Date: September 16, 2014
One of the best shows on television, Hannibal manages to mix over the top, grandiose — and visually stunning — horror scenarios with beautifully measured performances that ground the material, despite the story’s bigger than life nature. At the center of this, of course, is the title character, played by Mads Mikkelsen. Overcoming the pressure that came with playing a role so memorably conveyed by Anthony Hopkins before him, Mikkelsen has succeeded in making Lecter his own – giving the character a different energy, while retaining the integral sense of brilliance and menace.
With Season 2 of Hannibal coming out on DVD and Blu-ray this week, I spoke to Mikkelsen about the huge, no-turning-back events that occurred during the season, Hannibal and Will Graham’s ever-complicated relationship and where things could go in Season 3.
Suffice to say, full (and major!) spoilers follow for Hannibal: Season 2.
IGN: What did you think when you saw what the opening scene of Season 2 was and that fight sequence and all that it implied?
Mads Mikkelsen: Well, I was thrilled to do it. There’s something fantastic about sitting behind a desk and a counter for hour after hour and then getting out to get your hands dirty. Doing that together, with Laurence [Fishburne], was super thrilling. I mean, I’m standing up against one of the big heroes from The Matrix, who’s been doing this for a living for many years — and I get to kick his ass! That’s fun, right? No, we had a really fun day. It was a long day. We felt young and good — the next day, we felt slightly older. But I was a little concerned to show that in the first episode. I was intrigued by where he [Bryan Fuller] wanted to go. Obviously that’s a little piece of sugar that he gives, and then people forgot about it. Then it came up again, which was interesting, right? So I loved doing the scene, but I was curious how they were going to pull it off, showing it that early. But apparently it worked, and he planned it to.
IGN: How much does Bryan tell you about what’s to come, especially with something like that, where you’re obviously going to know, “Okay, well, Jack’s going to find out”? Did he give you all the info at the beginning of the season, or were you finding out script by script heading towards that finale?
Mikkelsen: Well, there’s a lot of script-by-script finding out. Obviously we know that Jack is going to find out, but we assume whether he’s going to find out in episode nine or 10 or 11. So I always a little curious like, “What kind of costume did they give me today? Is it happening today? Is it a match?” [Laughs] So we know where it’s going, but we don’t necessarily know when it’s happening.
IGN: Obviously we knew Hannibal was an extremely intelligent person from the beginning, but in Season 2, we really got an idea of just how amazingly smart he is and how intricate his plans are; the way he framed Chilton, all that sort of stuff. For you as an actor, when you’re approaching playing Hannibal, he’s the smartest guy in the room, but is it interesting to play how he has to restrain himself from showing just how far that extends?
Mikkelsen: Yeah, it’s always tricky. Let’s say you’re the smartest man in the room. If you’re smarter than everybody else, there’s a certain amount of drama that just disappears because there is no danger. You will never, ever f**k up. He’s always ending on the good side, right? It’s a little like, if you read a scene and it says you come in and you are extremely sexy, the thing is, you cannot play sexy yourself. You have to make sure that they find you sexy. It’s the same with intelligence. The other actors have to play me intelligent. It has to affect them. If not, we can say he’s intelligent many times, but we will never get it. But I think also there are little holes. He falls in little holes once in awhile, especially when it comes to his own vanity, and that’s where Will Graham is getting him: on his own vanity, that he starts believing he’s bigger than God himself. That’s where Will gets him. But the interesting thing is, his plans aren’t necessarily going from A to Z from the beginning. He’s adapting, he’s changing nonstop. He sees opportunities, and he will make a fast decision and make that his plan. But he will change nonstop, and that’s what’s interesting about him.
IGN: It’s fascinating watching him and Will together, that dynamic, and the fact that you do sense, through it all, Hannibal does want this person as his companion. He feels that this is his kindred spirit — and yet can still frame him for murder. Is it interesting for you to find that balance for a person who is so removed from how we would behave that he can perform such seemingly contradictory actions?
Mikkelsen: Oh, absolutely. I mean, let’s put it frankly: it’s a f**ked up relationship. The thing is, I know that he knows, and I also knows that he plays me, and he knows that I know. There’s something about that that is so kinky and weird, right? Hannibal would be extremely disappointed if Will did not use his intelligence to try to nail me. That would disappoint him a lot. But at a certain point he does give in. He does believe that they can walk hand-in-hand down the path, with Abigail Hobbs, into the future. At a certain point he does believe it, and that breaks his heart – that he was weak enough to believe something that he didn’t see was a lie.
IGN: I’m always curious how much Hannibal really respects a lot of the other characters, whether it be Jack or Bella or Alana. There are certainly people we know Hannibal just despises, but these are people he doesn’t seem to despise and perhaps somewhat respects, but at the turn of a dime he could still do something horrible to them.
Mikkelsen: I think that “respect” is a difficult word in that sense because obviously when you find yourself so super intelligent — and he does — it’s hard to have a professional respect. I mean, obviously, if Jack were a skillful and outstanding policeman, I would be in jail — but I like him. I like his enthusiasm. I like his energy. I like his persistence of trying to catch this killer. I like his wife for the same reasons, this stubborn, beautiful woman. I enjoy being together with them. I enjoy the moments of honestly in front of the fireplace. I enjoy being together with Alana, and so on. So they’re not being played by Hannibal — I mean, they are — but he’s honest in the moment he’s with them. He’s always honest with them. He likes them.
IGN: What did you think of that finale, which obviously got a huge reaction? We knew that the Hannibal/Jack fight was coming, but, wow, we had no idea exactly how much your character was about to kick ass!
Mikkelsen: Yeah, he’s cleaning up in that way. [Laughs] Or he’s making a mess of it. No, I think it’s the only he could finish it, and I think to make it such an operatic crescendo of the oboes and drums and everything, just everything peaks, right? That’s the only way to do it. It’s a sea of blood. It’s as graphic as his world has been so far. It’s another one of these murder tableaus that is lifted into something that is almost like poetry. It could not end in other ways, and he has to leave as a hero into the rain, being clenched by the rain. So it’s a hero finish, and it’s not the hero leaving the room, which is of course fantastic.
IGN: Yeah, when I talked to Bryan this summer, I said, “I’m so happy you guys are coming back, but if you didn’t come back, that would certainly be the ‘Hannibal wins’ ending.” [Laughs]
Mikkelsen: Oh, yes! [Laughs] Crime does pay.
IGN: What can you say about Bedelia and the way that ended and what that might infer about her? We already knew you had a different relationship with her than other people. Anything you can say about that?
Mikkelsen: If Will Graham and Hannibal’s relationship is a f**ked up one, I think that Bedelia and Hannibal’s must be the most kinky relationship we’ve ever seen. There’s something there. I know some of it, and there’s some I don’t know, but there is something there that is freaky and weird. Somehow they are connected; somehow they are not.
IGN: We’ve seen what a manipulator Hannibal is and how much he’ll try to get control over people. Right now, we don’t know the answer to the question of, has he just completely manipulated her, or has she turned the tables on him. Is it fun for you to maybe see a situation where Hannibal is the one being manipulated, whether this particularly one is that or not?
Mikkelsen: Yeah, it is fun. I would as an actor obviously like to know where we’re going. I would like to know whether Hannibal is aware that he’s being manipulated or not, so I can do my job, which is act as a guy who’s not aware or a man who’s aware. So I will always insist on knowing where this is taking us. But then again, I don’t know that Hannibal necessarily minds being manipulated. That will always be in his mind very interesting. We end up somewhere else. I mean, to be honest, to end up in jail would be an interesting thing. It’s not a scary thing for him. He’s just interested.
IGN: You mentioned him ending up in jail, and that’s where we classically think of Hannibal and assume, eventually, this series is heading. When you took on this role, obviously you knew the weight on your shoulders, the previous iterations of this character and very high-profile adaptations, but has that been an exciting thing for you guys, to subvert things, to throw curveballs at people, like that finale? To say, “We’re based on this material, but we’re not going to be exactly everything you think’s going to happen”?
Mikkelsen: Obviously that is a little out of my hands, because that’s Bryan’s work, but, yes, the pressure was on all of us doing this, specifically on me. So we deliberately did not try to walk down the same path. But at the same time we could not detach ourselves totally from the character. The character is what it is, right? He’s a lover of fine art and music and foods. He’s a three-piece-suit man. So we couldn’t just jump away from that. Having said that, what we were trying to do was a make a man who was full of empathy, to create a person that is in need of other people and also in that sense trying to behave normally. We can of course get away with that in a different way than they can in jail. In jail, he’s out in the open and everybody knows who he is. Our show is taking place before he’s captured. So for that reason we can, at least for the first two seasons, create something that we haven’t seen before, and then we might get into the same territory as we’ve seen in the films in the next couple seasons.
IGN: We still don’t even know who survived at the end of last season.
Mikkelsen: I can tell you.
IGN: [Laughs] I bet you can! But assuming Mr. Will Graham continues on, how do you think that relationship will go? Not just the physical violence on Will himself, but the fact that Hannibal sliced Abigail’s throat in front of him? At this point, has Hannibal sort of washed his hands of Will, or is there still a part of him that would want to connect with him in some way?
Mikkelsen: Well, I kind of cleaned up, right? I broke up with him. [Laughs] Frankly, I did. I think there’s a place in there for him. Will Graham will always be very high on my list of people I like, maybe even love. So he will always be there. Whether that can be a new start or whether that’s just going to be explosions, I don’t know. But you do not come angry and emotional regarding other people unless you like those people or have emotions involved. So obviously he’s a person that means the world to Hannibal. Whether he’s just there in my fantasies, flashbacks, or in reality, that will remain to be seen.
IGN: Have you seen the script to the season premiere?
Mikkelsen: I’ve not seen scripts. I’ve seen pages and ideas.
IGN: Bryan’s spoken about how the premiere is basically going to be just you and Bedelia. Are you excited that the show is seemingly going to change so dramatically? It really has to next season, right?
Mikkelsen: Yeah. Well, that’s obviously very interesting. Being on the run somewhere in the world is going to be interesting. Spending a lot of time Gillian Anderson is going to be super cool. I think that the scenes we had last season were very interesting. I mean, it was a different side of Hannibal. Now we can dig into what kind of relationship they have, and it’s going to be very interesting. But Hannibal being a chameleon on the run, he will also have to adapt to a different lifestyle. He will still be the same; it’s not that he will be changing his personality, but he will change his energy a little, I guess.
IGN: When we spoke about the fight, you said it was fun to get out from behind that desk. And one thing I really admire about the show is how they don’t show Hannibal committing acts of violence all that much. Back in Season 1, they really held off on it. I remember when you knocked out Alana, it seemed so shocking, because we hadn’t really seen you do something like that yet. Has that been interesting for you, knowing what he’s capable of, but then you only show it every so often?
Mikkelsen: Yeah, I think so. I think that we don’t want to see him running around being a brutal warrior, but we want to see that once in awhile. We don’t want to forget what he is, and I think that the certain elegance he brings to it, he’s extremely fast, doing things extremely snappy — just glimpses of that, to catch him in the basement, turning off the light and he’s gone, or snapping somebody’s head out of the blue. I think those moments are very important, that we keep reminding ourselves that this is not a very calm man sitting behind a desk. This is a snake, and he moves really fast. I think the elegance that we’ve brought to that — and also Bryan’s idea — is the right choice. It’s not like he’s not a brute; he does that, of course, like everything else, with elegance.