As the enigmatic Bedelia Du Maurier on NBC’s “Hannibal,” Gillian Anderson has the opportunity to play a character almost as fascinating as the titular cannibal (Mads Mikkelsen) himself, a woman who seemingly vacillates between accomplice, captive and enabler for her companion’s unusual urges depending on the day. As the two cut an increasingly bloody and reckless swath through Europe, they will once again draw the attention of many potential friends and foes in season three, including Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) and Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne).
Variety spoke to Anderson about Bedelia’s plans, “Hannibal” creator Bryan Fuller’s wicked dialogue, and how her character feels about the lingering influence of Will in Dr. Lecter’s life.
One of the things I most appreciate about Bedelia as a character is that you’re never quite sure where her loyalties lie, or how much she truly trusts Hannibal at any given moment. Obviously her internal workings are left purposefully opaque for the viewer so that she remains deliciously inscrutable, but from a technical perspective, when you approach her scenes, what would you say is motivating her on this journey with Hannibal?
I have trouble with this… [Laughs.] I think that it’s wonderful that she’s inscrutable to the audience, and I think that’s really important. I think we’re told too much these days about what to think and how to feel and know too much before we see it, and I think one of the things that intrigues me about some of the characters that I choose to play is that they’re enigmatic, and I like to keep them enigmatic. So talking about motivation is revealing my hand and revealing the hand of the character, and I don’t think that serves me, and it doesn’t serve the series.
That said, she’s in a very tricky situation. I think she is intrigued, and curious, and fearful, and I think she’s bitten off more than she can potentially chew, but I think that she has some kind of a plan, and as the season unravels, we’ll get to see what kind of a plan that might be, or whether she does actually have a specific plan or whether she’s just rolling with the punches.
When I spoke to Bryan Fuller recently, he noted that Bedelia is “always thinking one step ahead about where Hannibal is going to go and what she has to do to subvert his intentions.” How easy is that to do with someone as unpredictable as Hannibal? Is there a point where she’s starting to think she’s in over her head?
I think that her sense of “in over her head” comes across more as excitement. I think she’s excited by and terrified by the situation that she has placed herself in, and I think she gets off on it, and I think that as the days go by, she responds to the events with varying degrees of intention and complicity and varying degrees of fear. But the question out there is, is she going to become less fearful as she continues to be in his intimate presence, or does she become more fearful for her own safety? Or is it a death wish? I don’t know.
Does she feel confident in her ability to manipulate him, the way he obviously feels he can manipulate her?
I think that she feels her own degree of power, but… it’s a power between the two of them, and I think sometimes she’s less powerful than other times. I think that she probably feels that she can out-manipulate him. I think she feels that she has done it before and she can do it again.
Bryan also admitted that he loves to give you the most over-the-top, overwrought Thomas Harris dialogue because he knows you can sell it, no matter how purple the prose is. How do you feel about those unwieldy bits of dialogue when they appear in your scripts?
He does? [Laughs.] He’s never admitted that to me before! That’s hilarious. You know, I have often looked at the page and rolled my eyes or thought “how the hell am I going to spit this one out?” I guess maybe if I knew that there was something intentional, to a degree, about it, then I might savor it, enjoy it a bit more… It takes some manipulating.
He highlighted episode six in particular, in terms of you having a take on the material that was “laugh-out-loud funny.”
I didn’t know that it wasn’t meant to be funny. [Laughs.] Hopefully it comes across… an aspect of it comes from other actors as well, but there’s an Italian investigator who pops up, and we had a lot of fun with our scenes, and he just called out to me. There’s just something about [the scenes]. It wasn’t until afterwards when Bryan commented on the funniness of it, but not as if “thank you for doing what I’ve written,” but kind of like, oh, “I didn’t realize it was funny, but thanks for whatever it was that was.” I can only hope I didn’t ruin anything. I hope that whatever transpired works.
Is the humor inherent in the scripts, or something you try to inject in advance, or do you discover the nuances through the performance?
I would say most of the stuff I work out in advance, just in terms of my take on a particular [scene]… not in a technical way, but more in order to grapple with the psychology of the character in any given scene. And with the dialogue that he gives me, there needs to be a particular rhythm, and flavor, and her perspective on it. And I find that in order to be able to deliver, I need to figure that out beforehand and then leave it as spontaneous as possible for what transpires with the other actors.
But yeah, it’s interesting because they’re all so different, and all the actors are so different to work with too. Hugh, and Mads, and Laurence [Fishburne] are very, very different actors. So I also find that it’s not until I’m actually in the room with them… it’s very much informed by the presence of the other actors in those instances because they come with such different energy, and they work differently.
What is Bedelia’s assessment of the ever-evolving relationship between Hannibal and Will?
I think she’s curious, and she’s intrigued by it. I think she’s also potentially a little bit jealous of his obsession with Will, and I think that snuck up on her, maybe. So I think she likes the fact that they are off in their own little world and that he’s not around to be obsessed upon. And he obviously is going to crop up again in some form or fashion, but I think she’s enjoying the respite.
Between “Hannibal” and “The Fall,” you’ve been able to portray these incredibly complex, multifaceted women, the likes of which we still don’t see often enough on television — characters who have agency and interior lives and aren’t simply defined as “the girlfriend” or “the mother.” Are you starting to see more of those kinds of roles being written for women, at last, or are you just particularly savvy at finding characters that don’t adhere to the old tropes?
I think I’ve been incredibly lucky. Both of these projects came to me, and I’m not a searcher-outer. Do excuse me, I don’t read the trades, and I don’t know what’s out there. I don’t generally go after things, and I have been very fortunate that these two projects came into my sphere, and so I don’t know really what else is out there that might be comparable or is in the works or might be… I knew for a while that they were thinking about doing an American version of “The Fall,” and it fell apart, but years ago, I read that they were trying to do a [U.S. version of] “Prime Suspect” and I read that script, and it wasn’t up my alley… I’m particularly picky, especially with three kids; when I go away to work on something, I need to know that it’s not just worth my while, but that I can justify in my own head why I’m abandoning my children.
Despite being cancelled by NBC, “Hannibal” will continue to air the remainder of its third season Thursdays at 10 p.m.