Hannibal: Network Originally Wanted John Cusack or Hugh Grant in Title Role

hannibal mads mikkelsen john cusack

Thanks in large part to Sir Anthony Hopkins' iconic performance of Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, when Bryan Fuller was developing a TV series based on the character, the network had originally wanted him to cast a well-known actor in the role, such as John Cusack or Hugh Grant. Mads Mikkelsen went on to star as the title character in Hannibal, much to the joy of fans around the world, but casting the Danish actor instead of an American or established actor, Fuller claims that NBC almost immediately lost interest in promoting the series as they had assumed it would never become a major hit without any familiar faces.

“There was a casting kerfuffle on who to cast for Hannibal Lecter, and there was a difference of opinion on what a traditional television network would want as a leading man and what we would want as an actor playing Hannibal Lecter to personify playing that character," Fuller shared with Collider. "I think the network wanted somebody that was much more poppy, much more mainstream, much more American I think in some ways. That was just them thinking about, ‘Okay how do we get the biggest audience for our television show? We have to cast John Cusack as Hannibal Lecter and everybody will tune in because won’t that be surprising?’ I was like, ‘Well go ahead, make an offer.’”

Fuller detailed how, even after allowing NBC to make offers to more recognizable stars, for him to fully invest in the series, he had to be completely invested in his vision for the narrative, which required Mikkelsen in the role.

“It was an interesting dance because I’d say, ‘Mads Mikkelsen!’ and they’d say, ‘No, how about Hugh Grant?’ and I’d say, ‘Great, make an offer, he’s gonna say no,’ then they’d make an offer and he’d say no, and I’d be like, ‘What about Mads Mikkelsen?’ and they’d be like, ‘Well what about John Cusack?’ and I’d say, ‘Great, make an offer, he’s gonna say no’ and they’d make an offer and he’d say no, I’d say, ‘What about Mads Mikkelsen?’" the creator confessed. "That carousel went around for three or four months after we had cast Hugh [Dancy], it was going on for a while. Finally I just said, ‘Mads is the guy, that’s the guy I see in the role and I have to write it and I have to champion it and I have to understand it,’ and Jennifer Salke at NBC bless her heart was like, ‘Okay, that’s your guy. I believe you and trust you and I’m excited about your vision for the show.’”

Hannibal ran for three seasons and, despite critical acclaim, failed to connect with a large base of viewers to allow the series to continue. Fuller pointed out, however, that the lack of attention from the marketing team was both a blessing and a curse, as he never had to make sacrifices to make the show more palatable to larger audiences, but its poor ratings is why it wasn't renewed for a Season Four.

"They sort of gave up on it a little bit because we were casting a European guy as the face of [a show] they wanted to be more accessible," the creator admitted. "I felt that they were right for their reasons but wrong for my reasons. And so the gift of that, the gift of casting Mads Mikkelsen, is that their investment in the show became dramatically decreased, and so that allowed us to do a lot of things that we wouldn’t have been able to do if they were saying, ‘No this show needs to get 10 million people watching it every week’. Because then we would have to really be tied down to certain parameters of storytelling that were going to mesh with a mainstream audience."

In the years since Hannibal ended, Fuller and the rest of the cast have regularly expressed their interest in continuing the narrative in some capacity, with one of the complications being the rights to the characters and where a potential new season could debut.

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Stay tuned for details on the future of Hannibal.

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