With over 30 years in the movie making business, Martha De Laurentis has made quite a name for herself as a producer passionate about her craft and as an all-around treasure of a human being. She’s been involved in Dr. Hannibal Lecter’s cinematic escapades all the way back to Manhunter and was instrumental in bringing Lecter’s world to television with NBC’s hit, Hannibal. I recently had a chance to chat with Martha about the show, her career and gained some insight into one of Hollywood’s most sincere talents.
Hello, Matt! How are you?
Hi, Martha! I’m doing wonderful. Yourself?
I’m doing just fine. Have you reviewed the Blu-ray (Hannibal: Season 1) yet?
I have (Matt’s Hannibal: Season 1 Blu-ray review)! Between the show itself and all the special features it’s a wonderfully put together set.
Well, thank you! Lionsgate was very excited to do it. That’s terrific.
It’s sadly rare that a home release would give so much attention to the various aspects of the show, from the visual effects to the music and even the food. It is quite refreshing and with as good as the work is, it’s well deserved.
Great! Thank you! That’s fantastic to hear. I’m glad you appreciate it.
Oh, absolutely! It’s a legitimate pleasure to get to speak with you today. You’ve been involved in so many films that I love.
What’s so funny is that I was the youngster. Dino (De Laurentis) and I started our relationship when I was 29 and now I’m 59. 30 years! I was always the young one and he had this whole background and vast history of movies and filmmakers that he had worked with. Once I hit 40, I felt like I had arrived. Everybody was much younger than me. At my age now, it’s actually wonderful that the movies that I then made in the 80’s, that Dino and I made together, that the people I’m now working with grew up with. It’s like, “You watched Cat’s Eye? You watched The Bedroom Window? You watched Maximum Overdrive?“
Cat’s Eye is the one I was actually going to bring up.
It’s a film that is near and dear to my heart. I was four when it came out, so I was around five or six when it made it to HBO and I saw it for the first time. As a child, that troll in the wall absolutely terrified me for years! I can still remember the nightmares I had about that stupid troll, but in the realm of horror it’s excellent. It totally worked!
Well that makes me happy!
As you should be! Having the ability to scare is a trait few seem to get right and you guys nailed it.
That was so fun to make because it was Stephen King, an original. He had actually gone to the bathroom and come out and had this whole idea in a matter of ten minutes. We wanted to do something with Drew Barrymore so we did this anthology of short stories and then having the tie-in of the cat. Of course (special effects legend) Carlo Rambaldi, who had done the arm and eyes of King Kong (1976), he’s the one that made the little monster.
Very cool. I hope it’s still out there somewhere haunting some poor innocent child.
Let’s dive into Hannibal. The Lecter series of films has been one that you’ve been involved with for nearly your entire career. After five films, many of which are quite phenomenal, what was it that made you want to revisit this world yet again?
There were several times where Dino had an idea in between films and I would say, “absolutely not! The anticipation is for the book.” Then after Hannibal the film Dino had the idea, and this was before Thomas Harris wrote Hannibal Rising. At that point we ended up doing Red Dragon, not really a remake but the truer telling of the book since we had done Manhunter. It felt like going back to well too fast and too soon.
Then came a time period with interesting television being made out of iconic characters. I think we’ve got, and there have been polls, the #1 villain of all time in the history of movies. He’s above Dracula. He’s above Darth Vader. Hannibal Lecter is the number one. It’s an interesting character and it’s all about the psychology. There’s the audacity, the precociousness and the arrogance of a character and what he does in plain sight that is fascinating.
The period of time that made sense to explore was before the book Red Dragon. When Red Dragon drops in, he’s already incarcerated but he had a history of being a practicing professional in society, of great taste, of great aesthetic. He just happened to have been caught by being arrogant, but what did he do? Elements unspool through Red Dragon, Silence of the Lambs, even in Hannibal with Mason Verger that happened before he was incarcerated. There’s a lot there for the fandom. The richness that Thomas Harris laid, we’re mining some of that.
To me it seems like the medium of television lends itself a bit more freedom and leeway to everyone involved to be able to delve into those previously untapped aspects of Lecter’s life.
That’s right! He’s out. He hasn’t been caught and we (the audience) know how dangerous he is. So, let’s watch him still try to fool everybody.
And he does it so well! That’s another aspect of the show that helps add another layer on top. We all know who Lecter is and what he will ultimately become and that adds this wonderful sense of dread every time he’s on screen. That’s a credit to Mads ( Mikkelsen, who portrays Lecter on the show) as well.
Oh, yes! We have such wonderful actors that are really bringing their own and owning these characters. They become so believable. I often times have to catch myself for calling Hugh (Dancy) “Will”.
I could see that! Obviously people are going to gravitate towards the Lecter character, but Hugh does some spectacular work in his portrayal of Will, especially as the season goes on and his mind becomes more unraveled.
We touched on the television aspect a bit early on. As far as telling the story, it feels like television was definitely the best way to go, given that the episodic format allows for much deeper storytelling than a single film would provide. Once you realized you wanted to revisit Hannibal Lecter’s world, was TV the initial intention?
That was and is the intention. Now, television allows you to get into these wonderful serialized character dramas and that’s what we love most about watching Lecter is the “cat and mouse”. In film, you don’t have time to go on that. You’ve almost got to within 12 minutes establish your characters, get into the action, resolve it and then finish the movie. So we were able to stretch out these serialized moments and also incorporate the FBI procedurals so that we don’t just have a “case of the week” show. There are cases that you think maybe Lecter is involved or should be but is not. He’s actually allowed to play in the playground of the FBI because of his associations with Jack Crawford and Will Graham. He can find out what’s going on and then do his deeds on the side and they are covered up.
Exactly. It also allows the viewer to see how meticulous and nuanced Dr. Lecter is.
And that’s fun. Oh, and the food scenes that we have are just delicious. The dining room is his theater. His kitchen is his performance. Then there’s his office, of course. He passes for doing business in there. What’s behind it all? If you were to take a really take a very close look at how it’s decorated and what he has and the choice of books as well as the choice of the artwork. The choices of the custom built furniture. He’s passing, but also what is he hiding? It’s the subtleties and the genius of Bryan Fuller that weaves all that into a television cinema. We’re taken into the world. We’re driven into a sense of dissent with Will Graham and Hannibal trying to find this dear friend in this twisted way. Hannibal feels that he can get Will down to a point where he will be the same as Hannibal. He sees that in Will. So this is what the first season has is that “bro-mance” quality.
Yeah! Oh, and if you have seen the fan art.
Oh yeah. It’s taken tumblr by storm.
It’s all amazing! Using the “Did you just smell me?” I love that!
If you pay really close attention, a lot of “those” moments are nods to what has been in Thomas Harris’ books. Like, “Did you just smell me?” He has smelled a cheap aftershave with the ship on a bottle. That comes right out of Red Dragon.
There’s a lot of fun thing that Bryan (Fuller) weaves in for the fans of Thomas’ books. Bryan, along with all of us are huge fans and we wouldn’t have any of this if it wasn’t for Thomas.
I feel like that love and appreciation of the source material absolutely comes through in the work.
And that’s what makes sense in making it. It doesn’t make any sense to make something that’s not of the tone or cannon of Thomas’ voice. It just wouldn’t make sense and there’s no reason to do it. The only reason I would want to do it is to honor Thomas.
There was quite a mixed reaction amongst fans, myself included, upon the news that the Hannibal series would be on NBC, primarily out of fear that the character would be watered down or that the creativity would be hindered but that seems to be not the case at all. It honestly seems at times that NBC lets you run free. Was that a big surprise to find one of the big three networks get behind such often dark material?
Actually, it was! All of our movies have been R rated and it’s really tough to do R rated subject matter on network television. Even though they used to re-run movies on network TV, they’ve kind of gotten away from that as the movies have gone on to cable and VOD. Really, Standards and Practices are less concerned with…again it goes with “what is the tone? How disturbing is it? What do you see on the screen?” We infer a lot of past crime scenes. They are very, very strict on anything sexual, which when you think R it’s commonly for sex. America has a high tolerance for violence and a very low tolerance for anything sensual or sexual. So, you can not show a nipple outline or a butt crack.
I was actually going to bring up the butt crack. On the Blu-Ray in the feature on the visual effects there’s a bit regarding the “Angel” victims from Episode 5 where the Censors were totally fine with the exposed ribs and viscera and flayed skin but you couldn’t show those butt cracks. So they had to digitally wipe them out.
Exactly! Or the one that he hung up in the alley, what’s the word, the “de-balling”.
Yes, the “de-balling”!
So, Zeller picks them up with his tweezers. He’s got them, so we had to cut that out. There’s still a bit of a side shot of that. As long as it’s not in your face. Again, the audaciousness of our crimes is essential for us to come up with things that we haven’t seen before that are unique. It’s not so much the act of it happening. It’s how the FBI comes on the scene and has witnessed it after it happened and finding out why did it happen. It’s not like you’ve got people chopping off heads in front of you all the time and that kind of stuff that in the movies leads to the R rating. It’s forensic science. You’ve got to see the crime scenes!
To me I feel like that attention to the aftermath rather than the actions will help make the show a bit more timeless. All of the crime scenes have this sort of beauty to them. It’s obviously looked at as art and is treated as such. It’s not your typical “hack ’em up” violence that has an initial shock but is quickly forgotten. These scenes hearken back to a time in cinema where an image could move a viewer and stick with them. To me, you guys nail that aspect beautifully.
Thank you! To that note, what is either discussed or we’ve seen always causes a lot of chatter afterwards. That is the ultimate goal. When you make a movie or something for television you want people to think about it and talk about it afterwards. You don’t want to do something that’s just going to go through their heads and hasn’t meant anything. We have really benefited, and it’s such a satisfaction, that a fan base has happened and that people watch it and talk about it the next day. It’s one of those, they use to call them “water cooler” moments, and we get those. That’s what makes it different. It’s not only being cinematic but also to raise issues that people will talk about. “Can you believe that?” or “Why was that?”; just the subtleties that people can discover that are intelligent writing and intelligent filmmaking. I keep saying the word “filmmaking” because we are! We are making filmed entertainment!
The meticulous detail to every aspect of Hannibal’s life is impeccable and really allows for this deeper richness to the character. Was that one of the bigger aspects you wanted to embrace with the show or was it a by-product of the creative process with Bryan?
Both, actually. Every single film we did, we had filmmakers with a certain style and aesthetic. Bryan brought to it his certain aesthetic and his reference. With Hannibal Lecter and his lair he would refer to Francis Bacon or the great master painters. There was always that richness of the setting. If you see what’s on the table or the way things are posited and his equipment; everything is carefully thought out. The textures on the dining room wall is stacked molding taken to a degree. Everything is theatrical to a sense of Hannibal’s delight and performance. A lot of that Bryan appreciates. That’s also part of him. I want quality. I want richness. I want cinema, as does Bryan. I’m so appreciative that he is this process. It all defines Lecter within his dress and within the spaces we’ve created. It’s kind of created it’s own hyper-nature where his home is his enclave and his dress is impeccable. We’re having fun with the textures, with the tie, with the spread collar; we’re having fun with the three piece suits. Everything this next season will be changed. Not drastically but even more rich. Really embracing that very fine aesthetic that he has.
That aesthetic has always been something I’ve loved about the character. That this man can be so mild mannered, reserved and distinguished yet to know that, to an extent, it’s all a front for the very real beast underneath is just fascinating.
You mentioned Season 2. I imagine shooting is already underway or coming up soon?
Yes, we started shooting already.
As we talked earlier about Season 1 being this sort of “bro-mance” between Hannibal and Will, is Season 2 going to carry it’s own theme throughout it’s course as well?
Well, Hannibal is a sadist. He’s an arrogant elegant. For him, he still feels that he can do everything that he wants and no one is smart enough to catch him. So again, Will will be playing that game with Hannibal but also with the sense that “it’s Hannibal Lecter.” He’s not going to be stupid about that. It’s very interesting how the table have turned and how the tables will turn again. That’s what is so interesting and intriguing to keep that “cat and mouse” psychological game going. We also have to get Will out of jail so we have that sequence. That part won’t be very long. It won’t become a courtroom drama.
Oh c’mon! Everyone wants a whole season of juries and trials.
No, no! Not at all. That’s not our show. It’s finding that balance. Even Jack Crawford is suspect as all of this has happened under his watch. So you’ve got real dark places for our character to go.
Absolutely. The darker, the better. Season 1 featured a lot of great guest performances from Gillian Anderson to Molly Shannon and Eddie Izzard. Are you in a situation now with Hannibal’s success that you have actors and actresses approaching you about being on the show?
Yes! We actually just shot with Cynthia Nixon this last week. She plays an interesting character in the FBI.
Awesome. That’ll surely open up some story with adding some more FBI to the mix.
And there’s more of course. We’ll have some bring backs. We’ll have Eddie Izzard come back.
We’ve got really great guest stars lined up with great potential. We’re also going to tell the story of Mason Verger and his sister Margot which will definitely be some great casting.
Oh wow! That’s going to be excellent. Obviously Gary Oldman’s portrayal in the film Hannibal was just haunting and terrific and will be tough to compete against but I have complete faith in you guys. You were able to get someone else believably into Lecter’s shoes and do so almost effortlessly.
Here’s the real challenge. We have an audience. We have a fan base. We really want to expand both. Hopefully with the it being accessible now on DVD and Blu-ray and Amazon will stream it it will give people a chance to catch-up.
I think a big perk of the owning the Blu-ray and DVD versions is having the Producer’s Cut versions of over half the episodes. Fans and newbies alike will be drawn to that promise of “what wasn’t shown” and “how far did they really go” that just couldn’t be shown on TV, along with the fourth episode that was pulled from broadcast finally seeing the light of day. Those aspects in play should drum up a fair amount of interest all on their own. Not to mention it just being a wonderful package all around. The visuals and sounds are just near perfection and beyond immersive.
Terrific! I can’t wait to see it myself!
That’s something I am always curious about in just how much involvement the actual creators have in the home video process.
We get clips to approve but that’s it. I’m very excited to see it!
One last thing before I let you go, I’ve heard tale that you along with the incredible Nicholas Winding Refn are working on a Barbarella project together.
Yes! He (Refn) is one of the creative partners.
What stage is that at? I’ve heard mixed things that it could be a TV show or it could be a movie.
It will be a 13 episode straight-to-series.
We haven’t started casting yet but that will certainly be a very telling and fun part.
I can only imagine! That’ll be a great feature for it’s future Blu-ray release. “The Hunt for Barbarella”!
Special thanks to Martha De Laurentis for taking a short break amidst her hectic schedule to answer these questions.