Earlier today I survived an experience few others have: sharing a meal with Hannibal Lecter and living to talk about it. The meal was arranged by NBC and BeckMedia in support of the network's new show, Hannibal -- starring Hugh Dancy as criminal profiler Will Graham, Laurence Fishburne as the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit head and Mads Mikkelsen as the iconic cannibal.
Created by Bryan Fuller (genius behind Wonderfalls and Pushing Daisies), Hannibal is not just the spring's best new series, but also one of the most addictive and delicious thrillers to ever air on network television.
Starting April 4, Hannibal promises to push buttons and boundaries as its beautiful, yet graphic, depictions of crimes (and Lecter's diet) will push the audience's gag reflex and NBC's censors to their limits. While sensational, Hannibal is not sensationalized simply for the sake of shocking. As Mikkelsen told the reporters who also braved this malevolent meal, this show's biggest strength is the bromance between Lecter and Will.
ETonline: This is an iconic role, were you hesitant to say yes?
Mads Mikkelsen: I was extremely reluctant to do it. I read it, I liked it, but as you say, these are giant shoes to step into. This was done a couple of times before, once to perfection. What convinced me was Bryan. He was pitching the story for me. He had 10 minutes, but after 2 hours he was still rattling off ideas about season 48 [laughs]. Also, this takes place before the films, before he was captured, so we get the chance to show something else.
ETonline: How is your Lecter different than Sir Anthony Hopkins incarnation?
Mikkelsen: This is a man who needs to make friends, he cannot show all his cards -- Anthony Hopkins could do that, but I have to hide it. So [this version of Lecter is] an actor. He's quite emotional, but he can control his emotions. If I want to be sad, I will be sad, but the emotions will never surprise Hannibal. For that reason, I think we have a chance to do something that's slightly different, but still Hannibal.
ETonline: Is an eventual prison stint part of that masterplan Bryan laid out for you?
Mikkelsen: If I said that, I would reveal what happens this season. I could, but my hands are bound. And you never know about Bryan, he can call you and change everything.
ETonline: With what you can say, what did Bryan tell you in that first meeting?
Mikkelsen: He pitched [up to] season three, but we're taking it one season as a time. It's interesting to see what can happen. The tables can turn, the hunted can become the hunter.
ETonline: You and Hugh worked on 2004's King Arthur, had you stayed in touch?
Mikkelsen: We did not have a lot of scenes together; we were basically sitting on a horse for 6 months while killing people. But we became really good, close friends. It was a gift that we knew each other [because] we all need to feel comfortable if we're working on ground that, as you said, is iconic.
ETonline: What intrigues you about Lecter's relationship with Will as you tell it?
Mikkelsen: Lecter is a man of opportunity, he sees opportunities everywhere. When he sees Will, he recognizes himself to a degree. Lecter has a lot of empathy but he uses it as a tool, Will has a lot of empathy but has no idea what to do with it. That's a nice opportunity; [he] will help this young man open his eyes to his real potential. That's what Hannibal is hoping for. But he also sees an opportunity for a friend, which he's probably not had too many of. Even though I'm the puppeteer, Hannibal really, really loves Will.
ETonline: What kind of research did you do for this role?
Mikkelsen: I've seen the [films] and was a big fan, and I read the books to see if there was anything in there I could use as inspiration. But we're really working off the scripts. I knew quite a lot about serial killers before, don't ask me why I was reading those books, but [Hannibal is] not one of those. He's very special. He's an invention. The closest thing I could find to that was the fallen angel. The fallen angel believes in the beauty of the darkness. That is so incomprehensible to us, we can't understand it, and so we're attracted to it. So I wasn't reading textbooks about mental disease, I was imagining how it was to be Satan. [But] Satan isn't necessarily a man with the horns; we've seen him come to life in many movies or books, but it's dark.
ETonline: Have you reached out to Anthony Hopkins or heard from him?
Mikkelsen: No, I have not. I've never met him. I would love to, one day when this is all over. I did read one piece of advice he gave where he said I shouldn't play [Hannibal] as evil and I agree. I think that's one of the keys to humanizing him.
ETonline: What are you excited for fans to see over the course of Hannibal's first season?
Mikkelsen: The fascination with this iconic character. Obviously it's not all about him, it's actually more about Will. Bryan said it early on that this is like a bromance, and it's true -- they like each other. Hopefully we will bring that, hand in hand with a terrific horror story.
ETonline: Will the show include winks to the film series?
Mikkelsen: Yes, definitely. No fava beans, but I've had some Chianti.
Hannibal premieres April 4 at 10 p.m. on NBC.