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Mads Mikkelsen is Hannibal Lecter. Cool, calculating, brilliant, murderous, people-eating, sexy, and stylish Hannibal Lecter. The fact that we can hear the name Hannibal and immediately see Mikkelsen's face alongside the other great actors who've played the iconic character before him is a huge compliment, and one that he earns week after week. NBC's Hannibal (Season 2 is available now) is heading into its third season, but unfortunately we have several more months before it returns in spring 2015. To tide the Fannibals over, Mikkelsen teased what comes after that bloody shocking Season 2 finale and how he plans to get back into the serial killer's skin.
Your boss Bryan Fuller has said that Season 3 picks up a year after the events of the Season 2 finale and there will be plenty of flashbacks. What more can you tease?
You know more than me, apparently. I'm sure that he will work with a certain amount of flashbacks but we cannot, obviously, fill up a whole show with that, so there will be a lot happening somewhere in Europe, on the run in the present time as well.
When Bedelia vanished in the middle of Season 2, were you at all worried that it would be the last we'd see of her, and of Gillian Anderson?
The thing is, Bryan's got a lot of doors open, always. So nothing is a definite, if something happens. I think we were all afraid that she wouldn't come back because we just love working with her and she's such a tremendous actress, but I had a hunch she would come back somehow.
And what a way to come back! She's such a great sparring partner for Hannibal, especially in this temporary absence of Will Graham in his life. She's on the plane, she appears to be there of her own accord, she looks like she's enjoying the champagne… but does he trust her?
I don't think that the word "trust" is a word that Hannibal uses a lot. I don't think he can trust anyone. I don't think anyone can trust him. I don't think it's a word that he fancies either — he doesn't mind not trusting people. What he believes is interesting is what the next day will bring. What will this relationship bring? Any new day is an opportunity, and if she betrays him somehow that will be interesting as well.
But even if he doesn't believe in or care about trust, he did start to believe in friendship with Will Graham. That got a nice linoleum knife to the gut, but would he still call Will Graham a friend?
It's hard to say. [Laughs.] I would rephrase the question: Does Will Graham call Hannibal a friend? [Laughs.] It's a brutal thing that happened, obviously, in Season 2, in the end, but at least it's the closest he's ever been to having a friend.
Bryan said it best: It's no longer really cat and mouse. It's cat and cat. Even playing field, they're both chasing each other, no one has a true advantage anymore. Do you think that kind of takes their relationship to the next level?
Well obviously what I'm going to miss is just sitting down in a chair and having chit-chats with Hugh Dancy. That's probably not going to happen, at least not for a while. So of course it will change, but I don't think that no one has the upper hand. I think that, in a strange way, Hannibal will always be one step ahead, somehow. Even though he doesn't know it himself, he will always have something in his back pocket.
I love that you mentioned those therapy scenes with you and Hugh, Hannibal and Will — it's always those quieter scenes, without the action, that gives us a glimpse into these two great minds. How long do you think they can wait before Hannibal and Will are on screen together again in Season 3?
Well it depends on how Bryan will work this. Those flashbacks will make it very easy for us to be in scenes together again, but we also have the whole universe… the way Will Graham's mind is working leaves us an opportunity for Hannibal to play a role inside his mind somehow. So I'm sure we're going to use some of that as well.
Bryan has teased that Lady Murasaki will make her appearance this season though… she was Hannibal's "aunt" from Hannibal Rising but also something of a romantic relationship. Can you tease any more about that?
Well I'm still waiting to get some scripts, and everything can change, but romantic is a big word when we're dealing with Hannibal. I believe that anything that he finds interesting becomes romantic in a way — whether it's a nice glass of wine or a piece of music or somebody he finds interesting. It could be Jack Crawford as well. There's a certain romance there as well, at least with his wife. Romance plays a big part in Hannibal's life. He always lifts everything up to something worthwhile. He doesn't want it to be nothing — he wants it to be special.
How do you get into the Hannibal zone? Do you listen to opera? Go out for fancy meals?
The thing is I've been there a lot, so it's not like a foreign place I have to go. But one thing that always helps is to just walk onto the set. Only now I can't walk into my office anymore… But just walking onto the sets has been almost like a welcome home gift. Or to step into his three-piece suits has been something special as well. Sometimes it doesn't take too much. I remember when I did a character called Tony in a film called Pusher, and we did a second film 10 years later with the same character. I remember I was like, "Oh my god, do I really want to do this again?" But then I shaved my hair — he was bald — and the second I went there, and they started to do the tattoos on my skull, it came back, something came back. So I'm sure that's going to happen once we start dressing up again and seeing the cast and locations.
Related: 'Hannibal' Paper Doll: Dress Up Dr. Lecter With Your Very Own Cut-Out Cannibal!
About those locations… how much do you think you'll be shooting in Italy, if at all?
Well I hope a lot. [Laughs.] But I think probably not a lot. Everybody wants to go there, obviously, but it's a difficult thing because it's not only taking place there. So it's all about budget… I think it'd be great for everyone though.
Have you had to up your foodie game since playing this part?
I've always been interested in strange foods, coming from all different places. In terms of heightening my own skills in the kitchen, I'm good at chopping stuff. I've always been good at it, but now I'm even better at chopping stuff.
What's the weirdest thing you've ever eaten in real life?
I don't know if it's so weird, but I had zebra once and the funny joke was that they put it on a barbecue thing, so the meat got striped. It was so funny, but it was very dry meat.
How very Hannibal Lecter of them to be playful with the presentation. So let's get real for a second: You have a career outside of the show as well. How much longer do you imagine doing the show?
Well I imagine to do it as long as it's worthwhile. I'm sure that Bryan will make it worthwhile. If he all of a sudden says, "That's it. I don't think there's any more in the story," then we will stop. But I trust that Bryan will keep coming up with things that make it worthwhile. He has so far, and I can't see why that should be different in the coming years.
Do people at home think Hannibal is as big of a deal as people here do?
The whole Fannibal thing is predominantly something that happens in a world I don't know about, which is the Internet. Back home it's a little different because I've done so many things there – so whether they say hi to me because of this or something else is hard to differ.
Although usually if they go to the other side of the street, it's probably because of Hannibal...
[Laughs.] Yeah, probably.
Have you read all of the books?
I have. I picked them up after we finished the first few episodes of Season 1. I wanted to get started before I dug into them. So I picked them up and looked for something that could inspire, and I re-saw the films again, but all that I did after we got started ourselves.
So you had already shaped who your Hannibal would be…
Yeah, that was the plan, and I think it was the smart choice because, any way you turn it, it's a difficult task. A couple of guys have played this character to perfection. Going down the same path as them would be creative suicide, so we definitely wanted to create our own character. But having said that, there's always something that can inspire you. For that reason I read the books… it was just nice to see it again.
Anything you're excited to see make its way onto the show?
The plot taking place in Italy — I was very fascinated with that when I saw the films and read the book. I think that they did that in a spectacular way. We are probably going to deal with some of that now, this year, but how much we will copy and how much will be an inspiration… I'll leave that to Bryan.
Related: 'Hannibal' Introduces Michael Pitt as Mason Verger
Commander Pazzi is coming, but Francis Dolarhyde, too. We've seen a few Hannibal copycats and devotees in the first two seasons, but it sounds like we'll delve even deeper into that with Dolarhyde.
Yeah, absolutely. That's what Bryan does best: He finds characters that might not be that explicit in the books or the films and then he enlarges that. He's already done that, to a degree with Mason Verger and his sister. We saw the aftermath in the film, but now we've already seen who is Mason and we saw his transition, which I find super interesting. I'm sure he's going to do that with other characters.
Hannibal Season 2 is available on DVD and Blu-ray now; Season 3 premieres in 2015 on NBC.