The NBC show Hannibal gave a subtle nod to Anthony Hopkins’s iconic turn as Hannibal Lecter in the form of the character Abel Gideon (Eddie Izzard). Gideon as a character has a lot of similarities to Lecter, but Izzard’s performance is vastly different from Mads Mikkelsen’s calculating and refined take on the cannibal doctor. Izzard’s Gideon more closely resembles Lecter as played by Hopkins, which was previously considered the definitive version of Hannibal Lecter.
Hannibal was a series that began airing on NBC in 2013 and was a loose adaptation of Thomas Harris’s novel Red Dragon. It was mostly set before the events of the book and took elements from other books by Harris that also focused on Hannibal Lecter. One of these books, The Silence of the Lambs, had been adapted by Jonathan Demme into an Oscar-winning 1991 horror film of the same name. In it, Anthony Hopkin as Hannibal stole the show playing the incarcerated serial killer and won the Best Actor in a Leading Role Oscar for it despite having limited screen time. His version of Hannibal, a hammy yet terrifying gothic villain, became what most people think of when they think of Lecter. So much so that when Hannibal was announced, many believed there was no way anyone could top Hopkins’ performance.
The show smartly did a very different take on Hannibal, and now Mikkelsen has become just as iconic for his own turn as the character. The show still wanted to honor the history of the franchise and the character, and they may have done that with Abel Gideon. While Mads Mikkelsen’s Hannibal is of course from the books, Gideon was created specifically for the show. He is a brilliant surgeon who killed his entire family and is first seen imprisoned for the crime. Izzard’s performance is wonderfully hammy and sardonic, and her appearance in the first season of the show served as a more familiar kind of killer for an audience to recognize. It brought a kind of theatricality to the character very reminiscent of Anthony Hopkins.
On top of that, even more parallels are drawn between Gideon and Lecter within the story itself. Frederick Chilton convinced Gideon that he was the Chesapeake Ripper, the name given to Hannibal Lecter before he had been caught. This was what initially caused Hannibal to set his sights on Gideon. Gideon himself became unsure of whether he really committed the crimes or not after Dr. Bloom and Will Graham questioned him on it. This was the show having Gideon mirror previous versions of Lecter even more than just simply characterization, and it opened the door for Mikkelsen to differentiate his unique take on the character even more from what came earlier.
There was doubt about whether anyone could replace Anthony Hopkins in the role of Hannibal Lecter, and the show Hannibal knew this. Yet by creating a character like Abel Gideon that reminds audiences of that iconic performance they were able to let Mads Mikkelsen’s own version of the character really shine in comparison.