For any actor, it’s playing with fire to take on a role as iconic as Hannibal Lecter, a character as beloved as he is terrifying – and whose psychopathic skin has been so flagrantly worn by others, including Anthony Hopkins, who scored an Oscar for sheer creepiness in The Silence of the Lambs.
Yet for the Danish star Mads Mikkelsen – who wowed the world in 2006 as the Bond villain “Le Chiffre” and wept blood at the gaming table opposite Daniel Craig in Casino Royale – slipping into the serial-cannibal’s hide turned out to be a perfect fit.
In fact, where lesser talent would go down in flames, Mikkelsen sears to perfection a fresh, delectable helping of the twisty psychiatrist in Hannibal, the new thriller series from NBC, a prequel set in the years before the police grew aware of the murderous gourmet’s appetite for human flesh and his macabre sense of play.
“I think our goal for this series is really to make the definitive Hannibal Lecter story,” says the creator and executive producer Bryan Fuller, who is also behind the critically acclaimed series Pushing Daisies and Wonderfalls as well as a writer for the fan-fave first season of Heroes.
Hannibal follows the investigations of the gifted criminal profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) who’s on the hunt with the FBI for a serial killer. Graham’s unique way of thinking gives him the astonishing ability to empathise with anyone – even psychopaths. He knows what makes them tick.
But when the mind of the warped killer he’s pursuing proves too knotty for even Graham to untangle, he enlists the help of Lecter, one of the premier psychiatrists in the country.
Armed with the uncanny expertise of the brilliant doctor, Graham and Lecter (known to be a serial killer only to viewers) form a brilliant partnership; it seems there’s no villain they can’t catch. (Sigh … if only Graham knew that Lecter would one day become his most cunning foe.)
The co-stars include Laurence Fishburne (The Matrix, CSI) as special agent-in-charge Jack Crawford, the head of Behavioural Sciences at the FBI and Graham’s boss, and Caroline Dhavernas (Wonderfalls) as Dr Alana Bloom, a psychiatry professor and profiler who finds herself both intrigued by Graham and afraid for him.
Hannibal reeks with horror; this is one genuinely scary show that puts viewers into the minds of victims who experience excruciating ends. Yet amid all the gore on the floor, the series is awash with the finer things in life, with the best in fashion and flourishes of gourmet cooking in Hannibal’s gleaming, to-die-for kitchen – where the meat sizzling in the pan in a flash of brandy is part of the mystery. “This show is elegant horror,” adds Fuller. “That is what we’re striving for.”
The New York Post hails it as “the most beautifully shot and produced show on network TV”. And it’s already been renewed for a second season of 13 episodes for 2014.
“The human monster will always be fascinating,” adds Dhavernas, “and this one even more so, because he’s not your typical psycho – he’s a dandy.”
Says Fishburne: “He has that language and sophistication and supreme intelligence that is going to make his Hannibal Lecter quite irresistible.”
“I think the dark places have always been intriguing and interesting for people. The villain is always interesting,” says the 47-year-old Mikkelsen.
When asked what panics him, however, his answer is pragmatic: “I don’t like big lines to restrooms when I’ve just had four [beverages]. That scares me, really.”
• Hannibal is broadcast at 11pm on Wednesday on OSN First HD