WATCH Standard Talk / BAFTA New York In Conversation with Hugh Dancy
If you haven’t seen the critically acclaimed Hannibal, now approaching its third season on NBC, then you haven’t seen one of the most psychologically demented and blood-splattered shows, like, ever. Briton Hugh Dancy plays a criminal profiler opposite Mads Mikkelsen as the infamous foodie Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Dancy's credits include Black Hawk Down, Elizabeth I, Confessions of a Shopaholic, Saving Grace, Hysteria, and Evening, the last of which he co-starred with his future wife Claire Danes. Ms. Danes sat beaming with pride while Dancy delighted the crowd at The Standard, High Line for the second BAFTA New York In Conversation Series. Standard Culture had the pleasure of a one-on-one where we talked empathy, accents, and being totally grossed out.
STANDARD CULTURE: Let's start with a hybrid questionnaire, sort of Proust meets Actors' Studio meets Le Bain. Current state of mind?
HUGH DANCY: In transit
Favorite city to have a good time in?
Idea of sublime happiness?
Being with my extended family in France.
Last thing that made you roll your eyes?
I had to go to a T-Mobile store this morning and it had me rolling my eyes in about 4 minutes.
What hangs above your sofa?
Collection of different bits and pieces of art ranging from some old pieces of junk that I picked up for five bucks to some really nice photos I bought in galleries. It’s sort of a jigsaw puzzle.
Talent you wish you could have?
Ability to create music.
Favorite curse word?
Fuck. It’s such a brilliantly malleable word. You can just take it and put it in your pocket and use it all evening.
Hugh Dancy and Maggie Gyllenhaal in Hysteria (2011)
Hugh and his wife Claire Danes at The Standard, High Line
Hannibal is set in Minnesota, but your character, Will, doesn't have a Minnesotan accent don't-cha-know?
Will is itinerant for a lot of his youth. Not unlike me actually. It’s my understanding and maybe we’ve extrapolated it, but he was definitely on the move with his father ... Long story short, that gives me carte blanche to sound however the fuck I want. [B.T.W. Itinerant means traveling from place to place. We had to look that up, too.]
It seems English actors can come to the U.S. and do pretty solid American accents. Americans, perhaps, seem a bit more challenged going the other way ... Is your American accent something you worked on?
Well, I have certainly heard some bad American accents from British actors and some great English accents from American actors, so I don't really think that's true. That said, I think because a lot of the movies and TV that we’re exposed to in England are American, we grow up with that noise in our heads, but you could approach that lazily as well. There is a sort of relaxing of the mouth that results in a strange pseudo-American, pseudo East-Anglican drawl. That said, I do think it’s easier going in the other direction. It’s a lot easier to soften up your consonants than tighten them.
You lost me. Which way is which?
Moving from an English accent to an American accent involves softening the consonants so the T’s become more like D’s. There’s also less tonal range. You tend to be ... not monotonous, but more like a straight line.
Everybody do the totem pole
Dancy playing a human cello on NBC's "Hannibal"
What is it about gore and serial killers that people love so much?
You know, I’ve been offering up pseudo-answers to this question for quite a while and it had finally struck me: I have no idea. That would be a much more honest response.
Do you personally enjoy the genre?
I enjoy good versions of the genre. When I started on Hannibal I went off and started reading Thomas Harris’s books and I immediately understood it. He – to some extent – created that genre, not necessarily of murderers and serial killers, but of the fun, sophisticated, sharp guy who also happens to be a total monster. But we like seeing the “undoable” or the “unthinkable” and we are drawn to people who do awful things because it’s so taboo.
Your character has the gift of "pure empathy" to a degree that he basically re-lives the crimes. Do you see any parallels between his gift and the craft of acting?
Yeah, to some extent you’ve got to find your way in there. There's a parallel. Some people say, "you’ve got to like every character you play." I don’t know if that’s true. You’ve got to enjoy playing the character perhaps, but still hold in the back of your mind that he’s also a bit of a prick.
Most disgusting thing on the show so far in your opinion?
Easily the most disgusting thing is the opening of episode two of the second season. When the character, who has been sewn into the human mural, rips himself free. There are a lot of moments when I can’t believe what they're going to show. I wasn’t involved in the filming of that, so I only saw it in the final version and I was doing the classic hands-on-the-face, scream-laughing in disbelief. It was really disgusting.
What kind of research did you do? Did you have to research cannibals and such?
Not really. Hannibal, as well as Will, were really the inventions of the author. Will was also blown up from some people that Harris met who worked in profiling. At that point, those were the people who pretty much created the science of profiling. Although at the time it wasn’t viewed as a science. It was viewed as just a bunch of mumbo-jumbo-voodoo.
There are some striking similarities between your character on Hannibal and your wife's character on, Homeland – both psychologically unstable profilers working for the government. What would happen if those two characters met?
I am just so far from imagining that happening. There’s a lot of superficial parallels between the shows, not least the fact that we both ended up institutionalized and the very thing that put us away being the only thing that’s going to help us. But once you get past that stuff there’s no comparison because the tone of the two shows is so wildly different.
Do you ever share notes, talk biz with your wife? Or is it strict church and state?
No it’s not strict, of course not. I’d be crazy not to ask her for advice. Ha, and so would she. I can only speak for myself, but I love what I do and I do most of my shop talk with the people I’m collaborating with on that project, and so it’s more like any marriage where you discuss how your day was.
No social media? We couldn’t find you anywhere on Instagram.
Oh no, I have one. It’s just private. I just recently passed a 100 followers and I was just stoked about that, mostly because I actually know a hundred people. That’s the only form of social media I have. Although I do think it’s great. In a personal way, I have benefited so much from social media. It really has helped the following of our show.
Finish this sentence: Checking into a lovely hotel makes me feel...
There is a time and a place for everything.