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Exclusive: Director David Slade talks “HANNIBAL”

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In a dank industrial building just outside Toronto, a slew of talented people are feverishly working to revive the bloody legacy of Hannibal Lecter. The antihero of four best-selling Thomas Harris novels and five feature films, Lecter is as recognizable an icon of horror as Dracula, but until now, his face has been primarily that of Anthony Hopkins, who relished the role of the flesheating, cultured cannibal psychiatrist in the Oscar-winning THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, its berserk sequel HANNIBAL and the middling prequel RED DRAGON.

But this version of Hannibal’s tale is geared for the small screen: a hotly anticipated NBC television series that serves as a prequel to the events of RED DRAGON. Executive-produced by late longtime franchise holder Dino De Laurentiis’ widow Martha and Bryan Fuller, who created the series and scripted the pilot, HANNIBAL (premiering Thursday, April 4 at 10/9 Central) sees young, troubled FBI profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) joining forces with brilliant headshrinker Dr. Hannibal Lecter (CASINO ROYALE’s Mads Mikkelsen) at the behest of concerned FBI honcho Jack Crawford (the one and only Laurence Fishburne). Every week, a new, lethal serial killer will strikes and Graham will seeks counsel from the well-fed Lecter, the two serving as surrogate father-and-son crimefighters. Of course, unbeknownst to Graham—but very knownst to the audience—Lecter is the mother of all murderers, and God only knows what he’s feeding Graham for dinner…

HANNIBALSLADE1With that solid cast and high-caliber creative pedigree, the icing on the HANNIBAL cake is the presence of HARD CANDY and 30 DAYS OF NIGHT director David Slade, who directed the pilot as well as subsequent episodes and stayed on to maintain stylistic continuity (he’ll helm the season finale as well). Slade’s mark is most evident in just how dark and downbeat the show is, evidenced by a nightmarish score and sound design that is the most visceral and affecting on TV since Angelo Badalementi’s ambient work for TWIN PEAKS. FANGORIA was on set, and had the chance to briefly chat with Slade.

FANGORIA: Most of the world thinks of Anthony Hopkins as the face of Hannibal Lecter. Even Brian Cox in MANHUNTER has his fans. What do you think Mikkelsen adds to the Lecter legacy?

DAVID SLADE: A terrifying subtlety. And as the episodes go on, you will see this progress. He’s an astonishingly subtle performer with an incredibly keen sense of timing and what he has to do; he has a kind of mission in his acting. I can’t spoil it, but there is a moment in the third episode when the scene just becomes terrifying for reasons it shouldn’t, and that’s all Mads. He can be charming, and then turn on a dime slowly and scare the shit out of you. No one can do what Mads does, and I firmly believe he’ll end up being the definitive face of Hannibal Lecter.

FANG: We know how much music and sound plays a part in your work. How much of the immersive audioscape in HANNIBAL is your doing?

SLADE: I met with composer Brian Reitzel when I was doing 30 DAYS OF NIGHT. That movie was very similar in its tone in that there were no melodies, no big stings. It was psychological composing, and that’s what this is too. When I brought him in for this, we wanted to have pulses, and for you to hear the neurons pop. Brian took violin bows and scraped them against skulls, mixed in with electronic instruments. It’s not traditional scoring—he doesn’t do that—but what he’s done for HANNIBAL is fantastic. A lot of work went into this music, and it’s a very subjective sound.

FANG: HANNIBAL is an incredibly dark show, and it’s very unusual for music and sound to be such a character on a network TV show.

SLADE: You’re right; it is a character here. It’s very different from what’s happening on network television. We’re pretending it’s not television, in fact. It becomes tricky when you’re editing, of course, but this is why I’m on it all the time. It’s why I stayed with the show. See, the usual process with a TV pilot is that the producers hire a director, he works on the show, they kick him out and he gets a royalty check, maybe an executive-producer credit. Hell, most directors want this; they want to get in and get out. But here, I stayed on. They embraced my ideas and we created a look, and they’ve kept me on to maintain it.

Pick up a copy of FANGORIA #323, on sale next month, for an exclusive sit-down with Mikkelsen as well as some exclusive bloody photos.

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About the author
Chris Alexander
Author, film critic, teacher, musician and filmmaker (not to mention failed boxer) Chris Alexander is the editor-in-chief of FANGORIA Magazine. He got his first professional break as the “Schizoid Cinephile” in the pages of Canadian horror film magazine RUE MORGUE before making the move to FANGO in 2007. His words have appeared in The Toronto Star, Metro News, Wired, Montage, The Dark Side, Tenebre and many other notable publications and he appears regularly on international television and radio.
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