Tasty turn by Mikkelsen as ‘Hannibal'

Published: Saturday, April 6, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 5, 2013 at 6:26 p.m.

It's fair to say that Mads Mikkelsen dines out on his new starring role.


Actor Mads Mikkelsen. (The Associated Press)

He plays the title character in NBC's new grisly gourmet drama, “Hannibal,” which focuses on Dr. Hannibal Lecter — scholar, connoisseur, cannibal — during an earlier, more nuanced time than was covered in the film “The Silence of the Lambs” and its sequel.

When Mikkelsen was offered the role, he hesitated to bite.

“It's been done to perfection,” he said, citing the indelible performance of Anthony Hopkins. “What could we add?”

Turns out, quite a lot.

Unlike Hopkins' Hannibal, Mikkelsen's version isn't “a madman in a (jail) cell. He's out in the world, where he can make friends and help people feel comfortable.”

In short, he's fully able to pass in polite society, as he must — especially if the series (which premiered Thursday at 10 p.m.) hopes to last.

“He's not a classic psychopath or a classic serial killer,” Mikkelsen added. “I believe that he's as close to Satan as can be — the fallen angel. He sees the beauty in death.”

Dr. Lecter is just one member of the series' motley trio. This brilliant psychiatrist is recruited to counsel a tormented criminal profiler, Will Graham (Hugh Dancy). Special Agent Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) is head of the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit, and he's counting on Lecter to keep Will on course.

Together they unite (or appear to) on a mission to track down ghastly serial killers — with neither Jack nor Will dreaming that the most depraved offender is part of their team.

This knotty alliance is what captured Mikkelsen's interest. When he first met with series creator Bryan Fuller (“Pushing Daisies”), he heard much talk “about this whole bromance thing between Hannibal and Will, and it sounded really cool,” he said. “The relationship between all these characters is what's actually fundamental to the story, not the individual cases.”

There are scenes of startling grisliness. There also are scenes of gruesome humor, as when Lecter serves elegant dinners to appreciative guests whose key ingredients are human body parts.

But some of the most gripping scenes are simple conversations between Hannibal and Will.

In one scene, he tries to console Will, who is traumatized after shooting a suspect.

“I liked killing Hobbs,” Will confesses with self-loathing.

“Killing must feel good to God, too. He does it all the time,” says Lecter gently. “And are we not created in his image?”

Born in Copenhagen, Denmark, 47 years ago, Mikkelsen is a matinee idol in his native land.

Though not a household name in the U.S., his face is increasingly familiar from his role as Le Chiffre in the 2006 James Bond film “Casino Royale,” and performances alongside Clive Owen in “King Arthur” and Liam Neeson in “Clash of the Titans.”

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