“This great fiery personality with this fiery red hair…”
Lara Jean Chorostecki graciously allowed me to grill, um, quiz her on her portrayal of the sophisticated but ruthless tabloid reporter, Freddie Lounds, on NBC’s HANNIBAL. While the Lounds character has appeared in two movie versions of Thomas Harris’s novel RED DRAGON, the TV show reinterpreted the character, even changing his gender from male to female. The result, in this fan’s opinion, is a much more nuanced and interesting character better suited to long-form story-telling.
For those of us familiar with the source material, we know Freddie’s ultimate fate. But the good news is that the writers have started deviating enough from the books that anything is possible. So hopefully we’ll see lots more of Freddie in future seasons.
Question: Hi Lara Jean, I love the show and I absolutely love your version of Freddie Lounds. As you know, you’re in some great company with Stephen Lang [who played Lounds in MANHUNTER] and Phillip Seymour Hoffman [who played Lounds in RED DRAGON]. Did you feel any pressure following in their footsteps?
Lara Jean Chorostecki: For me, it wasn’t really an issue because my version [of the character] is so different. Bryan Fuller had outlined how we were going to take her in a slightly more sophisticated vein, and that already in itself takes me away from Hoffman’s and Lang’s versions. And I really think the gender switch gave me so much freedom to kind of recreate her. If I was male playing another male version of that character, it would perhaps be a lot of pressure considering those versions were so fantastic but being female and taking her in a more sophisticated but no less ruthless way made it a lot easier.
Question: I love that you describe her as sophisticated because she’s a real departure from the other versions. I read that she’s modeled after Rebekah Brooks [real-life red-haired tabloid news editor], who’s a pretty complex character herself. With so much raw material to draw upon — Rebekah Brooks and also the source material — where did you start and how did you first get a handle on how you wanted to play her?
Lara Jean: I did actually start with Rebekah Brooks because Bryan had modeled [Freddie Lounds] after Brooks and had told me so when I started preparing for the part. So I read a great Vanity Fair article on her [“Untangling Rebekah Brooks” by Suzanna Andrews], and I kind of started there and thought about her world and relation with [Rupert] Murdoch, and what a woman would have to be like to be able to succeed in the tabloid world. And then from there it’s been throughout Season 1 and Season 2 some development for her that has changed [her] because some pretty crazy stuff happens in front of her and it seems not to phase her, but I like to think it has internally over time. I think in Season 2, her relationship with Will and her relationship to Abigail show perhaps the stuff that’s appeared in front of her has affected her subtly inside and she just tries really hard not to show it in order to succeed in her world and maintain her own sense of power.
Question: She’s kind of a paradox. She’s manipulative, she’s willing to lie, but there’s also this part of her that really wants to find the truth. There’s this sincerity to her search for what’s really going on.
Lara Jean: Yeah, I think that’s part of the departure from Lang and Hoffman as well. Bryan has written in — and I hope I’ve brought it to life — that degree of sincerity to her and her work especially when it comes to Abigail at the end of Season 1 and the beginning of Season 2. There is a degree of “yes she’s ruthless, yes doesn’t have a moral compass,” but she does want to be authentic.
Question: She’s kind of admirable in a way.
Lara Jean: [She laughs.] I love that! Yes, she’s admirable. You’re the first person who’s ever said that about her [laughs].
Question: I’ve read about acting that you never want to play a villain as a villain. Instead, you want to find why the “villain” sees him/herself as the good guy, and then play them that way. What do you think is going on psychologically for Freddie Lounds that allows her to do the despicable things she does?
Lara Jean: She never feels unjustified. I think that’s a big thing. I think there’s a clear purpose and motivation to everything that she does. And that in itself takes her away from feeling that she’s a villain in any way. And she’s human. In the finale of Season 2 there’s a line where she talks about her start, which is authentic to the Thomas Harris novel [RED DRAGON], that she started as a cancer editor at a tabloid, writing about all these cures for cancer. And in that scene in particular I found in the writing a profound sense of loneliness to this girl. And that kind of isolation that she consistently has makes her to me — because I love her and I love playing her — not a villain in my eyes and therefore makes it pretty easy to not play a villain. And because of that need for truth and this kind of isolation, I think ultimately she is admirable in her own mind.
Question: Yes, I love that scene. And I think another thing about that scene is that maybe we even see a bit of sympathy in her towards Will. She says to him, “You really don’t know if you’re going to survive him, do you?”
Lara Jean: Mm hmm, I think what she reflects is that he’s an isolated, lonely character as well. I lot of the characters on our show really are trying to make these connections and not particularly succeeding.
Question: So it’s probably empathy she feels more than sympathy.
Lara Jean: Mm hmm.
Question: As you said, her role has evolved over the course of the two seasons. In Season 1, I saw her as kind of an obstacle for Will Graham, but in Season 2 she becomes an integral part of the plot and Will’s plan to bait Hannibal. How do you see her function on the show?
Lara Jean: I think you’re accurate in thinking in Season 1 she was definitely an obstacle. She was a very well-used tool. Being the kind of fiery personality she is, there’s a danger at times to over-use that character, and that’s where Bryan and his team of writers come in and craft something so well. I don’t feel that she’s ever over-used, and I really don’t feel she’s under-used either. I think they’ve balanced her quite perfectly in Season 1 and Season 2 to come in and make an impact whenever she does instead of kind of being this character that consistently does the same thing over and over, which is particularly a danger in Season 1 had they over-used her. I think the evolution that you see pivots around the Abigail storyline and how the writers have woven all of the characters around that core basis of humanity. I think Abigail was really used for every character as a touchstone of humanity — particularly Hannibal and Will — and then in Season 2, where I got to come in with Freddie and have that touchstone of Abigail and be in that horror that we’ve all been through together because we all were [connected] by this one storyline.
Question: One of the things that’s really interesting about Freddie is how she’s introduced. She’s sitting at her computer naked, she’s presumably just gotten out of the shower in what looks to be a motel room, and the implication later is that she slept with Agent Zeller to get access to the crime scene. Introducing a female character that way seems to require a delicate touch because you don’t want to fall into any kind of misogynistic caricature — like the evil temptress who makes men go bad. How do you walk that line to keep her feeling like a real person?
Lara Jean: I don’t feel there’s any degree of misogyny to her character. What I loved about playing her is that she basically always appears with the boys. So I’m either doing a scene with Laurence [Fishburne] or I’m doing a scene with Mads [Mikkelsen] or I’m doing a scene with Hugh [Dancy] or Eddie Izzard, so she always comes in on par with the boys. So I don’t really feel that she’s objectified in any way. And I think that intro is clever because it instantly tells you that she’s going to make an impact in your world. To introduce a character naked is just to say, “She’s going to be here and you’re going to notice her.”
And I thought it was quite a clever way to put the focus on this long mane of red hair also, which is, yes, a nod to Rebekah Brooks but also a nod to the RED DRAGON storyline and what may or may not happen to her when Francis Dolarhyde comes into the world, and what was already played out fakely in Season 2. So this great fiery personality with this fiery red hair, and that’s all she needs, she doesn’t need anything else. And then she gets into all this armor, this clothing that she wears that’s really out there, that again — getting back to the end of Season 2 — masks this isolation and loneliness by putting herself out there in such a bold manner. In the courtroom in Season 2 is a perfect example. I mean, who wears a big hat into a courtroom? Well, she does because it disguises her. I remember in Season 1 talking with Bryan and the wonderful costume designer Chris [Hargadon] about it. It’s the idea that this is the armor that she puts on as kind of a disguise to mask whatever her truth is inside.
Question: Another thing that stands out about the show is the writing and the dialogue. I think there’s a poetry and an eloquence that puts it on the same level as Aaron Sorkin’s THE WEST WING or even David Milch’s DEADWOOD. Being a writer yourself, what do you think makes the writing so effective and has resonated with this core audience — including myself — that’s just crazy about the show?
Lara Jean: I think you hit the nail on the head to say that there’s a poetry to it, and I love that you brought up DEADWOOD because DEADWOOD to me — it’s so tragic that it ended so soon — DEADWOOD is modern Shakespeare as far as I’m concerned. That series was excellent in terms of the writing. Sometimes fellow actors will ask me, “How much freedom do you have with the text,” and my response is, “Well, none because you don’t want to mess with it” because it’s like Shakespeare in that way. Good writing, good television writing like Sorkin or DEADWOOD or what Bryan does is so good there’s no other words you can choose other than the words that are on the page. And the joy of it is to mine that text. I come from a Shakespearian background actually, I started at the Stratford Festival here in Canada — it’s the largest repertory theatre in North America — and I have a Master’s in Shakespeare, and the same joy that I get from mining [Shakespeare’s text] I’ve re-found mining the text that I get to work with on HANNIBAL. Which is super-exciting because what’s on the surface is not necessarily what’s underneath — and that’s why it’s poetic — and what you’re trying to bring out is what’s underneath, through the cadence and the rhythm and the character. And I think Bryan’s work is fantastic, and Steve Lightfoot and the rest of our writers are so good.
And then of course the actors that we’re blessed to have and I’m blessed to work with bring that text to life so beautifully. I think Gillian Anderson and Hugh and Mads and Laurence and everybody does it so well that you get these incredibly well-rounded characters that are really exciting, and I think that’s why our show critically and with the fans has been so successful because it really resonates with people.
Question: Yeah, and I think it’s so incredible how these characters will say exactly what they mean AND the complete opposite of what they mean in the same exact line!
Lara Jean: Oh yeah.
Question: Thank you so much, Lara Jean. I know you’re working on a new show called CAMP X. I’m looking forward to seeing that and, of course, more of Freddie Lounds on HANNIBAL.
Lara Jean: Thank you. I’m looking forward to Season 3. And yes, I’m shooting CAMP X right now. I’m back in Budapest at the moment, and it’s also a great show, a World War 2 drama, so it’s very different but just as exciting.
The HANNIBAL Season 2 Blu-ray and DVD comes out Tuesday, September 16. Season 3 will air on NBC early next year.