“Geeks are… someone whose love for something is so passionate that it’s sort of coming out of them, and there’s no regard to it being cool or not,” Aaron Abrams, who plays forensics expert Brian Zeller on Hannibal, told us at a recent press conference at Dragon Con 2015 in Atlanta. Hannibal is one of those shows which bridges geek culture and mainstream television, proving that it’s not only science fiction and fantasy series that appeal to hardcore fans. So why is it, we wondered, that Hannibal was able to garner such a rabid fanbase?
“[Hannibal has] dialed everything up to eleven,” Abrams explains. “It’s something about Bryan,” he continued, referring to showrunner, Bryan Fuller. “He’s not entirely mainstream but there’s mainstream pop culture all throughout his work. And so it’s this Venn diagram sort of crossroads that is a perfect equation for people… There’s sort of old-fashioned horror, and there’s this high-brow artistic horror involved with Hannibal.”
Abrams credits Fuller with making that crucial connection to the fans that kept viewers engaged in his show.
“He’s just kind of a genius, a mad genius,” Abrams says of Fuller. “That’s what comes across in his work. I think that’s probably what reaches fans, and he’s the best at dealing with fans.” Fans love Fuller’s passion, and even now they cry out for their beloved show to be picked up by Hulu or Netflix, which has been known to resurrect shows in the past.
The Hannibal fandom has always been especially vocal on Twitter even as viewership numbers foundered. “I was never a big Twitter guy,” admits Abrams, “And then I saw what Bryan was doing, how he was connecting to fans and how important it was to support that fanbase back and have an actual interaction with them so that they feel involved, and they are involved with the show! I mean he listens to them, and he certainly takes what they say into consideration.”
Abrams remembers being impressed with how far NBC was willing to push the censorship envelope. “The first scene I ever shot for Hannibal, I showed up, first season… and I had my face a lady’s pubes,” Abrams recalls. “It was her when she was like on the antlers, and I was like, ‘Okay so how do you want me to do this where I’m not gonna be involved with any nudity?’ And they’re like, ‘No, no, just put your face in her pubes. Just put your face right down in there.’” Hear Abrams tell this humorous story in the exclusive Den of Geek video shown here.
“So yeah, the show never pulled any punches in that regard,” Abrams remembers fondly. “And NBC, God bless ‘em, never did anything either. The only note I think we got that whole first season was about the angel people. They didn’t want the ass crack. They saw a bit of ass crack, and they’re like, ‘No, can you CGI some blood from their opened up backs into the ass crack to cover that up?’”
The boundaries would be pushed to the limit on this show, which was filled with graphic violence and darkness. “Violence was never a problem,” Abrams argued. “I think partially because it was so operatic and gorgeous violence. That plus everybody was affected by the violence on the show… there’s nothing casual about it. Will was having a nervous breakdown every time he had to look at that stuff, as a person would. So he was showing some sort of real effects of that violence.”
Abrams was as amazed as audiences were that Hannibal was able to create its own version of the now legendary Anthony Hopkins portrayal of Dr. Lecter, the role played by Mads Mikkelsen on the show. “I thought it was so impossible,” said Abrams. “And you know Mads is so great but I don’t think he gets quite enough credit for basically playing this iconic role that’s associated with one guy who did it one way and for him to come along and be like, ‘Yeah, I’m not gonna make you miss that guy, but I’m gonna do a totally different thing…’ I mean that’s crazy to me.”
All of the characters have quite a bit of growth during the three seasons Hannibal was on the air. Abrams’ character of Zeller wasn’t always a fan of Will, the show’s protagonist, but by the end of the series, the co-workers had reinforced their relationships into something more solid. “There’s a lot of respect. I mean, I think at the beginning [Zeller] was so disrespectful… he had a guy who was sweating and twitching in the corner and we’re supposed to trust his hunches whereas previously I was probably the smartest guy in the room.”
Abrams remembered a particular turning point for his character. “There’s an apology scene, and I think that’s extremely genuine… when he comes back after he’s not a murderer, I’m the first guy to be like, ‘Yeah, whatever he says! He’s the greatest! This guy is the greatest!’ Even Jack [played by Laurence Fishburne] is more skeptical of Will once he comes back than I am.”
Zeller didn’t appear as much in the third and final season of Hannibal, but Abrams still appreciated what Fuller accomplished. “The first three episodes are very ethereal and poetic… I kind of feel like that’s the ideal vision for Bryan… I mean he wanted to do a show that was as out there as possible and those first six or seven are pretty out there, and they’re very serialized, and they’re just going deep into those books and the back story of those characters.”
In the end, Abrams marveled at the show he was a part of. “The whole show should be impossible – the fact that it worked at all. I mean, Bryan created such a world that works great. It’s so thoroughly imaginable.” Whether Hannibal lives on only in the minds of its devoted fans or on a new network can similarly be relegated only to the imagination.