Hannibal wowed critics and viewers alike when it debuted earlier this year, satisfying both Thomas Harris aficionados and new fans with its vivid visual style, conflicted characters and a dark moral complexity rarely explored on network television.
At Comic Con 2013, Digital Spy and others spoke with Hugh Dancy – who plays the tortured Will Graham – to speak about his experiences playing the role, his hopes for season two and the show’s dedicated fans… or ‘Fannibals’!
Some people have suggested that Will Graham has Asperger’s syndrome – do you agree?
“There’s a moment in the first episode where Laurence’s character asks Will, when they first meet on screen, ‘Where are you on the spectrum?’ or something like that, and I think there may even be a mention of Asperger’s… I can’t remember.
“For me, that was misdirection – I definitely do not think that Will has Asperger’s syndrome. In fact, what I think he is is almost the polar opposite of somebody with Asperger’s syndrome…
“The way I came to think about it is… if there is a spectrum with autism at one end – people who can’t read anything of another person – and then most of us are somewhere [in the middle]… then if you imagine the spectrum extending to the other side, to people who have no control over the information they receive and have no floodgates at all – that’s where Will is.
“In order to protect himself, he has consciously and deliberately adopted some of the mannerisms of a person with Asperger’s. He’s chosen to block eye contact, he’s chosen to become antisocial and not engage.”
Did you take inspiration from any real-life figures in playing Will?
“I don’t know that there is anybody like Will, really – just like there isn’t really anybody like Hannibal Lecter… you hope… you have to hope, right?!
“They’re fictional creations, but that said… I obviously read Thomas Harris’s novels – that’s the best place to start – but then after that, I read some of the stuff written by people that Harris had spoken to [in researching his books] – people who work in behavioural science, people who really created that idea of ‘profiling’ serial killers.
“In building up that science, they do this strange combination of intuition and detective work, and Will is that character, but pushed a little bit further.”
Hannibal is a daring show, particularly for network television – have you been surprised by some of the content that you have managed to get on screen?
“I think probably what you’re saying when you ask that is the amount of blood and the bodies and so on, but what I found to be more daring about it – and certainly more interesting – was the format. It’s hour-long, pretty psychological, complex, advanced and grown-up.
“The blood and the guts of it, other than just being intrinsic to the genre, served all of that other stuff – it served your understanding of who Will was and his relationship with Hannibal (Mads Mikkelsen), and why Will is so messed up, because he carries that stuff around with him.
“I think partially that’s why we got away with [the gore] – because it has context and it was designed to be part of the aesthetic of the show. It’s not just, ‘S**t, we’ve run out of story – let’s kill someone’.”
Did you ever have reservations about committing to what could be multiple seasons of a TV show?
“I spoke to [showrunner] Bryan Fuller and he described the first five years of the show – it was very rich and very different, and I was very happy to sign that contract. I think I will be interested and enthusiastic [about this show] five years from now… maybe I won’t be, but I made that guess.
“I’m absolutely positive about it – I can’t wait to go back [for season two]. I was very invested in the show, I really thought we were doing something good.
“As it was airing, the audience was petering along… and then it started to grow – I care about the series, so I’m delighted.”
Will Graham doesn’t feature in the latter Hannibal Lecter novels – are you worried about your role on the show being reduced?
“No, I don’t have that concern. You could have a show based entirely around Hannibal, but I think it would be tricky – he needs a foil. But if that balance changes a bit in season two, I’m good with that, as well. I think that we’ve set it up for a very different and very interested trajectory in the second year.”
Will has this twisted dynamic with Hannibal – do you think he’s capable of a normal, healthy relationship?
“I think that’s a really good question. The most intimate relationship that he has is with Hannibal. But if you know the books, you know that in Red Dragon, Will is in a relationship at the beginning when Jack Crawford comes to pull him back in and get him to work for Behavioural Science, and that relationship is tested…
“But even in the books, that question’s always being raised – is he really capable of sustaining a relationship, in a grown-up, normal way? The honest answer is, I don’t know.”
Have you been surprised at how quickly Hannibal has acquired a dedicated fanbase?
“You always hope for the best. If there was any upside to the fact that for a while we were struggling to get good numbers in terms of TV viewership, it was that this other audience came out of it, who not only were watching the show but really actively supporting it and working towards it, spreading the word.
“That’s a great feeling – it’s really nice to be appreciated, because I felt like we were doing something good. For myself, it felt different and fresh. It’d be lovely to hear that however many million people watch our show on Thursday nights, I’d be really delighted about that, but mainly just because [it means] we get to go on for a while.
“But when I see these people who invest so much time and energy [into the show]… it’s great, it’s really great.”
Hannibal airs on NBC in the US and on Sky Living in the UK.