Laurence Fishburne spent several months in Toronto this winter shooting Hannibal. Episode Two airs tonight at 10 p.m. on NBC and City.
The Tony and Emmy Award winner fielded questions from behind the desk of his character, FBI Behaviour Sciences Head Jack Crawford, when I visited the set along with some international reporters a few weeks ago. He was sipping tea from what looked like a specimen jar. “Something that Dr. Lecter would do,” he joked.
Hannibal is shot in Mississauga, Ont., in a stealth studio right near the Toronto airport. It’s the same place where another NBC drama was made, The Film, and where Rookie Blue and Saving Hope are shot.
Fishburne said he was getting plenty of shout outs from the streets of Toronto and hearing from fans of everything from the Matrix films to his early days as the original Cowboy Curtis on Pee-wee’s Playhouse.
Hannibal, like Fox’s The Following, is a pretty dark drama for a broadcast network. Much blood is spilled in the pursuit of serial killers. I asked Fishburne if he had any reservations about the material.
“Not after coming off of CSI,” he said. “The thing I liked about CSIis I felt I was a good fit for CSI because I’ve done a lot of dark stuff.”
He added that “violence on television is, you know, a staple of television. It’s an essential element to any kind of drama. You know, in order for us to play the kind of stories that we’re dealt, somebody’s gotta die!” Fishburne spelled it out even plainer: “What’s a story without a good death scene, right?”
Still, purely by coincidence, edgy promotional items for The Following was sent out the same day school children were being murdered in Sandy Hook. Fishburne has had film premieres in the past tripped up by violent headlines. “As Americans, we have a culture of violence. We just do,” he told reporters covering Hannibal for various foreign outlets. “And really, I think this last tragedy in
Connecticut has made it impossible for us to just continue to, like, business as usual, you know? So, we’re probably gonna have to make some changes.”
The 51-year-old actor was asked the usual question about whether he prefers film or TV work and gave the usual answer that work is work. I followed up by asking if he had any hesitation about committing to what could be several years in the same role. I didn’t ask it as a dig at his sudden departure from CSI, where he bolted after two seasons, but it sounded like it was taken that way.
“You know, it’s funny because I think of Matrix as being my first television series because I wound up working on that show from 1998 until 2003. I was committed to just pretty much The Matrix. So, no, I don’t have a problem committing to anything. As long as it’s good.”
Fishburne has become a big fan of the actor playing Hannibal Lecter, Danish actor and memorable James Bond villain Mads Mikkelsen. “He’s crushing his character, he’s really bringing all his powers to it,” says Fishburne. “I’ve been a fan since the Casino Royale movie. I mean, I really sat up and paid attention. I was like, who is this mother-fucker?”
You can read more on Fishburne, Mikkelsen and Hannibal–without the colourful language–in this feature I wrote for The Canadian Press.