Richard Armitage on Hannibal Season 3

Richard Armitage plays Francis Dolarhyde in Season Three of the critically-acclaimed television series, Hannibal. We ask him about the role:

Can you talk a little bit about your character and where he fits into the series this season?
I don’t quite know where he fits in. I think … I feel like he kind of comes in around the middle of the series. It’s probably going to take me about 4 or 5 hours to talk about the character. One of the things I love about his character is the detail with which Thomas Harris treats it in that one novel, which has become a real bible for every day on set here. I think the main thing that fascinated me with the writing that Thomas did and that what Bryan Fuller has done is that it’s figuring out the crimes of a psychopath, and then giving the character such an interesting, rich history with which to sort of find a very winding, tormented path to the destination.

I haven’t seen or been on set for any of the aftermath or any of the characters that this character has committed, which has been really interesting, because I feel like when the character is in that persona, his brain is different. He doesn’t recall what he’s done, I don’t think. That’s why he films it and he watches it back. We played one scene where he’s watching footage of the crime, and it was really disturbing for me to see that, and, as the character, to sort of not comprehend what he’d done, and for it to feel that it was badly filmed, that it was badly executed.

That’s the root of the character, really, is somebody that is damaged by his history and is attempting to crawl out of his own skin and become something else, something greater.

Richard Armitage as Francis DolarhydeWhat kind of preparation did you do, getting ready for the role?
I had 10 days to read the novel and completely change my body shape, become some bodybuilder that Thomas Harris describes. Yeah, I did quite a bit of training, but 10 days is just not enough time. We really took the focus off, you know, making him … In the book, he’s described as a bodybuilder, so I took his military history, I took my own physique, and I took the psychology of someone that wasn’t happy with themselves and was trying to become better. We put him somewhere in the middle of that.

We did that. I worked with a speech therapist and did some research on cleft palate and cleft palate surgery, and also trying to speak with a Missouri dialect and a cleft palate. It’s a lot of stuff. There’s a lot of stuff going on here with Frances. It was interesting, because I didn’t speak, I don’t think, for the first episode. You don’t hear him really utter any words. His speech is slowly evolved throughout the 6 episodes, until the end when he’s eulogizing in a very succinct, poetic, gothic ways. It’s been interesting. That was the prep.

Were you familiar with Tom Noonan’s performance in Manhunter?
I should be, but I wasn’t. I’d seen the film a long time ago, probably when I shouldn’t have done, probably when I was about 14 or younger. But I deliberately didn’t go back and watch, because I know that both Ralph Fiennes and Tom Noonan created iconic characters, and I needed to create my own iconography, so we were looking for that. It is difficult. You do have to … Thomas Harris’ description is so specific that ultimately, that you will end up playing the same role, because he describes down to the finest stitch what his mask is made out of. So we needed to think of a kind of iconography for the character which was unique and specific to this show, and we created a great artistic tattoo for the character. Even the way that the cleft palate is executed on my face to make it very specific to me and to his history.

Francis has some iconic moments in the novel. How curious were you about what would get translated to the small screen, and what … sorry. Are we going to see certain things, like are we going to see Freddie, that iconic scene with Freddie and Francis?
Yeah, it’s interesting how … I read the book before I saw any of the Hannibal series, and I read it a couple of times. It’s quite a quick read, actually. Then I went back and watched series one and two. There were a couple of moments that I thought, “Oh, they’ve already played that. They’ve already played these lines.” But Bryan’s managed to pull out pretty much every single great detail that Thomas Harris wrote. Even if it’s been played before, he’s reinventing it in a slightly different context.

To me, that book is like a very … like a terrible, terrible symphony that is just being reinterpreted by a new orchestra. I don’t know why I use music. It just feels so gothic, this, whatever he does, whatever Bryan does with his show. It just has a kind of elegance to it, and a gothic tone that makes me think and feel in a musical way.

He’s very physical. He’s a very physical character, Dolarhyde, more so than I imagined. I think one of the things about playing someone that is insane is that you can’t detect insanity from looking at somebody, and to sort of reveal … to reveal insanity on screen, it has to have some kind of physical manifestation, and a linguistic manifestation. Again, I think insanity is incredibly difficult to write, because we look for logic in text, and we look for continuity. What you have to do is make him abstract and discontinuous, so that’s what we’ve done. I have no idea what any of this is going to turn out like. It’s been a big experiment.

HANNIBAL: SEASON 3 is out now on DVD and DIGITAL HD.