13 Delicious Facts About Hannibal

Brooke Palmer, NBCUniversal Media
Brooke Palmer, NBCUniversal Media

In 2013, producer Martha De Laurentiis, writer Bryan Fuller, and a talented cast and crew set about crafting a new version of the Hannibal Lecter story. It was a daring proposition after the character and his world had been so clearly defined by Sir Anthony Hopkins’s portrayal of the character and Hannibal’s presence in four novels and five feature films, but Fuller had an idea no one else had approached yet. He wanted to tell the story of the cannibal psychiatrist and the empathetic profiler who ultimately caught him as the story of two lives linked by mutual insanity. Audiences could not have seen it coming, but what they got was one of the most stylish, visually arresting, and psychologically complex horror shows to ever hit television.

Hannibal only lasted three seasons, but in its short time on the air it amassed loads of critical acclaim and a ravenous fan base known as “Fannibals,” many of whom are still holding out hope for the show’s return. With the show’s influence and impact still fresh in our imaginations more than five years after it made its debut, here are 13 facts about the making of Hannibal.

1. BRYAN FULLER GOT THE JOB BECAUSE OF A FATEFUL PLANE RIDE.

Bryan Fuller is a lifelong fan of horror, and a longtime fan of Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter novels, but he did not set out to snag the Hannibal job. In fact, he wasn’t even necessarily aware of the job until it found him, on a flight to New York City where he happened to be seated near an old friend: Katie O’Connell, who was the then-new CEO of the Gaumont Film Company’s U.S. television division. O’Connell told Fuller she was developing a Hannibal series, and asked him if he thought there was a show there—not to offer him the job, but just to get his feedback. In response, Fuller asked if Gaumont had the rights to Will Graham, the protagonist of Harris’s novel Red Dragon, because he was fascinated by one line in that novel that signified a much deeper relationship between Graham and Lecter that audiences and readers had never quite seen.

“Because I had read the books, I knew how much more psychologically complex Will Graham is in the literature than he is in the film. I thought, Wow, there’s a great opportunity to deliver on that line from Red Dragon that Hannibal Lecter says, which is, ‘You caught me because you’re as insane as I am.’ There’s a whole world in that explores their friendship,” Fuller said. “If we are dealing with the Hannibal Lecter who’s a practicing psychiatrist and a practicing cannibal, then he’s out in the open amongst us, a wolf in psychiatrist’s clothing, and wouldn’t that be such a terrifying thing for someone like Will Graham, who is uniquely vulnerable to his own psychology, to have somebody there with access to the buttons of his mind.”

Fuller’s thoughts on Hannibal and Will Graham set in motion an idea for a kind of Red Dragon prequel that would also serve as a mash-up of all of Harris’s writings on the character. That in turn led to a meeting with Martha De Laurentiis of the Dino De Laurentiis Company, which in turn led to a meeting at NBC which got the show greenlit.

2. THE SERIES BEGAN LIFE AS A CLARICE STARLING STORY WITH MGM.

Hugh Dancy and Julian Richings in 'Hannibal'
Brooke Palme, NBCUniversal Media

Before Bryan Fuller entered the picture, and even before Gaumont Television began working on developing the series, Martha De Laurentiis was considering some kind of new Hannibal Lecter project, but wasn’t interested in making yet another film based on the works of Thomas Harris. While Fuller’s concept ultimately latched onto the dynamic between Lecter and Graham, De Laurentiis said that before that happened there was the idea of revisiting The Silence of the Lambs pairing of Lecter and FBI agent Clarice Starling.

“We actually were toying with the idea—with MGM, who has the Clarice character, from the library of Orion Pictures that did Silence of the Lambs—and we were talking about doing something Clarice and Hannibal in the time period after Silence of the Lambs, but we really didn’t take it very far,” De Laurentiis said. “In fact, I felt that perhaps Hannibal would be a very, very minor character and then perhaps just disappear, and I didn’t feel that was right for the character of Hannibal Lecter.”

So, through working with Katie O’Connell at Gaumont, De Laurentiis was connected with Fuller, and the collaboration that would bring us Hannibal began.

3. FULLER ORIGINALLY DEVELOPED A SEVEN-SEASON PLAN.

Though Red Dragon was a major inspiration on the direction of the show because of its depiction of the Lecter/Graham dynamic, Fuller and company set Hannibal in the years leading up to that story in order to show audiences what Lecter was like as “a practicing psychiatrist and a practicing cannibal,” as Fuller put it. That meant reading between the lines of Harris’s novel to develop the relationship that would ultimately lead the two characters down the path of Red Dragon, and lead Hannibal as a character into his life as documented by Harris, when he was a captured serial killer and then an escaped fugitive. In the end, the mash-up quality of the series allowed Fuller to play with many of those elements of Lecter’s life outside of Harris’s chronology, but as the series was first taking shape, Fuller imagined a seven-season plan that would ultimately adapted Harris’s first three Lecter novels and then go beyond them.

“Well, when you get into season four, you get into the literature. And so season four would be Red Dragon, season five would be The Silence of the Lambs era, season six would be the Hannibal era, and then season seven would be a resolve to the ending of that book," Fuller said. "Hannibal ends on a cliffhanger. Hannibal Lecter has bonded with Clarice Starling and brainwashed her and they are now quasi-lovers and off as fugitives, and so that’s a cliffhanger. It might be interesting to resolve that in some way and to bring Will Graham back into the picture. So once we get two more seasons, say, of the television show, those are the aren’t-novelized stories, and then we would get into expansions of the novels after that and kind of using the novels as a backbone for season arcs that would then be kind of enhanced.”

Of course, plans change, and the adaptation of Red Dragon ultimately came in the second half of the show’s third season, but it’s clear Fuller had big ambitions to chart the full course of Hannibal’s criminal career.

4. A REAL CHEF DESIGNED ALL THOSE CANNIBAL RECIPES.

Mads Mikkelsen in 'Hannibal'
NBCUniversal Media

Hannibal Lecter isn’t just a cannibal—he is a cannibal gourmand and gourmet, a lover of the finer things who doesn’t just want to eat human flesh, but prepare it in exquisite and refined ways. Fuller knew this, and he also immediately knew he needed someone with tremendous food expertise to help him make the series. So he turned to a chef of whom he was already a fan: José Andrés, owner of the restaurant The Bazaar in Beverly Hills.

"I have a limited knowledge of the culinary. And Hannibal Lecter has to be smarter than I am in the kitchen," Fuller said. "José gives insight into his expertise; he's omnipresent in every food scene."

When work on the series began, Fuller and Andrés began a series of conversations in which the chef explained that every part of the human body is in some way edible, right down to the bones, which can be ground up and used as thickener. With this in mind, Fuller sought to not just write scenes in which Hannibal is cooking human body parts, but to craft elaborate metaphors in each dinner scene (for example, the scene in which he serves “lamb tongue” to Dr. Frederick Chilton), on which he heavily consulted Andrés during the writing process. Andrés would develop a recipe, which food stylist Janice Poon would then prepare and arrange on set, complete with the elaborate tablescapes which came to dominate so much of the look of the show. The “food porn” Fuller insisted on became so popular with fans that Poon started a blog about the process, and even eventually produced a cookbook.

5. SEVERAL ROLES WERE RACE- AND GENDER-SWAPPED.

In writing Hannibal, Fuller considered Harris’s writing—particularly Red Dragon—to be a kind of guiding Bible, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t take liberties. He aged up the title character, which among other things removes Lecter’s traumatic childhood experiences during World War II from consideration, but perhaps the most notable changes came in casting. Several key roles in the series were ultimately given to actors of different races and even genders than they were previously depicted, in an effort to increase the diversity of the cast. So, Hannibal gave us black actors in the roles of previously white characters Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) and Reba McClane (Rutina Wesley), and the previously male characters Alan Bloom and Freddy Lounds became Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas) and Freddie Lounds (Lara Jean Chorostecki).

“Because it’s a more accurate representation of the world, and if we just did Red Dragon again, it’d be a sausage party with a bunch of white guys,” Fuller told Bloody Disgusting. “I mean, when I first started writing, my protagonists were always young women, and there’s something about that point of view ... you can do some things with a female character that you can’t do with a male character. Like, I always think that, to make a character female gives you so many more opportunities of expression.”

6. DAVID TENNANT ALMOST PLAYED HANNIBAL.

David Tennant in 'Jessica Jones'
Myles Aronowitz, Netflix

Hugh Dancy was the first star cast in the series, joining Hannibal as Will Graham in the spring of 2012, but casting the title role took a little bit longer. After all, how do you recast a part that Anthony Hopkins basically owned thanks to three films and one Oscar? Ultimately, Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen won the role, but he wasn’t the only star considered. At one point, Fuller was meeting with Doctor Who and Jessica Jones star David Tennant about the role.

“I met [Hannibal executive producer] Bryan Fuller a couple of times, and we talked about it,” Tennant told Entertainment Weekly. “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.”

7. CENSORS WERE ACTIVELY INVOLVED IN THE CREATIVE PROCESS.

For a show like Hannibal, elaborate crime scenes full of mutilated bodies were always going to be part of the process, which adds even more credence to the idea that such a series might be better suited to cable than a broadcast network. At NBC, though, Fuller took a very hands-on approach to crafting the various gruesome murders with the help of the network's standards and practices department. Rather than script or shoot something and then get into a fight with network censors about what he couldn’t show, Fuller would reach out directly with his ideas first, and then work with them to depict the best possible NBC-friendly version of the scene. As a result, he learned a few tricks to get around broadcast TV’s violence limitations.

“The redder the blood and the brighter the blood the less you can show,” he said. “So if you darken the blood and throw it into shadow, then you can be much more graphic than your normally would be able to.”

As it happens, dark shadowy blood matches Hannibal’s overall aesthetic perfectly, so that particular note worked out for everyone.

8. ONE EPISODE NEVER AIRED ON NBC.

It was never any secret that Hannibal would be the kind of show that dealt with graphic and heinous crimes. Its two main characters are a serial killer and a man who hunts serial killers, after all. Still, even Fuller has his limits, and after a particularly violent few months in America in late 2012 and early 2013, he asked NBC to pull the fourth episode of the show’s first season. “Oeuf,” the episode in question, involved a woman (Molly Shannon) brainwashing children into killing their own families. Fuller felt that “given the cultural climate right now in the U.S., I think we shouldn’t air the episode in its entirety,” and cited in particular the Sandy Hook school shooting and the Boston Marathon bombing as examples. “Oeuf” was still teased via a series of clips released to NBC’s website, and the episode is now available on Blu-ray and through streaming services.

9. THERE WAS ONE ELABORATE MURDER THE SHOW WASN’T ALLOWED TO FILM.

Despite working closely with the network’s standards and practices to show as much as possible within the limits of broadcast TV, Hannibal was still a series airing on one of the big four broadcast networks, and not cable. That meant limitations were always inevitable, and at one point Fuller and the writers’ imaginations reached further than NBC was willing to allow.

So, what’s the one big murder scene NBC said no to? According to Fuller, it would have come in the Season 1 episode “Roti,” in which Graham is pursuing escaped killer Dr. Abel Gideon (guest star Eddie Izzard). The scene would have involved Lounds being lured into a room where one of Gideon’s victims was waiting, still alive, with a slit in his stomach. Lounds would have then flipped a switch that triggered a ceiling fan, and it would have been revealed that the fan was actually attached to the man’s intestines through the cut in his stomach. As the fan began to spin, it would disembowel him.

“That was the only one where NBC was like, ‘I just don’t know how you’re going to do it,'” Fuller said. “We would have pushed back if we also hadn’t been told that financially we didn’t know how we could afford to produce such a gag, because you have intestines swinging around a ceiling fan,” he adds.

10. THE SHOW’S BIGGEST CRIME SCENE USED REAL (LIVING) HUMAN BODIES.

Hugh Dancy in 'Hannibal'
NBCUniversal Media

The first case of Hannibal’s second season involved “The Muralist,” a serial killer who abducted and killed various people of different ethnic backgrounds, preserved their bodies with silicone and resin, and then sewed them together in a massive and intricate pattern in the bottom of a silo to form the shape of a human eye (victims with paler skin made up the white, while victims with darker skin were the pupil). It’s an intense and captivating visual even by Hannibal’s standards, and while the production used a computer program called Form Z to design the layout of the bodies beforehand, when it came time to actually film the scene there was no substitute for the real thing. Several dozen background artists were employed and asked to lie in an elaborate pattern on the floor of the set for two days of shooting, usually nearly nude.

“Forty-plus human bodies. They warmed the bottom of the floor for the backgrounds artists so they wouldn’t succumb to the cold,” Fishburne recalled. “And you walk into that room and you’re hit immediately with all the scent of human flesh and the pheromones that are coming off everybody and all you want to do is lay down and go to sleep with them.”

11. IT INCLUDES A WONDERFALLS CROSSOVER.

It’s a bit of a tradition among Bryan Fuller TV series that some connective tissue is established between whatever the current series is and the shows that came before it, establishing what fans call the “Fullerverse.” This carried over into Hannibal, which shares a very brief connection with Fuller’s single season Fox series Wonderfalls. In Hannibal’s second episode, “Amuse-Bouche,” a woman named Gretchen Speck (Chelan Simmons) goes to the pharmacy to pick up her insulin, at which time it’s revealed that she was previously Gretchen Speck-Horowitz, but she has since divorced. Speck is one of the potential victims of that episode’s serial killer, a pharmacist who gives diabetic patients the wrong medication to place them into a coma, then half-buries them and uses their bodies as mushroom farms in the forest. Speck was meant to be his next victim, but she’s saved before he can carry out his plan. Gretchen Speck-Horowitz was one of Wonderfalls’s recurring characters, and because she managed to escape death in Hannibal, she’s still around for another Bryan Fuller series.

12. DAVID BOWIE WAS ALMOST A GUEST STAR.

In addition to a stellar main cast, Hannibal was also always packed with interesting guest stars, from Eddie Izzard to Gillian Anderson to Lance Henriksen. One particular guest star, though, was always just out of reach for the series. For the second season, Fuller offered the role of Hannibal’s uncle Robert Lecter to legendary musician and actor David Bowie, but Bowie was unavailable and the role was left uncast—though not without the hope that Bowie could eventually make time for the series.

“We were told by his people, when we got the pick-up for the third season, to make sure to ask again about his availability,” Fuller said. “So, once we have our dates, we are going to ask again.  I think the man walks on water, so I would love to be in his orbit, in some way.”

Bowie, of course, never made it to Hannibal, and we now know he spent the final 18 months of his life battling liver cancer and working on his final musical projects before he passed away on January 10, 2016.

13. A REVIVAL FOCUSING ON THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS IS STILL POSSIBLE.

Hannibal was canceled in June of 2015, just weeks into third season, after three years of critical acclaim but consistently low ratings. “Fannibals” immediately began requesting that the series continue elsewhere, and Fuller teased discussions with various streaming services to do just that. At one point, it seemed a deal to bring the series to Amazon for a fourth season was close, but the timeline ended up not working out due in part to Fuller’s commitment to the Starz series American Gods. Three years later, we still haven’t seen any more Hannibal.

That doesn’t mean it’ll never happen, though. Fuller has consistently broached the possibility of a fourth season or a even a miniseries to reunite the show’s cast, and both Mikkelsen and Dancy have expressed interest in returning. If the show did come back, Fuller would aim to focus on some form of the Silence of the Lambs storyline, having adapted Red Dragon in season three, while also resolving the very literal cliffhanger at the end of the series’s NBC run.

So, when could it happen? Last year, Fuller said that the rights have finally reverted back to De Laurentiis, who has begun “conversations” about the future of the franchise. We still have no idea what that future holds, but even three years later, Fannibals aren’t letting their favorite cannibal go.

Additional Sources:
“Hannibal Reborn” featurette, 2013
“A Taste for Killing” featurette, 2013
The Art and Making of Hannibal the Television Series by Jesse McLean, 2015

The Psychology Behind Kids' L.O.L. Surprise! Doll Obsession

Jack Taylor, Getty Images
Jack Taylor, Getty Images

Isaac Larian, the founder and CEO of toymaker MGA Entertainment, is an insomniac. Fortunately for him, that inability to sleep forced him to get up out of bed one night—a move that ended up being worth $4 billion.

Larian’s company is the architect of L.O.L. Surprise!, a line of dolls with a clever conceit. The product, which retails for about $10 to $20, is encased in a ball-shaped plastic shell and buried under layers of packaging, forcing children to tear through a gauntlet of wrapping before they’re able to see it. The inspiration came on that highly profitable sleepless night, which Larian spent watching unboxing videos on YouTube. It resulted in the first toy made for a generation wired for delayed gratification.

The dolls first went on sale in test markets at select Target stores in late 2016. MGA shipped out 500,000 of them, all of which sold out within two months. A Cabbage Patch Kid-esque frenzy came the following year. By late 2018, L.O.L. Surprise! (the acronym stands for the fancifully redundant Little Outrageous Little) had moved 800 million units, accounted for seven of the top 10 toys sold in the U.S., and was named Toy of the Year by the Toy Association. Videos of kids and adults unboxing them garner millions of views on YouTube, which is precisely where Larian knew his marketing would be most effective.

A woman holds a L.O.L. Surprise doll and packaging in her hand
Cindy Ord, Getty Images for MGA Entertainment

The dolls themselves are nothing revolutionary. Once freed from their plastic prisons, they stare at their owner with doe-eyed expressions. Some “tinkle,” while others change color in water. They can be dressed in accessories found in the balls or paired with tiny pets (which also must be "unboxed"). Larger bundles, like last year’s $89.99 L.O.L. Bigger Surprise! capsule, feature a plethora of items, each individually wrapped. It took a writer from The New York Times 59 minutes to uncover everything inside.

This methodical excavation is what makes L.O.L. Surprise! so appealing to its pint-sized target audience. Though MGA was advised that kids wouldn’t want to buy something they couldn’t see, Larian and his executives had an instinctual understanding of what child development experts already knew: Kids like looking forward to things.

Dr. Rachel Barr, director of Georgetown University’s Early Learning Project, told The Atlantic that unboxing videos tickle the part of a child’s brain that enjoys anticipation. By age 4 or 5, they have a concept of “the future,” or events that will unfold somewhere other than the present. However, Barr said, they’re also wary of being scared by an unforeseen outcome. In an unboxing video, they know the payoff will be positive and not, say, a live tarantula.

L.O.L. Surprise! is engineered to prolong that anticipatory joy, with kids peeling away wrapping like an onion for up to 20 minutes at a time. The effect is not entirely novel—baseball card collectors have been buying and unwrapping card packs without knowing exactly what’s inside for decades—but paired with social media, MGA was able to strike oil. The dolls now have 350 licensees making everything from bed sheets to apparel. Collectors—or their parents—can buy a $199.99 doll house. So-called “boy toys” are now lurking inside the wrappers, with one, the mohawk-sporting Punk Boi, causing a mild stir for being what MGA calls “anatomically correct.” His tiny plastic genital area facilitates a peeing function.

Whether L.O.L. Surprise! bucks conventional toy trends and continues its popularity beyond a handful of holiday seasons remains to be seen. Already, MGA is pushing alternative products like Poopsie Slime Surprise, a unicorn that can be fed glitter and poops a viscous green slime. An official unboxing video has been viewed 4.2 million times and counting.

The 8 Most Anticipated Horror Movies of 2019

Jessica Rothe in Happy Death Day 2U (2019)
Jessica Rothe in Happy Death Day 2U (2019)
Michele K. Short, Universal Pictures

Between Hereditary, A Quiet Place, and Halloween, 2018 was a killer year for horror moviesand 2019 is shaping up to be just as impressive. While remakes seem to be dominating the schedule in the coming months, there are plenty of sequels, adaptations, and even a few promising original titles coming out as well. Here are some of the scary movies we're most looking forward to seeing this year.

1. Us

In 2017, Jordan Peele revolutionized the horror genre with Get Out. The Academy Award-winning filmmaker plans to do the same again with Us, which features a predominantly black cast—a rarity for a horror movie. "I dedicated a lot of myself to creating a new horror mythology and a new monster," Peele said of the film. "I think that monsters and stories about monsters are our best ways of getting at deeper truths and facing our fears as a society ... It’s also important to note that this movie, unlike Get Out, is not about race. It is instead about something I feel has become an undeniable truth. That is the simple fact that we are our own worst enemies." Us, which stars Elisabeth Moss and Lupita Nyong'o, arrives in theaters on March 22, 2019.

2. IT: Chapter 2

Stephen King fans were thrilled with 2017's IT, the second adaptation of the horror master's beloved 1986 novel. Andy Muschietti is sitting in the director's chair again for the second chapter, which will follow the Losers Club as they return to Derry, Maine in their adult years. While Bill Skarsgård will reprise his role as Pennywise, impressive new additions to the cast include Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, and James McAvoy. The film debuts on September 6, 2019.

3. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

If you’ve been a horror fiend since childhood, you’ll no doubt remember Alvin Schwartz's Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark book series. The books included memorable illustrations by Stephen Gammell, some of which no doubt haunted many children’s nightmares. The film adaptation will be released on August 9, 2019.

4. Zombieland 2

Venom director Ruben Fleischer's feature debut, 2009's Zombieland, was an instant hit with both horror and comedy fans. And they've been waiting 10 years for a sequel. Finally, we’ll be getting a second film this year with Fleischer directing and Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Abigail Breslin, and even Bill Murray all confirmed to return. Zombieland 2 is set to hit theaters on October 11, 2019.

5. Happy Death Day 2U

The hilariously bad-but-fun Happy Death Day (2017) surprised audiences with how flat-out entertaining it was, so much so that fans were thrilled to hear there were plans for a sequel. Much like the original movie, the second film will follow protagonist Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) as she’s killed every single day. But this time, the killer is coming for her friends, too. Happy Death Day 2U premieres on February 14, 2019.

6. Pet Sematary

Though Mary Lambert's original Pet Sematary (1989) was not met with much critical acclaim, fans of the Stephen King novel were pleased with the adaptation, and are excited to see the story come to life again. The remake, which is directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer and stars John Lithgow and Jason Clarke, debuts on April 5, 2019.

7. Child’s Play

When rumors began swirling that there was going to be another Chucky movie, and that it would be a remake of the original Child’s Play at that, people—including the original series creator Don Mancini—didn't initially seem too excited.

But as more details—including a cast list that includes Aubrey Plaza and Brian Tyree Henry—were made public, interest in the project seemed to grow. Child’s Play hits theaters June 21, 2019.

8. The Prodigy

Creepy kids will never fail to make terrifying horror movie villains. In The Prodigy, Taylor Schilling’s character discovers something supernatural might be happening to her son when he starts acting as if he’s possessed. (Spoiler alert: He probably is). The film will be released on February 8, 2019.

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