Bryan Fuller Breaks Down Homoerotic Charge of “Hannibal”

Mads Mikkelsen, Hugh DancyWhat kind of treatment is Dr. Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) giving to Will (Hugh Dancy)?

If there’s one thing that’s true in the television landscape, the worlds created by Bryan Fuller are never boring.

His early writing career includes writing credits on Star Trek: Voyager before he went on to create and produce his own quirky shows like Wonderfalls, Dead Like Me and, of course, Pushing Daisies. And, now, there’s Hannibal, which, looking at Fuller’s previous work, makes perfect sense with its intoxicating blend of crime, horror, humor, romance and, of course, sexuality.

Yes, as you know or can guess, Hannibal is a modern-day prequel telling the story of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, who we know primarily from Anthony Hopkins’ Academy Award-wining portrayal in the film, The Silence Of The Lambs. In this TV version, which was developed from the Red Dragon novel by Thomas Harris, Lechter is younger, a much respected psychiatrist and is played brilliantly by Mads Mikkelsen. In keeping with the Lecter lore, he also happens to be a cannibal who often makes lavish meals out of his victims and delights in having unsuspecting guests dine with him.

The series also stars Hugh Dancy as Will Graham, a troubled former FBI agent who connected with Lecter in the show’s first season to help solve cases. The two men grew closer and closer on a psychological level– and have shared a healthy dose of homoerotic intimacy– but the relationship has become strained (to put it mildly) since Graham discovered the grisly truth about his friend and Lecter framed Graham for his crimes.

I had the pleasure of talking to Bryan Fuller about where we are at this point in the series, the homoerotic nature of the show and whether he and his creative team ever frighten themselves with some of the gruesome murders and human tableaus they dream up for the series.

TheBacklot: I’ve said to you before that I sometimes expect Hannibal and Will to just start kissing. The scenes are often so intimate. Can you talk about the homoeroticism between these two characters that are not gay?

Bryan Fuller: I’m not sure about Hannibal. I think Hannibal is a very broadly spectrumed human being/fallen angel, who probably is capable and interested in everything humanity has to offer. Whereas Will Graham is very definitely heterosexual, but that does not necessarily prevent us from a homoerotic subtext. It’s practically text in a couple of episodes just because we really want to explore the intimacy of these two men in an unexpected way without sexualizing them, but including a perception of sexuality that the cinema is actually portraying to the audience more than the characters are.

There’s a scene at dinner where we were tackling in the edit bay because it was so transparently homoerotic. They were doing something that was not sex or anywhere near sex, but it was shot so suggestively that they may as well have been. I think that’s the fun of this show, is that particularly at the end of episode eight, which is a very intimate moment between Will and Hannibal where Will crosses a line of sorts, with his own psyche. And Hannibal is there to welcome him on the other side with open arms. And it is, once again, not sexual in any way, shape or context, but the intimacy of the performances and the enthusiasm of Hannibal, and pride of Hannibal as he looks at Will, there is hard to deny an attraction between these men.

And, to be absolutely clear, it is not sexual, but it’s beyond sexual. It is pure intimacy in a non-physical way. But it is that intimacy between heterosexual men that I’m fascinated with because it does go beyond physical parameters to this very primal basic male bonding place. That, as a gay man, I am outside of, because it is unique. Because it is free of a sexuality and/or intimation of sexuality. Yet anyone in the audience who is attracted to either of the men will feel that energy.

fuller-hannibalAt January’s TCA panel: (l-r) Caroline Dhavernas, Laurence Fishburne,
Bryan Fuller, Dancy & Mikkelsen (Getty Images)

I wonder if as gay men, we want to encourage that intimacy in straight men in way. Kind of like, ‘well don’t you want to kiss him? How could you not want to kiss him or sleep with him or something?’

BF: [laughs] Well to me, I’ve never been one of those who is attracted to straight men. Like I always said, ‘you’re straight, so there’s no point’ and I have friends who are pursuers of the heterosexual men. They see it as conquests, which I think is a different thing and a more narcissistic thing. And not necessarily a healthy thing.

But I’ve never been one of those to kind of like, ‘I want somebody to do something against their nature to titillate me.’ That never holds any interest. And I always want people to be who they are and if they’re being not who they are I feel like it’s false and, therefore, less easy to connect to. I don’t need them to kiss or to display physical intimacy. I think that almost becomes too obvious. I love playing in the suggestive.

Jonathan Tucker, Mads MikkelsenHannibal gets a taste of his own medicine from Matthew Brown (Jonathan Tucker) (NBC)

When Will comes back to Hannibal as a patient in episode 2.7, Hannibal says, ‘our friendship is over.’ Is that true? What is their friendship after so much has happened?

BF: You know, I think the friendship isn’t over, it is evolving. And so, the friendship that they had, where Will was blinded by Hannibal’s influence and now sees him clearly is the distinction between the friendship that died and the new friendship that is emerging between them and the new intimacy that is emerging between them, because Will is opening up about himself in a way that is very much a seduction.

And also has to have elements of honesty and genuine searching for the true Will Graham after so much has happened to him to affect his identity. Does it affect how he sees himself? Is it just like how the world sees him? So, I think what is powerful and what is interesting, is that he almost needs Hannibal Lecter as his true north, because he needs to know where he has to travel based on that compass.


Next page… 3rd season plans and dreaming up those grisly murders.

Photo: NBC

Talk to me about Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) and Hannibal because that relationship has been almost as compelling as Will’s was with him in season one, though it’s very different. How does Hannibal perceive Crawford?

BF: Everyone that Hannibal appears to like, he absolutely likes. I think his friendship with Jack Crawford is very real. I think he has a tremendous respect for Jack Crawford. And as the devil and as an agent of ill-curiosity about the human condition, he is putting Jack through his own lessons involving sparing his life from death to complicate take Jack’s emotional ties Hannibal directly and even beyond that. There is a different kind of game that Hannibal is playing with Jack, but it is the same goal, which is, he is curious what Jack will do in certain situations.

And I think what’s interesting about how Laurence Fishburne had been playing Jack Crawford, is that he’s playing it very close to the vest. You see Jack taking it in, processing, and not committing to a direction of belief…but the moment Miriam Lass (Anna Chlumsky) shoots Chilton (Raul Esparza), Jack knows something’s up. All that is perceived is not what is real. And we definitely deal with that [in episode 2.8], where Jack is very clear on what’s happening and now he has to set about baiting a trap.  For someone who has already proven themselves impossible to catch. So, how do you catch the impossible prey?

Talk to me about the fact that Hannibal is now sleeping with Will’s ex, Alana (Caroline Dhavernas). How does that change things moving forward for all of them?

BF: Well, I think the interesting part is that you have Alana, who has known Hannibal longer than anybody and is closer to him than any of the other characters are in the show. And so, she has spent a lot of time layering her eyes with debris, for her to not see him. For me, overseeing the story of these characters, it seems like if there’s anybody who could hold on to Hannibal’s innocence longer than the others, it would be Alana.

And then when, of course, all is revealed, we see how she feels. And so that will be an interesting bridge to cross with the character and how that informs all of the other stories. And the pieces that need to be picked up from the triangle. Because the triangle between Will and Hannibal and Alana is very much alive and something to be explored. And is explored in episode ten in a very sexy way.

I’m curious about the fact that in many ways I’m rooting for Hannibal, which I’m guessing is part of your design, so to speak. But was it ever a concern that the audience might not root for him or at least be captivated by him enough to follow him on this journey?

BF: I think that that’s the beauty and the confusion of the audience with any sort of antihero, you know? Anybody who is capable of doing terrible things, you don’t want them out in the world, but you can’t help but respect their ingenuity and their savvy and their intelligence as they go about their dastardly deeds. So I think therein lies the confusion because that was very much why Hannibal needed to kill [Special Agent] Beverly Katz (Hettienne Park). To slap the audience and say, ‘He’s that guy! He’s that guy!’ And it stings when you get that slap and it is a terrible thing to endure that loss. But it is a necessary but unfortunate reminder that he is a villain and he doesn’t kill just people that you want to kill, he kills people that you don’t want him to kill. And it’s a necessary reminder of what he’s capable of.

Laurence FishburnePhoto: NBC

The way that Beverly Katz was laid out, so to speak, after she had been killed [she was split in vertical pieces and placed inside presentational glass], do you and your writers surprise yourselves at what you come up with? You regularly have these different scenarios and presentations that are very theatrical, which I know the show has referenced.

BF: We work very hard to come up with striking cinematic deaths, because I think, that is part of the tone of the show. It is this, you know, it is a purple opera and it is over the top and you kind of either have to go with it or not. Because we are not playing to be rooted in reality in any way, shape or form. We are reality adjacent. But cinema and emotion trump reality for me. And so, being able to do to a person what [artist] Damien Hirst did to sheep and cows in his exhibits, was constantly blurring the line between what is tolerable for a human being and what is tolerable for an animal.

And really there is kind of an animal-loving agenda on this show, because we often do to people what people are very comfortable with doing to animals without a second thought. And if we can get anybody to think twice about all of those things that we do to animals and to make an emotional connection to them beyond a piece of meat or a thing that is not alive. And recognize that it is indeed alive and it does have an emotional intelligence and it does have sophistication and a connection to the world that is making it very much a non-human person, I think that’s a victory for the show.

I can’t imagine not seeing more of Hannibal after season two wraps up. What’s your gut telling you? Do you think we’ll get a third season?

BF: You know, we’re having this conversation right now. What does season three look like? And I guess once again, it is a complete game changer at the end of the second season. Like at the end of the first season the entire paradigm is tossed out the window and at the end of season two the entire paradigm is tossed out the window. And so, season three is a whole new chapter in and of itself. And so, we’re talking about, is that chapter financially possible given our model?

We know that NBC, who has been incredibly supportive of the show, would like very much to bring the show back, but there’s also negotiations with the factions of NBC talking about the pros and cons of that pick-up. Because we are a very low-rated show and we’re on a night where people don’t generally watch television. And is that a thing that is security for us or is that a thing that is not necessarily helping us?

Hannibal airs Fridays at 10pm on NBC.