Couple of facts: Hannibal is the best show on network TV and Bryan Fuller is the best showrunner on social media. (Follow him on Twitter—there's isn't a friendlier, more giving dude making TV right now.) Winding up characters created by Thomas Harris and letting them zip around in a warped world fans have dubbed the Fullerverse, Fuller takes a self-described "fan fiction" approach to the source material. Fidelity isn't the most important issue here. At all.
Instead, Fuller's Hannibal is just an exploration of a friendship—albeit, a really, really strange one.
I re-watched The Silence of the Lambs the other night and was thinking about that feminist perspective the film is grounded in, and I was wondering: Did you ever have any misgivings about taking that source material and turning it into a more traditional "dude vs. dude” story?
One of the exciting things about the Red Dragon story for me is that there's so much with the story that had been untapped in either of the film adaptations, whereas [Jonathan Demme's] Silence of the Lambs was a pretty thorough exploration of the novel. Actually, Clarice comes off as a little more likeable in the film than in the book, where she’s got a significant bite to her; what Jodie Foster did with the performance gave Clarice such a richness of character that you were completely with her on that journey. With Red Dragon, there was so much that never made it to the screen, all the intricacies of the intimacy between Will Graham and Hannibal Lector. I was always attracted to that. That line where Hannibal essentially says, “You caught me because you’re crazy just like I am." I thought, Well, that’s the series.
One of the things that attracts me to the show is how serious it is about the relationship between Will and Hannibal, and just how serious the show is interested in exploring the idea of male friendship. Is that something that you’ve always been interested in, interrogating this sort of homosocial relationship?
Absolutely. It’s interesting to me as a gay man to look at straight male relationships because there's a level of intimacy that's something I don’t entirely understand and experience. It felt like an opportunity to explore genuine intimacy between two men who were not sexually attracted to each other, and find out what are the complexities of a male friendship when you get so close to each other but you don’t have a physical way to express affection. It becomes much more about what lines do you cross, what lines don’t you cross, how far do you go for this person. The nature of their friendship is the core of the show and the thing that I was most fascinated with doing. It felt like, “Oh, this is an interesting essay on male intimacy without components of sexuality.”
I was just talking with a writer friend of mine this morning about Hannibal and Will's relationship, and how whatever sexual energy could exist is sublimated through other outlets. For instance, I was re-watching the sex scene in "Naka-Choko," and it’s like Alana is less an object of desire for both men and more a way to mediate their connection.
We frequently refer to her on set as Geneviève Bujold between two Jeremy Irons's. We went through that phase where we used her kind of like a proxy for their intimacy, but I'd say the homoeroticism is more me just cackling in the editing room, as opposed to something that the characters are genuinely feeling when they're in the room with one another. Will Graham is a heterosexual character, and Hannibal Lector is the devil and would probably be able to eroticize everything from his perspective because he’s in awe of the human condition. Of course, that’s not to say that they’re going to be falling into bed—I’ll leave that to the online community. They’re doing what we’re doing with the show, because the show for me is very much fan fiction of these characters that I adore. So that’s why I’m very respectful and appreciative of fan fiction and fan art that positions these characters in ways you wouldn’t see them on the show.
Right. Your show isn't Game of Thrones, where fans watch for fidelity to the source material. You're on a totally different journey.
It’s a pretty screwed up journey. But for as serious as the tone is, there's such a dark sense of humor at the root of it that comes from embracing the absurdity of the situation and cannibalism, in general.
At this point, how many characters on the show have eaten human meat?
Quite a few, I think. Jack Crawford. Will Graham. Alana Bloom. Dr. Chilton, before he lost a kidney and couldn’t process animal proteins. Basically, anybody who has sat at Hannibal Lector's dining room table and had a non-vegetarian meal has eaten people.
What sort of problems have you run into with the network, in terms of getting away with certain acts of violence?
We’ve been very proactive with NBC Standards and Practices. When we have something coming up like the scene where Mason Verger cuts off his face and feeds it to the dogs and to himself, I'll reach out to Standards and Practices for advice on how to do it and get away with as much as possible. They'll give very clean, clear directions: keep things in the shadows, dial the color of the red down so that it's darker; the brighter it is, the more upsetting it is for the viewer. In the third season, the tone of the show will take a turn and we won't have as much of the Grand Guignol death tableaus that we designed for the first and second seasons. We'll be outside of the purview of the FBI for the first half of the third season; it's a much more character-driven story. We've shook off the restraints of a client procedural and are doing a full blown character story about the pursuit of Hannibal Lector.
So, de-saturate the color when someone cuts their face off—do censorship practices feel insane to you?
The networks are just trying to avoid getting fined. The greater issue is just that, in this country, it is okay to do terrible things to the human body, but it’s not okay to do beautiful things to the human body, things that are healthy, happy, and sex positive. We live in a society that’s terrified of human sexuality. You look at these crazy restrictions on birth control, what should be covered and what should not be covered. Very conservative people are looking to essentially de-pleasure sexuality for women. It’s about preventing a human being from enjoying being a human being. But it’s a societal issue as opposed to a network television issue. As a horror fan, I appreciate the double standard in some way because it lets me do all of these ridiculous thing to the human body. I'm taking advantage of the double standard. But it’s ridiculous because we should be celebrating sexuality, but people are just so terrified of it.
To your credit, the sex scene in "Naka-Choko" is very beautiful.
Oh, great! That’s what we wanted. We want our sex scenes to be as beautiful and signature as our death tableaus. Seems only fair.
Would you like to explore sexuality more often on the show?
I just want to explore the humanity more. I think we could use more sexual tension, and I think there will be a tremendous amount between Bedelia and Hannibal in the third season. And yet their relationship is so complicated, I can't say how much of that sexuality coming into fruition would seem honest given what they’re experiencing and who they are. But that’s not to say that we won't be flirting with that flirtation.
Ross Scarano is a deputy editor at Complex and is no longer a vegetarian. He tweets here.