Brian Cox, Anthony Hopkins, and Mads Mikkelsen have all taken up the elegant, poised, and devilishly charming mantle of Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Though Cox and Hopkins are immeasurable in their respective roles as the greatest villain fiction has ever seen, Mads Mikkelsen's Hannibal gives us far more than we bargained for. Mikkelsen told Hannibal series creator Bryan Fuller he "didn't want to play Anthony Hopkins or Brian Cox. He wanted to play Satan," redefining a character horror audiences were already so familiar with.
Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal Lecter lives up to the challenge of revitalizing a role most would argue had already been played to perfection. Over the course of three seasons on NBC's Hannibal, he gives us a glimpse into the operatic, gothic romance that is his life in Baltimore surrounded by elite and powerful figures.
For his style, his recipes, and his relationship with Will Graham alone, Mikkelsen is the best Hannibal Lecter we never expected.
Mikkelsen’s Hannibal is known to use unorthodox methods like light stimulation and mind-altering substances to treat his patients. This allows him to use his facade as the trustworthy psychiatrist to manipulate people.
Hannibal weaponizes Will Graham's empathy disorder against him, for example, by giving him encephalitis and very nearly convincing him he's responsible for several gruesome slayings. Even while Will is on trial, Hannibal is in full control, extending his patience for the sake of entertainment. Hannibal goes through the effort of building relationships with his targets so he can take them down with careful precision.
In an interview with ScreenSlam, Mads Mikkelsen explains how the Season 2 fight scene between Hannibal and Jack Crawford was choreographed as a classical dance.
Thomas Harris's Dr. Lecter is a consumer of the fine arts. The author based Lecter on an encounter he had with Alfredo Balli Trevino, whom he described as having "a certain elegance about him." Only later did Harris learn Trevino was an inmate accused of slaying his partner.
Hannibal was never meant to embody the low-level sociopathy of fictional slayers like Mason Verger. His entire persona is centered around the doctrine of eating the rude. If there's one truth about his character that is never questioned, it's his immaculate taste and elegance. He is revered for his charm, in spite of his private atrocities. In fact, even in the absence of any true redemptive characteristics, Dr. Lecter may be fiction's most likable villain.
Of course, inseparable from Mikkelsen's performance as Hannibal is his appearance. The man can wear a suit. For three years, Dr. Lecter was the best-dressed man on television, his wardrobe as immaculately tailored as his meals are immaculately prepared. Boasting an array of bold, unexpected patterns, styles, and color combinations, he is the absolute portrait of confident (if latently malevolent) class. As Bryan Fuller puts it, Mikkelsen's Hannibal is a "devil in a blue suit." He continues:
Lecter is really a bit of a dandy and someone who loves the finer things in life - someone who would have a bespoke wardrobe... I thought of Hannibal Lecter as this man who appreciates the beauty in life, who would love color and pattern and stimulating fabrics.
Hannibal prioritizes the preservation of his genuine self. Mikkelsen's inimitable micro-expressions, such as a small twitch of the lips, subtly convey what he's thinking in a way only someone who knows him as intimately as Will Graham would notice.
In the debut season's third episode, "Potage," when Hannibal walks into Will's classroom as he profiles the copycat slayer, he ever so slightly smiles, revealing his pleasure with Will's accurate analysis of him. He enjoys being seen, as he so rarely is.
Mikkelsen's version of Hannibal also has to hide his disgust when in the presence of those he deems inconsiderate. His stoicism allows people to project the persona they want to see, which explains how he manages to charm Baltimore's elite, including the FBI.
Even Alana Bloom can't help but fall for the doctor - her former mentor - once she believes she's gotten a glimpse into his sincere heart. Of course, even that version of him is false - and she pays the price.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Mikkelsen said his character is "as close as you can come to the devil, to Satan." When we're first introduced to Hannibal in Thomas Harris's novel Red Dragon, his criminal past is a mystery, and his personality is revealed in how he handles the case from behind bars. Mikkelsen's Hannibal, however, is free, allowing him room to explore how the character would operate without restriction.
Mikkelsen drew his inspiration from a more fascinating, more unstoppable force than a generic psychopath:
He's the fallen angel. His motives are not banal reasons, like childhood abuse or junkie parents. It's in his genes. He finds life is most beautiful on the threshold to death, and that is something that is much closer to the fallen angel than it is to a psychopath.