PASADENA — Hugh Dancy's the master of understatement when he says over a breakfast interview that Will Graham, his role on the NBC drama "Hannibal," isn't "the happiest character I've ever played."
That's like saying serial killer Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) has a passing fancy for finger foods.
The first season took Dancy's character from the bowels of depression to the padded walls of a mental asylum after he was accused of committing the gruesome crimes perpetrated by Lecter. When the second season opens Friday, things are going to get worse.
The character's depressed, down and unhappy — elements that made the role rich for Graham to play.
"It was a slow, steady buildup just starting from a place of basic depression. I felt last year, last season, that that spiral, that progression over the course of the 13 episodes, was so well charted out," Graham says.
The biggest clue to how far his character was going to fall came during his initial conversations with series creator Bryan Fuller. Dancy was told that at the end of the season his character was "going to vomit up into the air." That was all Dancy needed to know.
"In the relationship with Hannibal and working with Mads and kind of going further down that rabbit hole, it all, actually, fell into place in a very straightforward way. And dark as it may be, it was incredibly fun and rewarding. In fact, the worse it got for him, the more I enjoyed it, which may be to do with me. This season, it's even worse. So I've been very happy," Dancy says.
Season two opens with Graham knowing exactly the kind of monster Lecter is. Before he can begin to stop Lecter, Graham must prove his own sanity and convince those closest to him he's innocent of murder.
Graham's and Lecter's worlds are so dark that some viewers have raised questions about the show's violence. Fuller says the show tries to stylize the violence so it's heightened and not real.
"What we do on the show is sort of purple and operatic because, if it were real, I couldn't watch it. I couldn't work on it. So we are borderline fantasy with what we do on the show," Fuller says. "So I think it has to balance toward the psychology of what the characters need to go through and then we bend reality, but if we break it, believe me, we get reminded to sort of like step back. And we are a show in reality, but it's heightened."
Not everyone agreed Fuller accomplished his mission in the first season. The Salt Lake City NBC affiliate stopped airing "Hannibal" after receiving complaints about the graphic violence depicted in the program. It was one of the NBC shows the Parents Television Council pointed to as deserving more than a TV-14 rating.
"Hannibal": 10 p.m. Friday, Feb. 28 on KSEE (Channel 24.1)