Bryan Fuller On The Queerness of ‘Hannibal’ And Modern Day Television

by | February 27, 2014 at 1:08 PM | Bates Motel, Hannibal, LGBT, Looking

"Hannibal." (NBC)

By Jim Halterman

One of the thrills of the television series “Hannibal” is not only the serial killer element to the show but also the psychological relationship between Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) and FBI Special Agent Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) that is more the foundation of the show than anything else. In fact, the show delves into this relationship between two heterosexual men but with a very queer tone that is as compelling as it is unique for network television.

Out series creator Bryan Fuller talked to me about the show’s queerness, how Busby Berkeley inspired one of the more grotesque things on the show and what he thinks of the overall queerness of television and how far we’ve come.

On the surface, “Hannibal” doesn’t seem super gay but once you start getting into it…let’s just say I feel like  Will and Hannibal could just start kissing at any time because they’re so intimate with each other.

Bryan Fuller: Well, that’s part of the attraction for the show, for me. I was so curious about the bromance, as a gay guy looking in or out at non-sexual male relationships. There’s this element that kind of is beyond my comprehension that has [elements of] sexuality but isn’t sexualized, and yet there’s love between men that isn’t romanticized or physical. And I think it’s interesting to strip that away and, at its heart, I think Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham are having a heterosexual romance. They are very much have love for each other, and are behaving in ways that would suggest that there’s a level of intimacy that a certain amount of passion is required for.

So we definitely play with that. I think that with some of the things that we have coming up in the new season, we definitely take advantage of suggesting that passion and that intimacy, without it being consummated physically, but I think that’s part of the fun of a bromance…we’ve all seen “Top Gun.” [laughs]

With this second season, you’re playing with the idea of Will and Hannibal trading places in a way, because Hannibal is now working in Will’s spot with the team, and Will is stuck in jail. Is that trading places your intention?

BF: Absolutely. We all know where Hannibal ends up, and the fun for me was to hold that off, to kind of get to all the juicy parts ahead of time, so we can just flip the dynamic, so it’s one way when Will is behind bars, and then eventually we’ll get to a place in the series where Hannibal is behind bars and how does that dynamic switch after everything that’s happened with season two.

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We just finished breaking the season finale and the writers and I have come up with something really exciting and also sort of ‘oh wow!’ One of the things that we learned is that we go back through and watch all the episodes, because you sort of forget…you’re so paying attention to the stones that are right underneath your feet that you forget the path that got you there. So it’s always nice to sort of stop, and live up through the episodes until the point of the finale…this is what we need to pay off, and this is where we need to close some doors and we need to open some doors. So it’s very exciting to be at the end of the tunnel, at least in the terms of the plotting.

The actors are often asked if they’re able to shake the darkness of the show. Are you and even your writers able to shake the darkness?

BF: I think the first season was really, really difficult in that regard because I was spending a lot of time away from home. Like, last year, doing the first season, I was away from home eight months of the year working on the show, and so you’re separated from friends, and family, and animals, and isolated in Toronto, writing about a man who’s losing his mind, feeling like you’re losing your mind. So the first season was very, very challenging, and very depressing, actually. Because it got to be very present, the tone of the show, and just the private, poor Will Graham I related very much to, because I felt isolated. And the writers were in Los Angeles and I was in Toronto, and trying to navigate communication across a country and time zones. It’s all very, very challenging. So, yeah. Last year was depressing as hell.

Well, I’m glad it’s a little better this season.

BF: It’s almost sort of almost reflective of Will Graham’s plight and this year he’s a little less of a victim than he was in the first season. So that’s more fun to write and still we take these dark inspirations and try to turn them into these beautiful images, and we also take very light inspirations and then try to turn them into dark inspirations.

For instance, the human mural [seen in the season premiere] was all inspired by Busby Berkeley musicals, because it’s all of those images, those high angles, top shots of bodies intertwined and elaborate choreography, but we just did it with corpses. I see kind of “[Pushing] Daisies,” or the roots with some of the inspirations on the show. In fact, with a “Daisies” murder, we redo in Hannibal’s town, so it’s much moodier and much darker, and you sort of compare it to the murder that we did on “Pushing Daisies’ that was very similar and it’s just such a juxtaposition of life from the two different shows.

You probably don’t have time to watch TV of your own, but I was just curious if you’ve seen “Looking” on HBO.

BF: I haven’t yet. I have a bunch TIVO’d. I hear varied things from quite a few people, and a friend of mine who’s a television critic has said that even if you’ve watched the first four episodes, you don’t really know the show until you see episode five.

I would agree with that. I was a fan from the start, but maybe we can talk about it once you’ve seen as I’d be curious what you think.

BF: Yeah. Yeah. I was such a huge fan of the British “Queer as Folk.” I thought it was so innovative and I think Russell Davies walks on water as a human being, and also as a writer, and that was such a huge, pivotal series for the gay community. I was less enthralled with the US version probably because I was so enrapt with the British version that when we got to the US version I was like, ‘oh I like the British version better, so I’ll just stick to that.’ I’m glad that HBO was taking a chance on something that feels like, from what I understand, a dramedy. It’s a half hour, but it seems like it’s poignant.

And because you’ve worked in television for a long time, what do you think of the queerness of television these days?

BF: I think there’s two different types of representation of homosexuality on television, or queerness for lack of a better word. There’s a tone queerness and then there’s a literal queerness. I think if you look at shows like “Hannibal” or “Bates Motel,” theirs is a queer sensibility at work, in terms of, anytime you have a mother/son dynamic, there’s a queer sensibility at work, and I think that’s one of the things that “Bates Motel” does really well, is that they keep these elements that are very queer-friendly, like the crazier Norman Bates gets, the more…I have so many friends who watch “Bates Motel” just eager to see what craziness that Norman Bates can get up to and it does have kind of that gay sensibility to it, and a sense of fun to it.

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Also, and it’s creepy, it’s very Lynch-ian and I think David Lynch has a very queer tone, not necessarily in sexuality, but in terms of celebration of ‘the other’ as point of view. And I think that’s also very important, because when I think about being queer, I don’t necessarily relegate it to gender orientation in any way as much as I do a point of view or an openness to that which is different, and I think that’s shared by heterosexuals as well as homosexuals. I think there’s a common ground where it is about a tone and a point of view and not necessarily about who you’re having sex with.

“Hannibal” airs Fridays at 10pm on NBC.