By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Dressed in a tux and reciting Dante Alighieri's "Inferno" in perfect Italian, Hannibal Lecter is showing off his refined taste to its fullest amid Europe's discerning high society.
So begins the third season of NBC's "Hannibal" on Thursday, Bryan Fuller's stylized origin story of one of pop culture's most notable fictional cannibals, played by Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen.
Hannibal is hiding in the open with a new name in Florence with his former psychiatrist Bedelia Du Maurier (Gillian Anderson), after an explosive Season Two finale that saw him attack his confidante Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) and seemingly leave him for dead.
"We had been telling the story of Hannibal Lecter, foreigner in America, so far, and now we transition the story," Fuller said.
"He's returning to more familiar settings to lick his wounds. It allows us to explore the emotional bandwidth of his character and see him pining for his friend Will."
Fuller's "Hannibal," which premiered in 2013, explores the origins of author Thomas Harris' "Silence of the Lambs" character Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a brilliant psychiatrist and culinary connoisseur with a secret taste for human flesh.
The NBC show incorporates a crime procedural with an emotional exploration into the mind of a calculated, but not necessarily cold-blooded killer.
When discussing Hannibal with Mikkelsen, Fuller said he envisioned the cultured cannibal as "mysterious and very attractive."
"I see him as Lucifer, a fallen angel, he's magnetic," Fuller said. "The character in literature is a meaner human being and capable of great cruelty, but I like how Mads plays him - he has a preternatural quality to him."
"Hannibal" has struggled in network ratings, but Fuller said he feels buoyed by NBC's decision to push it from the spring season into June, saying he hopes "we will have less competition."
The show's deaths are bloody and creative, elevating terrifying mutilations into artistic beauty - one of Fuller's favorites was "cello man" in Season Two, a body carved into a cello with sounds produced from the vocal cords.
Fuller said the show's deaths were a "thematic umbrella" to tell the story of Hannibal and Will, the psychologically disturbed criminal profiler.
"As a gay man, I'm fascinated with heterosexual relationships between straight men," Fuller said, adding that he wanted to steer away from buddy comedy "bromances" and instead focus on two men "who have deep love and respect for each other."
(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Leslie Adler)