Who almost starred in NBC’s Hannibal instead of Mads Mikkelsen? The serial killer-themed show was cancelled in 2015 after only three seasons, and subsequently gained a cult following. Mikkelsen delivers a charming yet chilling performance throughout Hannibal’s 39 episodes, but it turns out that several bigger names were preferred during the pre-production process.
In pop culture, Dr. Hannibal Lecter is often associated with The Silence of the Lambs, a 1991 classic that works as a standalone film. However, the character was first introduced in Thomas Harris’ 1981 novel Red Dragon, which was later adapted as Manhunter by director Michael Mann, with Brian Cox starring as the focal serial killer. When Hannibal premiered on NBC in 2013, Anthony Hopkins was the best known and most prolific Dr. Lecter actor, evidenced by starring roles in The Silence of the Lambs, the 2001 movie Hannibal, and the 2002 adaptation Red Dragon.
Click the button below to start this article in quick view.
Mikkelsen is a household name in modern European cinema, yet he still may be unfamiliar to global streamers who aren’t familiar with Hannibal. And it’s that concept which initially concerned NBC executives who wanted a familiar star to maximize their weekly ratings, with James Spader of The Blacklist being cited as evidence of ideal casting (per Collider). Here’s every big name actor NBC almost chose over Mikkelsen.
Scottish actor David Tennant met with Hannibal showrunner Bryan Fuller several times about starring as Dr. Lecter. During the audition process, however, the Doctor Who franchise star was ruled out as a potential lead. According to a 2020 report (via Rolling Stone), Tennant’s likability as a performer ironically played out a role in NBC’s decision. Per Fuller:
“There was a levity to David’s performance in some ways that was an interesting contrast to Mads’ sobriety in the role. And I find David to be so much fun and so appealing to watch. It’s hard not to love David Tennant onscreen. And that may have had something to do with it. Honestly, it was a decision that was made above my pay grade. But that would have been an interesting extrapolation to see David Tennant as Hannibal.”
According to the previously-cited Collider exclusive, Fuller absolutely wanted Mikkelsen to star in Hannibal because of his natural demeanor. However, he received pushback from American executives who wanted a more recognizable star, such as Hugh Grant. Fuller reportedly urged NBC to make an offer, knowing the romantic comedy icon likely wouldn’t accept, which was indeed the case:
“It was an interesting dance because I’d say, ‘Mads Mikkelsen!’ and they’d say, ‘No, how about Hugh Grant?’ and I’d say, ‘Great, make an offer, he’s gonna say no,’ then they’d make an offer and he’d say no…”
Fuller revealed that NBC also named John Cusack as a potential lead for Hannibal, but the star ultimately rejected it too. During the early 2010s, Cusack was primarily known as a film star best known for headlining Say Anything and High Fidelity. In fact, he had never appeared on television, aside from a starring role in the 1999 TV movie The Jack Bull. When both Grant and Cusack passed on Hannibal, Fuller finally convinced NBC to go with Mikkelsen:
“Finally I just said, ‘Mads is the guy, that’s the guy I see in the role and I have to write it and I have to champion it and I have to understand it,’ and Jennifer Salke at NBC bless her heart was like, ‘Okay, that’s your guy. I believe you and trust you and I’m excited about your vision for the show.'”
More: Hannibal: Eddie Izzard’s Gideon Is An Homage To Anthony Hopkins’ Lecter
Star Wars Hints A Bad Batch Clone Was The Empire’s First Death Trooper
About The Author