“Hannibal” creator Bryan Fuller always wanted Mads Mikkelsen to play Hannibal Lecter, but NBC had different ideas. What ensued was a months-long battle to cast Mikkelsen in the title role, and not Hugh Grant or John Cusack.
“It was an interesting dance because I’d say, ‘Mads Mikkelsen!’ and they’d say, ‘No, how about Hugh Grant?’ and I’d say, ‘Great, make an offer, he’s gonna say no,’ then they’d make an offer and he’d say no, and I’d be like, ‘What about Mads Mikkelsen?’ and they’d be like, ‘Well what about John Cusack?’ and I’d say, ‘Great, make an offer, he’s gonna say no’ and they’d make an offer and he’d say no, I’d say, ‘What about Mads Mikkelsen?’ Fuller told Collider.
“That carousel went around for three or four months after we had cast Hugh [Dancy], it was going on for a while. Finally I just said, ‘Mads is the guy, that’s the guy I see in the role and I have to write it and I have to champion it and I have to understand it,’ and Jennifer Salke at NBC bless her heart was like, ‘Okay, that’s your guy. I believe you and trust you and I’m excited about your vision for the show.’”
Fuller said he thinks there was some resistance to Mikkelsen because he was European and the network wanted an American actor who was more “mainstream.”
“I think the network wanted somebody that was much more poppy, much more mainstream, much more American I think in some ways,” he explained. “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.’ We were dealing with a very American network that wanted a very American actor to sell to American audiences, and all the creatives on the show wanted somebody who was the best person for the role.”
Fuller said that after Mikkelsen was cast, NBC “gave up” on marketing the series and it became less of a priority for the network. However, because NBC’s investment “dramatically decreased” when Mikkelsen was cast, he had more freedom to do the things he wanted to do on the show, Fuller said.
“Mads was the gift that allowed us to tell the story the way that we wanted to tell it, because the network was like, ‘Well it’s not the person that we wanted and we don’t really see him in this role,’ and we were like, ‘Fine, just let us make the show,’” Fuller said.
“Hannibal” ran for three seasons and is based on the characters in Thomas Harris’ novels “Red Dragon,” “Hannibal” and “Hannibal Rising.” The show specifically focused on the relationship between FBI special agent Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) and Hannibal Lecter (Mikkelsen).
A spokesperson for NBC had no comment about Fuller’s claims.