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Last week at Del Frisco’s Steak House in New York, admittedly a much more intimate setting than usual, Dread Central had the opportunity to sit and dine with the latest and possibly greatest incarnation of iconic psychopath Hannibal Lecter to date, now in the form of Danish actor Mads Mikkelson (Casino Royale).
In between bites of juicy, sautéed sirloin, Mikkelson regaled us with tales of head cheese and pig intestine, so be warned if you’re snacking on something while reading.
DC: How long did it take you to perfect your style of eating on the show?
MM: To be honest, it comes from the character. But after a while, I take notice that my own way… if I forget myself in character, I tend to go like this a lot (wraps both fists around his knife and fork). But then I look in the mirror and see the three-piece suit, and that brings me back into character. But the food is a story all on its own.
DC: Do you feel like you’re more cultured now because of the role?
MM: I hope so! Because I’m not that cultured to begin with. Yeah, we pick up things down the line, but it’s the drama that’s still the focus for all of us. But we do pick up little things.
DC: How did you get in the mindset? As a character you have to almost believe that you’re eating human, no?
MM: Well, not necessarily. I do think that when you play something that is horrific or just not understandable for us, you’ll have to put something else out there that you imagine. So, when I eat something that is apparently a foot or a liver, well, I just treat it like something I love. So I often tend to find myself placing other things in my imagination instead of the real thing. I guess if you’re playing Hitler… and I guess I can compare Hannibal to that because he’s up there, right?… you have to imagine how anyone can hate so much and you will find the hate and then you replace it. That’s been my way of working always.
DC: You seem to look at people on the show with so much interest and respect. What people are “pigs,” and what people, to Hannibal, are actually just people he’s interested in as humans?
MM: Well, it can be small things that trigger him, I guess. But, yes, people who are rude definitely have a big chance of ending up on his table. He doesn’t like rudeness. Anything that’s banal he can either just avoid, or they also have a good chance ending up on his dinner table. But anything that’s beautiful or refined or strange in a fascinating way, he finds interesting. So he’s divided the world up into banal and not banal, and people who are rude are standing a very bad chance.
DC: This is a hugely iconic character for a lot of people. Are you hesitant about coming into this role, and if so, what convinced you to do it?
MM: I was extremely reluctant doing it. I read it. I liked it. But, as you say, these are huge shoes to step into. What convinced me was Bryan [Fuller]. He was pitching the story to me for ten minutes, but then after two hours he was still hacking away. And also the fact this is taking place before the films and he’s not captured so we will have a chance to show something else. This is a man who needs to make friends; he cannot play all his cards. Anthony Hopkins could do that. I cannot do that. So he’s an actor. He’s quite emotional, but he can control his emotions as opposed to Will. If I want to be sad, I will be sad, but it won’t surprise me. The emotions will never surprise me. So that is taking place before for that reason. I think we have a chance to shoot something slightly different. Of course, he’s still Hannibal. As you can see, he’s still elaborate, a three-piece suit man. So that’s all there; it’s just a different setting.
DC: So, going from disemboweling in Valhalla Rising to “Hannibal”; was the gore ever a problem for you?
MM: Are we all finished eating? There were a couple elaborate days on [Valhalla Rising], and we had one day where I cut up somebody and pull out his intestines and make them hang out for the birds, right? That was a very sunny day, and that was actual pig intestines.
DC: Really? How many takes was that?
MM: Oh, it was quite a few… and the poor man that was there, of course, couldn’t get away from it. But I’ve always been pretty good with things like that. It’s like a really cold shower that you just tell yourself will be over in a second.
DC: Has there ever been a moment on set that you’ve really just had a particularly difficult time with something?
MM: I’ve always been really good at eating anything. Actually, when I was a youngster, I was a very small kid as a teenager, and to impress the girls every Friday, I was eating this famous yogurt… and my friends could put anything into it. And you can only imagine what that was. The girls were there; they were impressed, but not in the way I wanted them to. So I skipped that, and later on I just learned to sit and nod; that would work better. But I’m good at eating whatever it takes. When it has been annoying is when they swap something out with pasta instead of intestines so then you get these cold pastas but you’re expecting something else. But there is a good reason for that because you might do the take twenty times.
DC: Obviously, the relationship between Hannibal and Will is crucial. What is it about Will and how you feel towards him in these early days?
MM: Lecter is a man of opportunity; he sees opportunities. Every day is a new day, and every day is a chance for something beautiful to happen. When he sees Will, he empathizes with him to a degree. I have empathy, but I use it as a tool; Will has empathy, but he doesn’t know what to do with it. Lecter sees an opportunity to open this man’s eyes and see his full potential. That is what Hannibal’s hoping for. And he also sees the opportunity for a friend, which is probably something he hasn’t had too many of. So that develops, and even though Hannibal is the puppeteer, he wants to see what happens.
DC: It seems like he likes to really get at him and torture him a bit. What is it about Will that he’s so obsessed with?
MM: Hannibal is very difficult to describe because he’s not the classic psychopath. He’s not doing it for the reasons that other serial killers do: it’s not the childhood, it’s not the mother who was a junkie. That’s way too banal for him. It’s something else. He thinks the threshold between life and death is extremely beautiful. That’s where something happens. I think the closest thing we can compare him with is Satan, the fallen angel who sees beauty when the rest of us see evil. It’s the same when he’s poking at Will and playing with Will; he can’t help it. But it’s because he can do it. He sees an opportunity and he can’t help himself. He’s a genius who wants to see if he can get away with it.
DC: You mentioned the creator of the show, Bryan Fuller, earlier. How much humor is in the show? Obviously, with “Dead Like Me” and “Pushing Daisies,” there’s a good deal of humor in there. Are their still some moments of levity?
MM: Yes, yes. In the midst of all this grotesque business, something sometimes becomes funny without us knowing it. There are definitely lines in there that are supposed to be…
DC: A release for us…
MM: Right. It’s not as fully packed with it because there are so many scenes that are heavy. I mean, poor Will is having the crisis of his life. So there are scenes that are definitely loaded with that, but there is also the other side of the coin.
DC: With Thomas Harris elaborating on some of his backstory involving Lithuania and the Nazis, will that be a part of the show?
MM: We do deal with the fact that he’s from Lithuania, hence the exotic accent. So we get away with that. He studied in Paris and then probably went to England, but that doesn’t make him a Brit. But yes, so far, he is from Lithuania, but we are not dealing with the backstory from the Second World War. Also, maybe it was a little too banal. As I said before, he’s Satan. There is no reasoning. We didn’t want that to play a part.
DC: Well, if the series does continue for multiple seasons, are you worried you might have to start explaining more backstory and that might reveal too much about the character and you won’t have so much of that sense of mystery?
MM: It’s always a risk, right? You can get away with that in a film or one season, but if you do continue, people would like to see some answers, right? So we’ll have to face that if that is the case, but if you ask me, I prefer that we don’t get too many explanations. I love watching films where I don’t know where people come from and this is why they do something. But we might have to deal with it.
“Hannibal” premieres this Thursday, April 4, at 10pm on NBC.
Starring Hugh Dancy as Will Graham and Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal Lecter, “Hannibal” from Bryan Fuller (“Pushing Daisies,” “Heroes”) will breathe new life into a deadly classic. Laurence Fishburne and Caroline Dhavernas co-star along with Molly Shannon, Ellen Muth, Anna Chlumsky, Lance Henriksen, Gillian Anderson, Chelan Simons, Ellen Greene, Gina Torres, and Raul Esparza.
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