Imagine, for just one brief, horrible moment, a version of Hannibal starring John Cusack as Hannibal Lecter—if you can manage to stop laughing long enough to do that, which is logistically impossible. First of all, Hannibal would not vape. He would murder vape enthusiasts. But as detailed by series creator Bryan Fuller during a recent interview with Collider, the dinguses in charge at NBC wanted John Cusack—of all people—to play Hannibal Lecter. And if not Cusack, they wanted Hugh Grant, probably because he’s British and those Brits are all about etiquette. Or maybe someone at NBC rightfully sensed early on that Hannibal was actually going to become one of the greatest TV love stories of all time (in which case, promote that person). The role ultimately went to Mads Mikkelsen, who pulled off an impressive feat, delivering a version of Lecter that has arguably become every bit as indelible as Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of the serial killer in The Silence Of The Lambs.
But as Fuller explains, there was a bit of a “casting kerfuffle” with NBC over who should take the title role in his macabre imagining of the Thomas Harris stories. NBC, Fuller says, “wanted somebody that was much more poppy, much more mainstream, much more American” than the extremely European Mikkelsen, a former dancer from Denmark. “There was some resistance to Mads Mikkelsen because he was European, because he was somebody who you could look at and go, ‘Yeah I buy that he eats people,’” says Fuller. He credits NBC exec Jennifer Salke for defending the casting of Mikkelsen, though once the choice was made, Fuller says the network’s marketing department became much less interested in pushing Hannibal—which was canceled by NBC after just three (very well-reviewed but poorly-viewed) seasons. Says Fuller:
They sort of gave up on it a little bit because we were casting a European guy as the face of [a show] they wanted to be more accessible. I felt that they were right for their reasons but wrong for my reasons. And so the gift of that, the gift of casting Mads Mikkelsen, is that their investment in the show became dramatically decreased, and so that allowed us to do a lot of things that we wouldn’t have been able to do if they were saying, ‘No this show needs to get 10 million people watching it every week.’ Then we would have to really be tied down to certain parameters of storytelling that were going to mesh with a mainstream audience.
As Fuller explains, Mikkelsen’s casting and NBC’s subsequent disinterest in the series was ultimately something of a blessing, allowing the showrunner to push more boundaries. Hannibal recently moved over to Netflix, which is now streaming all three seasons of the series—a move that has revived speculation about a potential fourth season.