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‘Hannibal’ Star Hugh Dancy on Will Graham’s Season 3 ‘Quest’

The season three premiere of NBC’s “Hannibal” saw our titular cannibal (Mads Mikkelsen) gadding about in Europe with Bedelia du Maurier (Gillian Anderson) and taking advantage of the local cuisine, but there was one thing missing from last week’s operatic episode — Hugh Dancy’s Will Graham, whom we last saw bleeding on the floor after Hannibal gutted him in a brutal (and yet disarmingly tender) farewell before fleeing the country.

Variety spoke to Dancy ahead of Will’s return in episode 302, titled “Primavera” to find out where Will and Hannibal’s relationship stands after their painful parting, and how the series has evolved from its procedural roots.

How would you describe Will’s mental and emotional state when we rejoin him in season three?

Not great… in the sense that we pick up exactly where we left off at the end of season two, so he’s lying on the kitchen floor bleeding out, pretty much. Jumping on from that, we move through this quite quickly and then actually later in the season we’ll circle back to it, but there’s an eight month gap before he then takes off after Hannibal, and my feeling was that he goes after Hannibal knowing that he has to do it, but almost choosing not to worry why he’s going or what he wants to find when he gets there and what he wants to do. He’s in a much clearer mental state.

He’s always been reluctant to be out in the field, but before, he had Jack and the rest of the FBI team around him — and often Hannibal himself — how much of a challenge is it for him to be operating outside that structure?

It’s a challenge, but he’d already stepped so far outside of that world, albeit furtively in the last season as he drifted closer and closer into orbit with Hannibal, that I think being cut open, in a way, released something from him. He’s now, in a Zen way, accepting the need to go on this quest without needing to know what he’s going to find at the end.

Bryan Fuller describes this season as truly embracing the theme and tone of romantic horror — how do you think that manifests itself?

I think not least because in the third episode I’m gallivanting around Lithuania, with Gothic castles and misty cemeteries. It felt very much like we were in some cousin of a vampire movie, and we’re in Europe. We’re in the Old World, so all of that makes sense. Hannibal was a fish out of water in the first two seasons. There we all were in gritty Baltimore, buttoned up against the cold, and he’s in his glorious three-piece suits, sautéing things, listening to classical music, and now we’re in his world, really.

Bryan also said that this season is the “Hannibal” show he always wanted to make — did it feel different, either in tone or energy, when you were reading the scripts and filming?

Yes, definitely — certainly from the first season. Last season I thought we were less tied down by that procedural element, or by that crime of the week element, but it came and went. This year, the thing that struck me most was that when he was untethered from that, Bryan was also able to start playing with narrative and with the timeframe. The first episode, seeing Hannibal and Bedelia are in Europe; the second episode we jump back eight, nine months to the endpoint of the second season, and then we jump ahead during that episode when Will departs into Europe; and then we see the third and fourth episode we’re going to double back again. To me, that was Bryan doing really interesting things with time, and the way I felt about it was that he was writing in a way that reflected what happens when people go through trauma, which is that they relive that moment. They are caught in a loop, and he was reflecting that in the structure of the show, which I thought was pretty great. It doesn’t make for simplicity, but it was certainly interesting.

How do you keep the emotional throughline of Will’s journey when you’re jumping back and forth so much? Is it easy to re-center yourself, or do you have to look back at other scripts to recapture it?

That’s a challenge, because when you’re looking at the script for the second episode, I don’t have script for the fourth episode, so I can ask Bryan and I make an educated guess, but the second season and the first season Will was on a path [that] wasn’t exactly clear or obvious, and that’s not the case here. He’s much clearer now, so in a way that made my job easier.

Looking ahead to the future of the show, does this season have a sense of closure when it ends, or does it serve as a set-up for a potential season four?

I think the season will end with a finale like last year that’s grand and grandiose and has some finality to it, just by virtue of that, and whether that’s because Bryan’s writing and in the back of his mind he doesn’t know if we’re going to come back or not, I don’t know. But what I do know is what Bryan has described to me of a potential next season, which seems so interesting and so different and like a really interesting, long story to play out. But no matter how final it feels at the end, certainly if the powers that be signed off on it, there’s another chapter, at least.

“Hannibal” airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on NBC.

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