Hugh Dancy Talks Obsession, Twisted Love and 'Hannibal's' Third Season

Not many people can match wits with serial killer Hannibal Lecter, but Will Graham, played by Emmy nominee Hugh Dancy, is one of them.

The FBI profiler may have fallen prey to the charm of the good doctor (Mads Mikkelsen), but that spell wavered when he deduced his friend's true nature. Their game of cat and mouse came to a head in “Hannibal’s” Season 2 finale that seemingly left Will, Jack (Laurence Fishburne) and Alana (Caroline Dhavernas) dead, and Hannibal jetting off to begin a new life.

On the Toronto set of NBC’s psychological thriller, Dancy sat down with journalists to discuss the aftermath of that bloodbath, Will's state of mind in Season 3, his character’s relationship with Lecter, and the introduction of Chiyoh from the "Hannibal Rising" novel.

How is Will different after last season's events?

Hugh Dancy: He has trouble digesting. I think he flirted as closely as he's ever going to with that idea of joining Hannibal in some kind of buddy comedy. Whatever the dream was that they would go off into the horizon together, that was the closest he came to allowing that dream to blossom in his own mind. Now, it's a different kind of parity that he's got. He can't walk away. He can't just let Hannibal go off into the sunset. He's got to see it through. The purpose of it is almost moot, whether it's revenge, whether it's reconciliation, whether it's forgiveness.

One different approach from the movies is that every character seems to not only be attracted or fascinated by Hannibal, but they want to emulate him. Was that something you considered when preparing your character?

I think that I was always interested by the idea of influence. This is obviously taken to a huge extreme. Hannibal is highly manipulative and very interested in going inside somebody and lifting up the rug and seeing what's underneath. It's a little surprising how everybody in the show has the capacity to be a psychopath. Maybe there's a fair point there about us all. I think, just on a more human level, when I was thinking about it before we started the show, that we have the capacity to be influenced by people, to let them into our bubble. We try to preserve our own sense of who we are, but at the same time, you don't want to go through life cut off. "Great, I know exactly who I am." You need some sway. I personally find that very interesting, the blurry edges of personality. That's where I was coming from.

When you began reading the scripts for the third season, were there certain threads you were curious about?

I guess I was interested to know how Bryan [Fuller, series creator] would approach it. I had spoken to him, of course. "Were we going to start off back in the kitchen and everyone is still bleeding?" Secondly, knowing Hannibal is going to go on a journey, and knowing that I'm going to go after him in some way, what exactly that drive was. Of course, what Bryan did is basically not answer any of those questions. I think that the first four episodes of the season are really interesting. When I first read them, I was thinking, "What's he doing here?"

Then it dawned on me that he is playing with time because what happened in that situation, where Hannibal slaughtered everybody almost, is still circulating for all of them. It's still right there. It's present in the way a traumatic event is present. The first episode where, as I think Bryan has already said, we're off with Hannibal and Bedelia [Gillian Anderson] and having a fine time. Then, suddenly we're back with Will, we're back in the second episode, we're back into this kind of circling dream world, where he's back in the kitchen. He's coming up to Hannibal. He's with Abigail. He's not with Abigail. It's not moving forward in the normal way. The third episode is something else. The fourth episode it circles back. I think is a very bold and really provocative way to write television. I also think it means that you don't get any answers until much later.

There is no Sherlock without Moriarty. Can we have Hannibal without Will?

I think probably, but he'd be very bored.

Can you talk about this chess game between the two characters, where they are always trying to figure out each other's next move?

I think it's difficult. I don't think either of them really understand it. On the surface, it's very clear. Initially, Will didn't even know what he was dealing with. Then he was trying to maybe catch Hannibal. As I said, this season Will doesn't even know what he wants anymore. He just knows he has to get Will to admit that he's really bad and likes to kill people. Clearly, it's not just that either. There's a vortex that they can't help spiraling around each other. All I will say is I think that as we get further into the season, that will get addressed very clearly.

It sounds like Will gets a partner once he arrives in Italy. Can you talk a little bit about her, their dynamic and do they have the same agenda?

To answer the last question first, this being a Bryan Fuller show, who knows? Yes, this is Chiyoh that I think you are talking about, who is Lady Murasaki's maid servant and still is in Castle Lecter when I arrive there on my quest to essentially go back to the origin of Hannibal. She's there kind of by choice and kind of not. She, like Will, has a very clear understanding of who Hannibal is and what he is capable of. You could say she's torn in a similar way to Will about his character. Then we set off together in another incredibly, unlikely development of taking a train across Europe. It was great. Just really fun and off to suddenly play with different people in this very heightened little universe. Also, expect a patsy, who is obviously from the novels, but inserted here. Another person with his own agenda when it comes to going after Hannibal.

In the show, we see different kinds of pleasures: food and murder, with an underlying tone of sex. Is there sexual tension between Hannibal and Will?

There's absolutely some form of love, twisted love, or whatever it is. The analogy I've always used is for Will, it's like for his whole life he's been not only a great chess player, but in fact the only person in the whole world who knows the rules of chess. Then another person walks in the room, who's also a genius chess player and that sense of relief and gratitude and recognition is powerful.

There is kind of the feeling of falling in love, like, "Oh, my God. I see you. I really see you." Of course, the fact is he doesn't see Hannibal at that point, but, nonetheless, whatever it is between them, is there from the beginning. I think it's platonic, but I think at a certain point it's bigger than either of them. Hannibal wants to be more in control, but actually he's willing to burn everything down to have contact with Will. At a certain point, that covers your whole world. I don't think it's sexual, but I think it's bigger than that to be honest.

As Will, Jack and Alana close in on Hannibal, who's really the hunter and who is the prey?

Aren't we all both? I mean, in this show we are anyway. Nobody is only victimized, with the possible exception of Frederick Chilton.

”Hannibal” returns Thursday, June 4, at 10 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.

The Expanse Heads Beyond the Ring Gate in Season 4 Trailer

More in TV