Hannibal is an amazing show and I regret that I waited until it hit Netflix to catch up on it. The series contains great performances from the likes of Gillian Anderson, Laurence Fishburne and Richard Armitage, but the obvious highlight is Mads Mikkelsen’s unforgettable Hannibal Lecter. For my money, he even surpasses Anthony Hopkins’ Oscar-winning performance, combining terrifying intelligence, alien inhumanity and a warped moral code into one of TV’s greatest villains.
But it could all have been very different. When Hannibal creator Bryan Fuller was casting the show, he seriously considered Doctor Who star David Tennant for the lead role. This would have come hot on the heels of Tennant leaving the BBC science fiction series and seen him play against type away from heroic family-friendly parts and towards pitch darkness. Despite that, he got very close to getting the job, with Fuller explaining:
“I love David Tennant. 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.”
In the years since, Tennant has widened his range. He can still turn on the charm in shows like Good Omens, but has also excelled in darker roles in stuff like Jessica Jones, Broadchurch and the recent Des. It’s that last one that might give us the best clue as to how he’d be as Hannibal – manipulative, casually cruel and with an absolutely unreadable demeanor. Combine that with the viciousness he displayed as the MCU’s Purple Man, and we could have had something special.
Fuller certainly seems to have enjoyed the audition, saying:
“I do still have the audition on my laptop, and I watch it from time to time, and wonder what would it have been like, just because I love David and his acting style. But there’s no doubt in my mind that Mads Mikkelsen is the right person for this job.”
Even Tennant eventually admitted that he wouldn’t have been right for Hannibal, though, stating in a 2018 interview that:
“I met Bryan Fuller a couple of times, and we talked about it. But I think they quite wisely chose Mads Mikkelsen, I think he was a perfect choice for it, and I think he did things with that character that I wouldn’t have managed, so I think the right man got the job.”
He’s right. Even so, I’d love to see his Hannibal audition. C’mon Bryan Fuller, pop it on Twitter!