Few characters are as entrenched in people’s minds as the sinister Dr. Hannibal Lecter. In the deliciously eerie TV series Hannibal, actor Mads Mikkelsen portrays Lecter in a new light. Based on the book Red Dragon by Thomas Harris, the show is a prequel to Silence of the Lambs and depicts the character as a brilliant psychiatrist working with the FBI to help gifted criminal profiler Will Graham—played by Hugh Dancy—stay focused and not be consumed by his personal demons. While FBI agent Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) pushes Graham to help him crack tough cases, Dr. Alana Bloom, a protégé of Lecter’s, does her utmost to advocate for Graham and keep him sane. Actress Caroline Dhavernas portrays Bloom as a character with deep empathy and the highest ethical standards—encouraging Crawford to not exploit Graham’s gifts at the risk of jeopardizing his well being.
Dhavernas, 35, began her career in her native Canada at the age of 11. She has appeared in films and television in both the U.S. and Canada, including such diverse and acclaimed projects as Off the Map, Wrecked, The Switch, The Pacific, Hollywoodland and The Baroness and the Pig.
DivineCaroline: The visual images of Hannibal are shot in a certain eerie, mysterious look. Obviously, that’s partly tied to the subject matter, but as you’re filming how aware are you of what the look of the picture will be?
Caroline Dhavernas: It’s not always noticeable for us, but depending on the scene, sometimes I would arrive on set and the lighting was very moody and dark, so it would give me a good idea of the tone of the scene and look of the show. The shadows serve our story and effectively reflect the dark corners of Will Graham’s mind.
DC: The obvious question, people are coming to this TV show with preconceived ideas about Hannibal. How do you satisfy those Hannibal lovers, but also create something totally new?
CD: Hannibal’s story had never been told on television, and storytelling on a TV show allows you to get to get to know the characters in depth since you get to spend so many hours with them. I think [series creator] Bryan Fuller’s idea of presenting Hannibal before his incarceration was brilliant. The audience discovers an introverted Hannibal, and through his relationships with Will, Jack and Alana, we get inklings of who this dandy sociopath is, what he is made of, what his life and obsessions are about before he becomes the crazy criminal we all know from the movies and books.
DC: In the book on which the series is based, your character was a man (Dr. Alan Bloom) and not terribly important. Is it nice is that you have the cleanest slate, so to speak?
CD: I guess the positive aspect is that my work will not be compared to another actor’s performance. I think Bryan kept the essence of Alan Bloom’s small appearance. With that one scene, he is the only one who nurtures Will Graham, who seems to understand his fragility and the danger of the dark places where he is sent.
DC: You’ve said you’re usually very critical of your own work, but you like this show. What is you find compelling about it?
CD: I think it’s smart, slick, the visuals are stunning and it’s much more complex and rich than most procedural shows we have been accustomed to over the years. It’s a nice change from the safe recipes that we are served over and over again on network television.
DC: What sorts of reactions have you received since the show premiered last month?
CD: What seems to have left a huge impression on a lot of people is the mushroom episode. Fungus actively growing on the comatose … very disturbing for us mortals!
DC: It’s a very international cast and you filmed in Toronto (last year), a very international city, but not home for most of you. How do you feel that perhaps sets a mood among the cast?
CD: Mixing up cultures will always bring an interesting variety in the way artists view the material and express themselves. We all benefit from each other’s perspectives and I believe this makes its way into the show.
DC: Hugh Dancy seems to be a man with a decent sense of humor and comfortable in his own skin, yet he so skillfully embodies this extremely socially awkward and off kilter person. What is he like to work with and what’s it like when he breaks character?
CD: I have a lot of respect for Hugh and greatly admire his work. I don’t know how he does it, but he always seems to be spot on and fully immersed in his character. He cares for his colleagues, for the project that brings us together and throughout the long days of shooting over the seven months, he always seemed to be in a good mood and love his job. Great talent and a beautiful personality—what more can you ask for?!
DC: Do you think there’s a romantic tension between Dr. Alana Bloom and Will Graham?
CD: I think Alana is intrigued by Will Graham, but given their work relationship and the nature of her job, she knows better than to get romantically involved with a man she couldn’t help but study and want to fix. Also the FBI is a man’s world and she probably fought hard to build credibility and get the respect of her peers.
DC: How do you think Mads Mikkelsen is doing as Hannibal?
CD: I’ve been a huge fan of his for years and I think he is doing amazingly well as Hannibal. It’s not an easy task since Anthony Hopkins’ performance is imprinted deeply into our collective memory, but somehow he manages to make this sociopath sexy! Since our Hannibal is out and about and has not yet been found guilty, he cannot act as wild and crazy as Hopkins. He is in the lion’s den, completely unnoticed by the smart men and woman who are looking for him. We can read the fun and anticipation in Mads’ eyes, in the corner of his smile. The depth and subtleties of this performance continue to amaze me.
DC: Any other upcoming projects you’d like to mention?
CD: I’m part of an American indie film called Goodbye World, which is premiering at the L.A. Film Festival in June. We shot the movie in Northern California last summer. I haven’t seen it yet but am looking forward to it!