“Hannibal” brought back an unexpected familiar face in its Season 3 premiere. Eddie Izzard’s Dr. Abel Gideon came back in a series of flashback scenes so that viewers could witness the power play between him and Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) as the latter gradually ate his prisoner.
While bringing back Gideon was a great excuse for showrunner Bryan Fuller to work with Izzard again, it also was a way to highlight how Hannibal handles the relationships in his life. Absent from the premiere is Hugh Dancy’s Will Graham, “Hannibal’s” other lead character and the man Hannibal is forever entangled with, and the return of Gideon highlighted how important Hannibal’s connection with Will is.
Fuller tells Zap2it the intent of the episode was “finding a way for it to really be about the nature of Hannibal Lector’s relationships with those close in his life, and we see that with Gideon and Bedelia (Gillian Anderson) in radically different ways. [It put] the audience in a position of comparing those relationships with Hannibal’s relationship with Will Graham and how no one can be Will Graham for Hannibal Lecter.”
Gideon last appeared in the “Hannibal” Season 2 episode “Yakimono,” where his limbless body was left by Hannibal as a way to frame Dr. Frederick Chilton (Raul Esparza). When Fuller came calling and pitched the brief return of Izzard’s character, his former “Mockingbird Lane” collaborator was initially hesitant.
“He didn’t want to just sit at a table and be eaten,” Fuller says with a laugh. “The reason it worked is because Eddie had some very specific ideas in terms of the power play between Hannibal and Gideon, and making sure that Gideon was not a victim in the circumstances even though he is being eaten alive by Hannibal Lecter.”
The biggest challenge for Izzard’s portrayal of Gideon was, in Fuller’s words, “How do you remain dignified and strong in the light of being slowly cooked and devoured by your host?” The eventual portrayal of their relationship was Gideon refusing to let Hannibal break his spirit even as he was consuming his body.
“I worked with Eddie quite a bit on those scenes and crafting them so that there was fun between Hannibal and Gideon,” he says. “That last scene where he’s just being so bratty and annoying with the snail fork, a lot of that stuff was improvised by Eddie on the day. We just loved it so much that we put it in the episode. … Mads loves working with Eddie, so it really was just an excuse to get those two guys back in a room more than anything.”
“Hannibal” is the second time Fuller and Izzard have worked together, the first being “Mockingbird Lane,” NBC’s planned reboot of “The Munsters” that turned into a one-off 2012 special. The showrunner hopes this is two of many more collaborations in the future.
“I hope this is only the beginning of our relationship, because I think he’s one of the great minds of our generation and a wonderful philosopher, as well as comedian,” he says.
“Hannibal” airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.