Why David Tennant Lost Hannibal Role According to Bryan Fuller

Bryan Fuller says he still keeps David Tennant's Hannibal audition on his laptop, and wonders what might have been.

Bryan Fuller has been looking back at the past and discussing the future of Hannibal in a huge new interview. The NBC series, which focused on stories from Thomas Harris’ bestselling Hannibal Lecter books, was cancelled in 2015 before we could see the events of Silence of the Lambs play out Fuller-style, but it still has a thriving fan base who would love to see star Mads Mikkelsen and the rest of the cast return for Season 4.

In conversation with Rolling Stone, Fuller opened up about the difficult process of casting Mikkelsen as the insidious and methodical Lecter, and reflected on why the Doctor Strange and Death Stranding actor always held the advantage over his alternate choice, Doctor Who’s David Tennant.

“I love David Tennant,” said Fuller. “There was a levity to David’s performance in some ways that was an interesting contrast to Mads’ sobriety in the role. And I find David to be so much fun and so appealing to watch. It’s hard not to love David Tennant onscreen. And that may have had something to do with it. Honestly, it was a decision that was made above my pay grade. But that would have been an interesting extrapolation to see David Tennant as Hannibal.”

Fuller added that he still occasionally revisits Tennant’s performance as Lecter. “I do still have the audition on my laptop, and I watch it from time to time, and wonder what would it have been like, just because I love David and his acting style. But there’s no doubt in my mind that Mads Mikkelsen is the right person for this job.”

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Mikkelsen may have absolutely been the right person to play Lecter in Hannibal, but casting him was a tug of war between Fuller and NBC.

“Casting Mads was a challenge,” Fuller explained. “Because I wanted him, the director wanted him, Hugh Dancy wanted him. We all universally knew that he was the right person for the job. But he was sort of this European art-house performer. NBC were trying to kind of counter-cast, in a way. They wanted Hugh Grant to play Hannibal, they wanted John Cusack. They wanted a lot of folks that were much lighter on their feet. They wanted someone effusive and comedic, and has that level of charm to them to counter all of the evil. I was like, ‘Mads Mikkelsen is this role.’ And I remember one of them saying, ‘He’s kind of creepy!’ And I’m like, ‘He’s Hannibal Lecter!'”

Eventually, Fuller ended up repeatedly calling NBC’s bluff when it came to casting an actor with more name recognition.

“Every time they said, ‘We’re gonna cast Hugh Grant,’ I would say, ‘OK, let’s make an offer,’ knowing full well that Hugh Grant had just passed on $750,000 an episode for Two and a Half Men, and that was three times their licensing fee. I was like, ‘It’s just not realistic. He’s not going do it.’ I was like, ‘Make an offer, and then I’ll bring you back to Mads.’ And so we did we did that dance at least a half a dozen times, where the network would say, ‘We want Paul Bettany.’ And I was like, ‘Great, make an offer.’ ‘We want John Cusack.’ ‘Great, make an offer.’ And everyone always passed, as I knew they would. And then I brought up Mads Mikkelsen again. And finally, after, you know, six or seven rounds of going with actors that were never going to do this role, I threw myself on the mercy of Jen Salke’s desk, and said, ‘I know you guys see this character in a different way. But this is how I see the character, and I have to write him, and I have to understand him, and I have to be in the trenches with him.’ And Jen was like, ‘OK, we trust you. We’ll cast the person you want.'”

The rest is TV history, and Tennant agreed that he wouldn’t have nailed the role of Hannibal like Mikkelsen did.

“I met Bryan Fuller a couple of times, and we talked about it,” Tennant told EW in 2018. “But I think they quite wisely chose Mads Mikkelsen, I think he was a perfect choice for it, and I think he did things with that character that I wouldn’t have managed, so I think the right man got the job.”

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Fuller also said that they would love to move forward with Hannibal Season 4, but that no one has brought a serious offer to the table yet. We live in hope that a cash-rich streamer will give it the green light someday.