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'Hannibal' EPs Discuss Hannibal's Reunion with Will, Rise of the Antihero

It's not often audiences root for the villain. Nonetheless, here viewers are, absolutely thrilled that Hannibal Lecter escaped after slicing and dicing his friends in the "Hannibal's" Season 2 finale.

When the psychological thriller returns tonight, it picks up eight months later and Hannibal has fled the country to assume a new identity in Europe in order to continue his cannibalistic indulgences. However, the survivors of Hannibal's massacre are out for blood and hot on his trail.

On the Toronto set of NBC's "Hannibal," Executive Producers Bryan Fuller and Steven Lightfoot spoke to journalists about the hunt for Hannibal, putting their own spin on Thomas Harris' books, recasting Michael Pitt, the show's strong female characters and "Hannibal's" legacy.

You've woven various elements of Thomas Harris' novels into the "Hannibal" TV series. How faithful are you to the books?

Bryan Fuller: What Steve and I have always done with the books in the last couple of seasons is really mash them up, so we talk about being mash-up DJs where we're spinning tracks from "Silence of the Lambs" with the vocals of "Hannibal Rising" and that sort of thing. You'll note the DNA. You'll be able to say, "Oh, that's the little bit that came from here." If you're really familiar with the literature, everything is sort of mashed-up in a way for us. Being that there have been so many adaptations of the books, we wanted to make sure that we twist everything a little bit so anybody who has been a big fan is able to get something new out of the experience with our version of the mythology.

We're faithful, but we're sort of like, "I like your hat," and we took the hat and we put it on a different outfit for a different scene. There's lots of stuff for us just going through the books and finding different nuggets of the literature and making their way into the show, but you would have to really be a student of the literature to recognize some of them.

What can viewers expect to see in the new season?

Fuller: It's such a shift in tone from what we had been doing. The first season particularly was very procedural. Every week we had a different killer who was doing a different, wild thing. That gave us a backbone for stories because we knew everything had to come back and relate to the human cello or what was happening to Georgia Madchen.

We got away from the procedural this season, so it's much more of a soap opera and really unpacking the events of that finale that were huge and traumatic. You see Will Graham lying in 30 gallons of blood with poor Abigail Hobbs, and Alana is out the window lying in the rain. Jack's got the glass in his throat, bleeding out.

The first three episodes start that new chapter and then in our fourth episode, we actually go back and tell events immediately after the finale. The first three episodes are eight months later, essentially. We get little glimpses of what happened afterwards that help us sell the trauma of what Will went through, and is going through, to find this guy who's had such influence in his life. Then really the soap opera takes over and it's all about the characters.

We don't really have a murderer of the week in the first seven episodes. We have a murderer in the Red Dragon and we stretch that out over six episodes, which feels like a much more organic way for us to tell stories as opposed to, "Boy, there's a lot of crazy people doing a lot of weird shit to bodies every week."

The core of the series is this dysfunctional relationship between Will and Hannibal. How does it evolve this season?

Fuller: The evolution is really out of shock of what Will experienced. The mystery of the first three episodes into the fourth episode is really how has this changed Will Graham and how does it change his approach to Hannibal Lecter? At a certain point, you can either say, "I need to eradicate the monster," or you say, "Well, that's the monster's condition and I'm not going to hunt a great white shark doing what a great white shark does."

There's sort of an acceptance at the same time, so it does allow us to further explore the intimacy between Hannibal and Will in a way that feels organic to the [Season 2] finale. The finale keeps on getting unpacked in a way. We get to see it from different views and different character interpretations of what exactly happened. So, over the course of the first four episodes, we really take certain traumatic elements of that and we tell how that traumatized each individual character who survived the bloody day.

What can you tease about how Hannibal and Will's reunion plays out?

Steven Lightfoot: As Bryan says, we're playing with "What does Will want?" I think we're saying to the audience, "What is Will going to do when he finds him? Is he going to embrace him? Is he going to kill him?" The journey takes him there and in the end, they are really pleased to see each other. Whatever else it is, it feels to me like there's a part of these guys that feels better when they are together, even if it's wrong.

The problem is there are so many other people with agendas that 30 seconds after they meet, those agendas come crashing in and the story spirals off into crazy places. Jack's looking for Hannibal. Hannibal kind of knows they are all looking and he's saying, "Here I am. Come get me." He's got a plan. The reunion is kind of lovely for about five minutes and then a whole load of shit goes wrong involving rifles and bone saws.

Michael Pitt didn't reprise his role of Mason Verger. What happened?

Fuller: Ultimately, Michael didn't want to do the show. We tried very hard. We negotiated for a long time to try to get him back and ultimately, he didn't want to come back. We cast Joe Anderson, who takes the role in a different place. It was sort of an organic place for us to shift gears because Mason's face is so mutilated. It was like, "Well, I could put on the mutilated face."

I remember the very first conversation I was having with Joe and he was like, "So, who is it that I'm playing? I know Michael Pitt played it, but who is he?" I was like, "Did you see 'Hannibal' and the Gary Oldman character?" And he was like, "That guy? I'm gonna play that guy?" And he was like, "I'm in. I'll totally do it." There is a little bit of Gary Oldman DNA in his performance, so you can see how that really influenced him in a great way. But, he also made it his own so spectacularly. He does more twisted things in this season than he did in the previous season. It was exciting for us to see the further development of his relationship with his sister. We have Katharine Isabelle back and she's fantastic. She has a lot to do in this season, including amazing lesbian sex sequences that are kaleidoscopic. For anybody who's into that sort of thing, it's pretty good.

How conscious a decision was it to include so many strong female characters this season?

Fuller: This season is much more character-oriented in a great way. We talked about these characters, like having Chiyo come in, who was Lady Murasaki's attendant, which was an interesting journey for us because we initially were planning on bringing Lady Murasaki in. Then, as we crafted the character, it felt like Lady Murasaki probably wouldn't have put up with the bullshit that a younger, more impressionable character would have.

To have Gillian Anderson be a series regular -- the first episode is very much her episode and so much her point of, "How did I get into this situation?" We tell that story and it exists in four different timelines. We go into her past relationship with Hannibal Lecter. We go to the night that everything went down at the house. We see where they are now in Italy, how they function as a couple and who she is as his doctor at the same time as his accomplice.

And when we meet Molly, Will's wife, in the second half of the season, we do things that never happened in the book that are thrilling. I remember when we first turned in the script for a particularly horrifying sequence where we really make her a master of her own story. The network said it was their favorite sequence that we've ever done on the show and it was with a supporting character in the second half of the season.

We really wanted to make sure that if we were bringing a character into the world, that we gave them something fantastic to do. That's how we attract great cast. With Rutina Wesley coming in and playing Reba, there are elements of the books that never made it to any of the adaptations, which both Steve and I were very excited about that because we're huge fans of the literature. We'd be talking about, "Oh, there's this sequence that they didn't do in 'Red Dragon' or 'Manhunter' and we can do that." Also, every time we've sort of damsel-in-distressed any female character, we've always made it a point of they have to get themselves out of the situation. A guy can't save them.

TV seems to be embracing the antihero. How do you see this trend where the good guy is not the good guy anymore and instead is the bad guy?

Fuller: Well, I think one of the interesting things about the anti-hero that's happening right now - whether it's Dexter, Hannibal or Tony Soprano -- is that at some root of them is a beautiful humanity that we can relate to. There's... is it a Socrates quote? It's even referenced in "Hannibal," that good things and bad things exist side by side in the same human being. Everyone is capable of terrible, terrible things and they are capable of beautiful things at the same time.

It's actually giving us permission to forgive ourselves, in a way. Where, yes, at the end of everyday I'm riddled with regrets. "I shouldn't have done that. I shouldn't have said that. I should have done this better. I understand the self-loathing of just being alive and also the self-forgiveness of it."

I think attaching to an antihero allows us to forgive our minor trespasses of ourselves. To say, "Well, we're not actually eating somebody, so we're not so bad." That person who is eating somebody is also capable of great beauty.

In Hannibal's mind, what he's doing to Will Graham is great therapy. He's trying to make this guy accept who he is and be the best version of himself that he can be. If that involves cutting a couple of throats, then let's forgive and forget.

Can you introduce us to Zachary Quinto's character and where he fits into the season?

Fuller: Zach Quinto plays a patient of Gillian Anderson's and it was so much fun to get Zach into the show. We had tried to cast Zach a couple of times in different roles and his schedule wasn't permitting it. I've been friends with him since we did "Heroes" together, so we've kept on talking about how do we get in each other's orbit again? One of the roles that we wanted him for, that he wasn't available for, had scenes with Gillian and Mads. He was like, "Ugh, I'm dying to work with Gillian Anderson. I'm obsessed with her!" I was like, "Well, let's just write you a role with her and if you're not available for this role, let's create one." So, it actually came out of his unavailability for other roles and his obsession with Gillian Anderson and wanting to work with her. We just made it work and came up with something out of that inspiration.

What do you believe "Hannibal" will be remembered for in 50 years?

Fuller: I think it will be remembered for Mads Mikkelsen's performance. I think every Hannibal is remembered for the actor, whether it's Bryan Cox, who I thought was brilliant in "Manhunter" and had such a comedy to him when he's talking about, "Just run that dial down and give me the name." He was so witty and was aware of the black comedy. Then, Anthony Hopkins was a little bit more banal with his interpretation, really making a meal of it and heightened, but also accessible, particularly when he goes to his stillness. Then, Mads Mikkelsen is doing, yet again, something different. It's really like a good Shakespeare play. You see how every individual actor imbues the character in a fresh way and makes it their own. When people think of this, they'll think of Mads' performance.

"Hannibal" returns June 4 on NBC.

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