Hannibal creator Bryan Fuller: how James Bond inspired my serial killer

The creator of Sky Living's blood-drenched reimagining of Dr Hannibal Lecter reveals his surprising influences ahead of the second series

The exact moment Dr Hannibal Lecter took control of the serial-killer genre and changed it for ever is hard to pinpoint. Was it when he explained his drawings of Florence to FBI agent Clarice Starling, the Duomo sketched from memory? When he described eating a census taker’s liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti? Or when he escaped from custody and you found yourself rooting for him?

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Either way, things were never the same after The Silence of the Lambs. From Dexter to The Fall, serial killers have stopped muttering in seedy basements and become poets, artists and sensitive heroes. So when Bryan Fuller – fresh from Heroes and Pushing Daisies – announced he was rebooting Lecter in Hannibal, there was a collective shrugging of shoulders. What could he show us that hasn’t been shown before?

Turns out, plenty. Fuller has returned to the text – Thomas Harris’s series of thrillers Red Dragon, The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal and Hannibal Rising – but he’s playing around, as befits his mischievous reputation. “I fell in love with the books at high school, but by the time we got to Hannibal Rising – well, I could never finish the book or the movie,” he explains cheerfully. “I mean, he becomes Hannibal because Nazis ate his sister? Please…”

So he’s rebooting everything. Take the forthcoming third season. In the season-two finale – having forced a man to carve up his own face and fed Eddie Izzard his legs as a final meal – Mads Mikkelsen’s Lecter flees to Florence with his long-term – and clearly professionally hopeless – therapist, played by Gillian Anderson.

“I love the classic Bond movies of the 60s and that’s what I think we have here,” he says. “Mads and Gillian in spy shenanigans chased by an over-the-top villain – Mason Verger.” Fans of the films will remember Mason as the skinless billionaire keen to feed Lecter to his pigs. Fans of season two will know an altogether weirder story. But then, that weird twist is what gives this series new life.

“When I talked to Mads about the character at the beginning,
he said he didn’t think Hannibal was really a man,” Fuller’s voice crackles with pleasure. “We’ve mapped him as a fallen angel kicked out of heaven and fascinated by humanity. In Hugh Dancy’s Will Graham he finds the best human he’s ever met – and that fascination and friendship is what’s driving him.”

As a result, Mikkelsen’s Lecter has all Anthony Hopkins’s polite decorum and unstoppable savagery – but adds something darker and more alluring. Since the horrors of the Second World War death camps, there’s little hell can teach humanity about cruelty and torture. Giving a mythical dimension to a serial killer like Hannibal returns the dark magic to fantasy horror – Fuller’s reworking of Red Dragon, which takes up the second half of season three, is even rooted in the Book of Revelations. “It’s heaven, hell, redemption and Dante,” he explains. “Although we’re only really seeing hell through the prison of insanity. I’m very careful to keep fans of crime drama watching the show.”

As for fans of Hugh Dancy – who we last saw bleeding in a charnel house filled with Lecter’s victims – they can breathe easy; he does return.

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“The truth is, Will Graham broke Lecter’s heart at the end of season two when he lied to him,” Fuller says. “I cried when I wrote that scene. You’ll see Hugh return – he’s flawed light to Hannibal’s darkness. And if Hannibal is about one thing, it’s that you can be a terrible person but do something beautiful – and you can be an angel but also commit terrible crimes.”