Why Mads Mikkelsen Is a Perfect Muse for Hannibal Creator Bryan Fuller

Bryan Fuller has picked Mads Mikkelsen to be the star of his upcoming film Dust Bunny. Really, there was no better choice.

Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal Lecter rests his head on a skull as he sits at a table adorned with flowers and wine
Photo: Gaumont International TV

The word “visionary” gets tossed around pretty easily in show business, too often applied to creators who appealed to a broad market more than they broke new ground. But few would disagree that the word is an apt descriptor for Bryan Fuller. Not only did Fuller work on cult hits like Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Heroes, but he also created some beloved oddballs, including the sweetly macabre Pushing Daisies and Hannibal, the audacious adaptation of Thomas Harris’s novels. Despite the idiosyncratic nature of his work, Fuller has established himself as a consummate collaborator, as demonstrated by his tendency to work with actors such as Lee Pace and Caroline Dhavernas across several projects.

But with the casting news about Fuller’s upcoming feature film directing debut Dust Bunny, the creator will finally be reuniting with his best collaborator, the Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen. Together with Fuller, Mikkelsen already did the impossible, becoming for many the definitive Hannibal Lecter, despite Anthony Hopkins’s Academy Award-winning portrayal in The Silence of the Lambs. Where Hopkins played Lecter as a reptilian predator, staring wide-eyed at his prey, even lecturing on Dante in Ridley Scott’s sequel Hannibal, Mikkelsen brought playfulness and even romance to the famed cannibal.

We see this in a scene from Hannibal season three, episode twelve, which finds an incarcerated Hannibal being interrogated by FBI Behavioral Science Chief Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne). We watch from Crawford’s point of view as he extends a platter carrying a lip once attached to asylum director Frederick Chilton (Raúl Esparza). As the focus settles to highlight Crawford’s hard stare, haunting strings bleed into the soundtrack, underscoring the seriousness of the moment. “Where’s the other one?” Crawford bluntly asks, referring to the missing other lip, which Hannibal had an opportunity to examine.

Hannibal does not answer, but viewers learn the truth via a hard cut to Hannibal slurping up the lip like a kid downing SpaghettiOs. Instead, Hannibal assures Crawford that they can learn all they need about Chilton’s whereabouts from the single remaining lip and then flashes a goofy grin to psychiatrist Alana Bloom (Dhavernas). “I’m sorry, Jack,” Hannibal says, turning his smile back to Crawford. “The tragedy of what’s happened to Frederick has put me in an excellent humor.”

Ad – content continues below

This small exchange captures the obvious highlights of Mikkelsen’s performance. The scene is scary and disgusting as befitting a story about a man eating the body parts of a human who has been kidnapped by a serial killer. And of course, it’s funny, not only because the dignified Lecter happily gobbles the lip but because he’s being playful with his captors.

But more importantly, Mikkelsen plays Hannibal with genuine warmth. Although he is a murderous cannibal being held by an angry law enforcement officer and a disturbed doctor, he also considers Crawford and Bloom to be his friends. He has real respect for them, treating the interrogation as a game between pals. That’s even more pronounced in the show’s overall arc, which begins as a cat-and-mouse game between Hannibal and FBI profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) and slowly becomes a grand, doomed romance.

Mikkelsen needs to bring so many layers to the scene because Fuller has the challenge of creating something new for audiences. The interrogation scene concerns the hunt for killer Francis Dolarhyde (Richard Armitage), the focus of Harris’s novel Red Dragon. That story has already been portrayed twice in live action, first in the excellent Michael Mann film Manhunter and then in the less-than-excellent Brett Ratner film Red Dragon. Fuller differentiates himself in part by changing plot points (eg., Dolarhyde kidnaps reporter Freddy Lounds, not Chilton, in most versions of the story), but he relies on Mikkelsen to uncover new aspects.

It’s this willingness to go in new directions that makes Mikkelsen so important for Fuller. In his most ambitious moments, Fuller put his own unique stamp on a known property and pushed it into surprising directions. Just recall the long Klingon-language dialogue scenes in the first season of Star Trek: Discovery or the sometimes sweet and sometimes horrifying sex scenes in his adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. Fuller needs a collaborator who is not only willing to go with him to these areas but has the ability to play several different emotions at once. Few actors embody those qualities better than Mikkelsen.

At this point, we only have a brief plot synopsis for Dust Bunny. The horror film follows a little girl who entreats her neighbor to kill the monster under her bed. But even with such a bare-bones description, the mind already reels thinking about the unexpected places Fuller will take his film. It’s a good thing that he’s bringing along Mikkelsen, an ideal actor to work with such a truly visionary creator.