, because that feels like an unexplored relationship, between Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter. We just have a couple of scenes together with them in Red Dragon, and wouldn’t it be interesting if they have a more involved history that merited Hannibal’s comment that “the reason that you caught me was because you’re as insane as I am?”

That felt like it was a great area and chapter of Hannibal Lecter’s life to explore, that we hadn’t seen explored in any of the films or in the literature, really. That felt like, well, nobody had done that yet, so that’s a valid reason for doing it.

Is everything Thomas Harris wrote canon? Is Hannibal Rising essentially what happened to Hannibal Lecter before we see him on this show?

You know, not necessarily. There’s a parallel timeline with this show, and taking all the characters from the literature and the films and reimagining them in a different context, because in the literature Will Graham had two meetings with Hannibal Lecter before he went to visit him in the institution to find out any information on Francis Dollarhyde. It was essentially [that] he was following a clue trail with a victim of The Chesapeake Ripper, and asked Hannibal Lecter some questions and then was like, “Hmm… Something’s odd there.” Then he goes back for a follow-up interview, and that’s when he figures out that Hannibal Lecter is in fact The Chesapeake Ripper, and then Hannibal guts him with a carpet knife and all that good stuff.

So what we’re proposing with this show is that they met before that incident, and if they did meet before that incident, then how would that ripple through the events of the show? Since that is our big posit, that, “Okay, we know from Red Dragon that Will Graham was so psychologically damaged from tracking down The Minnesota Shrike that he had to be institutionalized, and then he began therapy. So given that topic sentence, [we] took that and extrapolated from that point, what if the therapy that Will Graham had to go into was with Hannibal Lecter, and how would that change all of the events that happened after that point? So there’s almost J.J. Abrams doing Star Trek, where you go back to a point, you alter history, and then that moment has repercussions. Actually, a slightly new timeline is formed, and we’re following that new timeline.

So there’s a lot of stuff that we’re very canonistic with, in terms of what’s in the literature, and then there’s some really big departures. Significant departures, as we get into Season 2, because you could argue that part of Will’s breakdown after The Minnesota Shrike was all a manipulation by Hannibal Lecter. How would events be different after that point?

We know in the literature [that] Will Graham discovered Hannibal by finding a clue with the Wound Man in Hannibal Lecter’s office. Because we changed the nature of how Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham meet and got to know each other, we couldn’t have Will discovering Hannibal that way, so we gave it to another character that was not necessarily in the canon of the books, but was a pre-Clarice Starling, who is Miriam Lass, played by Anna Chlumsky. So things like that, we’re not necessarily so clear on adapting those fine details. It’s more of the spirit of the book, which gives us a wider berth. [Laughs]