Executive producer Bryan Fuller tells EW he regrets not shooting at least one take where the pair kissed in the series finale.
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Hannibal executive producer Bryan Fuller didn't set out to write a love story between Mads Mikkelsen's titular cannibalistic serial killer and Hugh Dancy's Will Graham, a gifted and self-destructively insightful FBI profiler.

"It started out as kind of a fascination with how straight guys interact with each other in a romantic way that is not sexual," Fuller tells EW. "Initially, I didn't want to misrepresent Thomas Harris' characters because they clearly have heterosexual leanings in the source material, but as with the kids these days, that sexuality became much more fluid over the course of the series."

The palpable sexual chemistry between his two stars is what inspired Fuller to take the leap and start thinking about the series as a love story. "They really helped kind of leach that romance out of the page into something that was actionable that became writing dialogue that was, 'Is Hannibal in love with me?' and 'do you ache for him?'" says Fuller, referencing a loaded conversation Will has with Hannibal's therapist Bedelia Du Maurier (Gillian Anderson) in season 3. "I was just following the lead of the actors, as opposed to having a gay agenda. The gay agenda came later." 

Hannibal Season 2, Episode 13
Credit: NBC

For Fuller, the bloody season 2 finale, titled "Mizumono," is one of the most important benchmarks in Will and Hannibal's romance. In the episode, Hannibal and Will prepare to run away together because the FBI is closing in on the former; however, Will betrays Hannibal because he's still working for the FBI. Unfortunately, Will's plan falls apart disastrously, leaving his allies gravely injured. The two frenemies eventually come face-to-face in the killer's kitchen, and a visibly heartbroken Hannibal stabs Will for his betrayal in what essentially amounts to their break-up scene.

"I let you know me — see me," says Hannibal as Will bleeds out on the floor. "I gave you a rare gift, but you didn't want it."

"One of the things that I think was the key in terms of turning it into a romance was this idea of Will and Hannibal being the only person in each other's life that truly understood them and could truly see who they are and accept them on those terms," says Fuller.

In fact, Hannibal's aforementioned line was, surprisingly, inspired by Avatar, James Cameron's epic 2010 sci-fi movie about human beings trying to colonize a planet that's home to a blue alien species called the Na'vi. In the Na'vi's language, the phrase "I see you" basically means you understand and embrace everything about that person and is an important part of their culture. And Fuller ate this idea up.

"I thought, 'Oh, that's such an elegant piece of humanity that James Cameron has woven into this alien culture. I actually thought about Avatar quite a bit when Hannibal and Will would say to each other that they see each other and they have shown each other things about themselves that no one else can see," says Fuller. Thus, Hannibal telling Will, "I let you know me — see me" is "the greatest declaration of love that that Hannibal could make."

Hannibal
Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal Lecter, left, and Hugh Dancy as Will Graham on 'Hannibal.'
| Credit: Brooke Palmer/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

Throughout most of its run, Hannibal treated the pair's romance through metaphor; however, that started to change in the wake of the season 2 finale and as the third season progressed. In the back half of season 3, Will and Hannibal started to reconcile as they pursued the serial killer Frank Dolarhyde, and what had previously been subtextual rose to the surface. According to Fuller, that evolution made writer Don Mancini, "who was always advocating for and pushing for more demonstrative expressions of romance," very happy.

"When I wrote in one of the scripts, 'is Hannibal in love with me?' and sent it to the writing staff, Don immediately called and was squealing with glee that it had finally happened. It was finally in text and it was no longer in the realm of metaphor or suggestion. It was literal and it was spoken. That was probably the time that everybody really sort of went like, 'Oh, that's what we're doing,'" says Fuller. "It really wasn't agenda oriented, in a glorious way, because I love when a story and when characters tell you who they are and what they want to be. That was absolutely the case with Hannibal and Will, is that those characters and their story told us that they were in love."

All of this culminated in the series finale's climax, which saw Hannibal and Will kill Dolarhyde in a sensuous and gorgeously shot display of violence. Afterward, the two wounded men collapsed into each other's arms and fell off a cliff together.

Hannibal
Hugh Dancy as Will Graham and Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal Lechter in the series finale of 'Hannibal'
| Credit: NBC

"I love how Mads plays Hannibal as this broken-hearted anti-hero. And that makes the romance of season 3 so powerful, because his broken heart gets to heal and in a great way where they're sharing scenes and meals and murders together that is a culmination of sexual energy funneled into a physical act that is covered with body fluids and so it's... yeah, that's pretty gay," says Fuller with a laugh.

Last year, Mikkelsen revealed that he almost kissed Dancy in that scene, which Fuller confirms. While he's pleased with the final product, the producer regrets not shooting at least one take where they did lock lips.

"There were several takes and there was never any actual lip locking. But there was a lingering [in one take] where Mads's lips parted, hovering over Will's mouth in a way that went on... For a while. When I was watching dailies, it seemed like an eternity," says Fuller. "The issue for me was always, I didn't want to make their love story expectational or artificial or forced. I always wanted it to be organic. I didn't know in that moment if it would cross over into that level of physicality beyond holding each other, and there was something about holding each other and leaning in to each other and looking deeply into each other's eyes that felt more authentic and more romantic to me than a kiss ever would."

He continues: "But if I had to do it again, I might suggest to kiss and see how it played. But neither of the actors were ever afraid of going there. If there were any concerns, it was always just about the remaining authentic. That certainly was my goal because, yes, I absolutely wanted to see them kiss. That would be wank bank material for the best of us [Laughs]. But I was just really trying to maintain authenticity in the moment. The shot that's in there felt the most authentic and felt like it struck the right balance. But if I could get back into the editing room, I might do something differently now."

Let the "Release the Fuller Cut" petitions begin now!

Hannibal is available to stream on Hulu — so go watch this bloody show if you haven't.

A version of this story appears in the March issue of Entertainment Weekly, available on newsstands now. Read more from EW's celebration of TV's best romances of all time.

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