This Friday at 10pm marks the return of 'Hannibal', the creepiest and most stylish series on all of television, including cable. NBC's brave journey into the life of the world's most popular serial killer (sorry 'Dexter') begins its second season picking up where the first concluded, with FBI agent Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) behind bars, framed by one Doctor Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelson), who now consults for the FBI, as Will did before him.
Showrunner Bryan Fuller continues to paint a vivid story using imaginative visuals, rich, evocative characters and a deeply disturbing storyline, brought to life by an impressive team of creators. Costume designer Christopher Hargadon talked with me recently about the challenges of styling a well dressed cannibal and how his work fits into the overall vision of the show. This is the first part of a two part post, the second will run the Monday following this Friday's season premiere.
Thanks so much for making the time to talk. Thank you so much for your interest. And thanks for noticing the clothes! It's not always the case with the work that we do. It's kind of gratifying. I don't think of it as anything out of the ordinary, as you kind of develop things as you have to, but I'm glad that the look that we went for has been pleasing to people.
Is your approach to Hannibal similar to the way you've worked on other shows? Everytime we start up a project, it's like a new book. I think there's a process that a costume designer has to engage in that's sort of theoretically similar: you start off by visually researching whatever area applies to your project. In this case, it's contemporary, but in the very beginning I had a discussion with (showrunner) Bryan Fuller about how specifically this was not the Hannibal that had been seen before, he was something new, with a different person playing the part. His background, a kind of indeterminate European heritage, with an awareness of history and culture; personally, very erudite and cultivated. I wanted him to have a cutting edge look, very modern, but I wanted to integrate almost a historical feel into his clothing as well. So that he was very distinct and different from the people around him. Aspects of his clothing are almost Edwardian, the nipped waist, the narrow leg of the trouser, showcases the physique well. I don't think I've ever dressed anyone even remotely like this. I don't go for spread collars, I'm kind of a traditionalist, but I wanted him to have strong shoulders, bold ties; I like the peak lapels because it has an authority to it.
The checked pattern woolens is also something I've never really done before. He's also got a lot of color, but they don't quite read that way. The colors change in the lighting and the post production, but I'm quite happy with the overall effect, it blends into the overall harmony between all of the elements of the show. It gets subdued in a certain way. It's an interesting thing for me to observe.
Mads Mikkeson has a unique physical presence, one whose charisma and bearing allow him to wear those cutting edge clothes like a second skin. How did you approach dressing him as Hannibal? I knew of Mads, but didn't know a lot about him. He was unreachable, shooting in some remote place in Europe. I couldn't really speak with him and I like to speak with actors about the direction I want to go in, to get their input. They're going to wear the clothes and I want them to give me feedback and their ideas. I couldn't really have that discussion with Mads, until the day he arrived, which was a week to camera, I think. When I saw the clothes on him, they came to life; up until that point they were theoretical. We're just really fortunate to have somebody who has a dynamic physicality. He has a dancing background, and was a gymnast for years. I can't say that I've met a lot of people who can wear clothes the way that he can. He brings 80% to the thing, I believe.
And from what I understand, in real life he's a very casual dresser? Oh yeah, he's just wearing sneakers, training pants. (But as Hannibal) he inhabits the character. It's always heartening for me to think that actors do really benefit from the clothing to really be in the character. It's very rare that he's ever said that something wouldn't work, but he knows if it doesn't. If he's happy with it, it's instantaneous, if he's not, he'll just say it doesn't feel right for the scene or whatever.
In the second season, has Hannibal's style changed or evolved? I sort of go scene by scene. The odd time, after a fresh kill, I put him in something bright or happy, something shiny or proud. I've never gone to black (with anyone on this show). That was one of the requests that Bryan had very early on in the show, not to do him as an apparent bad guy. In subtle ways there have been evolutions, but honestly if I had an endless budget, I'd probably be doing grades of color differently, darkening it as we've gone along. But I haven't really ventured along that path specifically because there's a limit to how much I have to spend on this stuff (laughs)!
Part two of my conversation with Christopher Hargadon will be available on Monday, March 3rd.
'Hannibal' returns Friday, February 28th at 10pm on NBC.