Interview with ‘Hannibal’ Star Aaron Abrams

Aaron Abrams is a Canadian-born actor that has been in shows such as Rookie Blue and The LA Complex. He has also acted in many movies, including Young People Fucking which he also wrote and produced. His latest role is in the new show Hannibal which premieres on NBC on Thursday April 4th. He plays Brian Zeller, an arrogant crime scene investigator who gets on Will’s nerves. Check out what he had to say below, and read another HRC interview with Aaron here.

What is your favourite movie (that you aren’t in)?

Oh man. We’re off to a tough start. There’s so many? There’s like SO many. This might be the last question of the interview right here.  If I just want something that’s like comfort food then I’ll put on “The Last Boy Scout”. Listening to Bruce Willis be sarcastic is like warm tomato soup to me. I love anything with old school Paul Newman, Cool Hand Luke, Sweet Bird of Youth, The Hustler. There’s also hot zone for comedies from 86-88 when Steve Martin, John Candy, Rick Moranis, Bill Murray and John Hughes were all at the height of their powers. Any movie in those years that involved those guys. You’ve also got “Clue” and “Let it Ride” also in that time period.  What else, I could go on forever. Documentaries? I love documentaries  I’m not sure why there wasn’t a role for me in Spellbound. Lotta great parts in that I coulda done. Spelling Bee kid. Or that other spelling bee kid. Not sure where my agent was on that. 


What kind of role, that you haven’t done, would you really like to do?

There are a couple things on my childhood checklist that I’ve yet to do. A sports movie about plucky underdogs, buddy cops who don’t see eye to eye but grow to respect each other, but those are just the kinds of things that appeal to the kid in you so hard. I should say something like “Blue Valentine” to balance that out so I don’t look like an idiot.  I dunno. I’ve been fortunate that I haven’t really been stuck playing the same kind of guy for my whole career so the people you work with is more important at this point. Who’s going to lead you, who’s going to be acting opposite you. That’s going to be what makes you better, probably more so than a role. 

Ooo wait: maybe a buddy cop movie where like Michelle Williams and I are partners but we’re also married and trying to raise a kid and we’re crying and struggling with our relationship but also busting each other balls and trying to take down a drug ring?  I’m just trying to combine some stuff here.  To make it easier for you to put this together for me. Call it ”Rookie Blue Valentine.”  Bam. Okay, we talked about it. So now that’s officially a thing I can say is in “pre-production”. 


Which do you prefer working on, movies or TV? Why?

Both have their pros and cons. TV is more long form so you can explore more. You don’t exactly know where you’re character is going sometimes which can be freeing or confining depending on how you approach it. In movies you know the story in total, you get to have a beginning middle and end which is nice because a lot of fun stuff is the “end” part. TV doesn’t get to have a lot of those because everybody gets to come back week after week. Well, not Hannibal. Certainly not everybody gets to come back week after week on serial killer shows with amazing twists and turns. Some of those characters certainly get to have “endings”.  


Is it difficult to write for something you’re acting in as well, or do you prefer the added involvement?

The added involvement is a nice bonus. Sometimes when you’re just an actor for hire, you pop in and out of the project so you don’t get a sense of the thing as a whole. You can fall into “Is this what they want? Am I fitting in with the rest of this thing?”. But when you’re writing and/or producing, you know exactly what they want. Because they are you.

Acting in something you wrote can be harder though because its been in your mind a certain way, you’re trying to copy this thing that’s been in your brain and do it “Right”. Which is death. You can’t try to do things “right” because that’s not a real thing. So that’s one trap. Another is that its harder to think on your feet, to react to curve balls other actors are throwing you because its sort of locked in your brain, its generally tough for scenes to feel new. You sorta have to work extra hard to break everything down and unlearn everything you knew before you learn it back up again. 


If you were a real cop how do you think you would compare to Donovan Boyd? Would you be as much of a dirty cop as the Boyd? (from fan: penshawksleafs on Tumblr)

First off “PensHawksLeafs”…Pick a team, man. Secondly, and I know Rookie Blue fans are gonna have trouble with this, but Boyd was a kick ass cop for the most part? Wasn’t he busting a ton of badguys and breaking arrest records and stuff all over the place? Sure he did it using informants and sure he put a bunch of cops lives in danger by protecting those informants and sure he covered up some murders but I ask you: who among us has not? Oh. None of us have? Ah. Well then. As you were. Yah, I guess he was pretty dirty. And no, I don’t have anything in common with Boyd. Except that if I was a cop, I’d totally do that thing where you wear the badge around your neck on a chain like Boyd did.  Also, I guess we have a similar face. 


Next up you’re in Hannibal as Brian Zeller, can you tell us a bit about your character?

I play Zeller, who’s in the FBI agent and kind of a medical genius. So he can be arrogant and often butts head with Hugh Dancy’s character, who is new to our crew and has very different ways of catching bad guys.  I don’t often play smart people…for reasons I chose not to explore …so yah, Zeller is a lot fun. 


What interested you in the role?

“Manhunter” was the first scary movie I ever saw that wasn’t about a bunch of teenagers in a cabin getting all machete-chopped by a dude in a mask. I didn’t know movies like that existed. It was creepy and cerebral and I may or may not have pooped myself. I own the DVD, I have the soundtrack on my iPod, its one of my favourite movies. I was thrilled just to be auditioning for a character in that world. Secondly, the people involved. You never know how something is going to turn out but when its Hugh Dancy, Laurence Fishbourne and Mads Mikkelson – you get the feeling its going to be alright. When Bryan Fuller is the showrunner, you get the feeling its going to be alright. Then David Slade, Michael Rymer, Guillermo Navarro directing and…yah, you get pretty strong feeling it’s going be something special that you want to be involved with.


How did you first hear about this show and get involved with it?

I auditioned for it. A few times. How they auditioned was another reason I got so excited about it. I was in there for an hour, they wanted to talk and explore everything, try things a hundred different ways. It makes you excited to work. Normally, you go in and they go “right, raspy-ish voice, unshaven-ish face, we get it, that’s what you do”, they decide if that’s what they want and the whole thing is five minutes. And it can feel like 5 hours. And really, it only needed to be 5 seconds. But with Bryan and David and everybody, the process becomes very specific, there was a lot of interaction, conversation. That kinda stuff brings the best out in everybody. 


Did you do much research for the role?

We had to do some forensics training. They taught us how to approach crime scenes, all the procedures, how to physically gather that evidence. It was pretty meticulous. Then back at the lab, there’s a lot of autopsy stuff my character has to do. So again smart people have to come in and teach dodo heads like me how to dig around in dead bodies in a way that’s authentic. If there was ever down time on set, I’d go over and pick their brain. I like to do as much research as possible for any role, it just helps me feel comfortable. Having done a bunch of research gives you something to lean on in those moments where you’re positive the whole room knows that you don’t know what you’re doing.  It helps soothe the neurosis. 


Who do you have the most fun interacting with in your scenes?

Scott Thompson from Kids in the Hall and The Larry Sanders Show is often standing next to me in scenes and our energies fit well together I think. He plays sorta an eccentric who’s prone to asides and quips and I’m like this driven blunt guy and it just feels like buddy cops in the best way. Laurence is also great, he’s always surprising. Because my character is a bit of a button pusher – every once in a while Laurence will decide that his character’s had enough and will lose his shit and just yell his lines at me. Which…is terrifying. Again, some pants-pooping may or may not have taken place.  I’ve never heard a voice boom like that. There’s like super loud yelling, then there’s like I don’t know, an angry Tyrannosaurus-Rex I guess? Then the next level up is Fishbourne yelling. That’s the order that goes. 


Other than Hannibal, do you have anything else you’re working on that you can tell us about?

I’m still writing, the scripts are starting to pile up a bit. Hopefully one of those can now get off the ground now that I’ve got a sec. I finished a shooting an indy film called “It Was You Charlie” with a great new filmmaker named Emmanuel Shirinian that should be out next year. I’m involved with a charity called “Live Below The Line” that’s doing some amazing things, bringing awareness to poverty, I encourage everyone to check them out. Unless you’re for some reason “pro-poverty”. In which case: what the hell dude? 

I’ve read that you wanted to be a James Bond villain as a kid. In this show you’re working with one of the great Bond villains in Mads Mikkelson, who was in Casino Royale. What’s it like working with him as he plays Dr. Hannibal Lecter, another classic character?

I think he comes from a dancer background and so he has this natural elegance. Bryan Fuller likes to use this expression “Elegant Horror” when describing the show and Mads totally embodies that with his take on Hannibal. You know he’s insane, you know he’s a murderer…but it’s like you still want to go to his dinner parties because you know they’ll be fabulous. 


What are some of the differences that set this show apart from other criminal profiling shows?

It has procedural elements, but it’s not a ‘crime of the week’ show really. There are long story lines that pay off in different places throughout the season, which lends itself for more surprises and twists. Its a show with “previously ons”‘.  Yknow?  I think that kind of storytelling allows a reward for a viewers investment in a different way.


Without giving too much away, what should we expect for the season?

It’s sort of one of those things where if I say anything specific, it will spoil the awesomeness. So…you should expect “awesomeness”? I guess I’ve established that. It’s going to be disturbing, I think people will be surprised in how compelling and hypnotizing it looks and feels and how ultimately that’s what makes it the creepiest show on TV.  It’s attacking all your senses at once. it looks great, it sounds great, it feels great, there’s a lot of delicious food in there…both human and non-human, so that’s the taste part.  Fear? Is that the last sense? I feel like it is. You can expect that. There’s going to be some  Fishbourne style Tyrannosaurus yelling. There’s going to be some previously ons. What other things did I say in this interview that I can turn into a callback bit? Oh, I will totally be wearing my FBI badge around my neck on a chain on occasion. So, yeah. You can also be expecting some of that. 

Don’t forget to check out the premiere of ‘Hannibal’ Thursday night on NBC at 10/9C!

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