“The title of the show is not BEVERLY. It’s HANNIBAL.”
Hettienne Park, who portrayed crime scene investigator Beverly Katz on NBC’s HANNIBAL, took time away from her newborn baby (yes, I DO feel guilty about that), to talk to me about gallows humor, racism and sexism on TV, and of course, what it’s like to work on my favorite TV show of all time.
Spoiler Warning: We discuss a pretty major Season 2 plot point that’s related to her character’s story arc.
Question: How did you first get involved with the show?
Hettienne Park: I was performing in a play on Broadway and Bryan Fuller [creator of HANNIBAL] came to see the show. Later on, I auditioned for the role of Beverly Katz. And then I got offered the job.
Question: What about the initial meetings and/or script attracted you to the show and to the Beverly Katz character?
Hettienne: I remember reading the script for the pilot episode and I literally could not put it down. It was the best television script I had read — suspenseful, creative, unpredictable, profound, and seasoned with this great gallows humor. And Beverly Katz seemed like a real bad ass and sort of strange. At least that’s what impressed me about her.
Question: How familiar were you with Bryan Fuller’s earlier work?
Hettienne: I had seen PUSHING DAISIES and I loved the heightened reality and the whole look of the show. Once HANNIBAL was on my radar, I remember being immediately intrigued and curious when I realized Fuller was behind NBC’s HANNIBAL. It seemed like a complete 180 going from this colorful comedy about a pie-maker with these magical abilities to this intense thriller about the most dangerous cannibalistic serial killer in fiction. As it turns out, HANNIBAL is distinctly Bryan Fuller. It’s brilliant and so much fun to watch.
Question: How familiar were you with the source material and the movie adaptations? Some actors like to really dig into the source material and others like to free themselves of it and come to the part fresh — what approach did you take with HANNIBAL?
Hettienne: SILENCE OF THE LAMBS was already one of my favorite films so I was very familiar with Hannibal Lecter. And our show takes place before Thomas Harris’ RED DRAGON, which is before SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. I had only read RED DRAGON after booking the show. And Beverly Katz is only briefly mentioned in the novel. Then I watched MANHUNTER [the first film adaptation of RED DRAGON] after we shot season one, and Katz only briefly appears in the film. I guess I prefer going into things with my own ideas so I can feel creative. But if you’ve got the time and haven’t done it already, it’s amazing to read the novel and then see how Bryan adapts the source material to the TV show. And there’s so much in homage to the horror genre. It’s all in the details.
Question: The consensus is (and I agree) that you (and Scott Thompson and Aaron Abrams) brought a lot of humanity and life to characters that — on the page anyway — seem to be there simply to advance the plot. How much room were you given to find those creative opportunities to really make Beverly Katz come to life as a three dimensional person that viewers cared about?
Hettienne: It was fun to fill these characters out when they didn’t have much more to do than process crime scenes and provide some technical exposition. Bryan made it clear from the very beginning that he didn’t want any of us to just be generic crime scene guys you see on most procedurals. Plus with Scott Thompson and Aaron Abrams, there is no way they won’t bring humanity and life to their characters because they’re hilarious. I also talked a lot with our forensics expert who gave us a crash course training session before we began shooting. What these guys do, what they see, and how they cope is fascinating. Not that you necessarily see any of it, but I definitely tried to use all of that information and adapt it to Katz as much as possible.
Question: The original plan was for Beverly to die in Season 1, and you’ve said in other interviews that Bryan Fuller revealed that to you even before you started shooting the first episode. But when that changed, at what point were you informed that your character would be killed in Season 2?
Hettienne: Yes, Bryan told me at our first meeting what his plan was for Katz. Then while we were shooting season 1 he came to set and pulled me aside and asked if I would come back for season 2. He said he wanted to keep the rapport that Beverly and Will had established and then kill her during season 2 instead. So the only surprise for me was the manner in which Katz would bite it, which was pretty awesome.
Question: Do you play a character any differently knowing how her arc will end (in this case, in murder)?
Hettienne: No, I don’t think you can since there is no way the character is expecting to kick the bucket.
Question: Beverly Katz’s introduction in the pilot episode is the first real moment of humor in a very dark show. And from what I’ve read from you online, you seem to have a great sense of humor about life in general. Gallows humor, of course, is a part of how humans deal with the horrors in life, but how much of the humor in Beverly’s scenes is something you bring to the character, and how difficult is it to strike the right balance between drama and comedy in a show like HANNIBAL?
Hettienne: I think there’s a very thin line between drama and comedy. As you said, humor is how humans deal with the horrors in life. Some of the comedic dialogue came from the writers. And a lot came from us improvising. Bryan mentioned early on that he deliberately wanted comedic actors to play ZPK (Zeller, Price, Katz) because he’s smart like that. Man, I wish I had all the footage of the stuff that never got used. Laurence, Mads, and Hugh are all hilarious too.
Question: In your response to the accusations of racism and sexism directed at Bryan Fuller and the show following Beverly’s death, you wrote, “[if Bryan Fuller hadn’t made that choice] my character would’ve probably remained in the background processing crime scenes regurgitating technical exposition. Instead — albeit not for very long — he wrote enough for Katz to make people get to know her a little better, actually identify with her, and like her enough to care when she gets killed.” [Read her full letter HERE.] You’re addressing an interesting dichotomy: As an isolated story choice, it seems killing Beverly was the “right” choice; but in the greater context of cultural racism/sexism in entertainment, it’s the dearth of strong roles for women and minorities that makes such a story choice feel “wrong.”
My question to you (finally, right?): Now that some time has passed, how do you look back on the controversy and it’s positive or negative impact on the larger diversity issue? And what signs if any do you see that suggest things might be changing for the better?
Hettienne: It’s absolutely a double-edged sword, I agree. I think if it wasn’t a show about a serial killer, I’d be more up in arms about the whole thing. Generally speaking, yes, of course, controversy is a great way to get networks and studios to take notice and maybe think twice. The reality is they ultimately only care about bottom lines. If there is a demand for diversity and that translates into dollars, they will make changes. And hopefully writers’ rooms will continue becoming more diverse as well. My main point when I wrote that post was that I just wish we could argue about it with some civility and that not all white guys are evil and that I’d rather focus on the positive. I think the more we see minorities in roles that aren’t stereotypical (like the quirky sidekick, or the computer nerd, or the best friend, etc.), those are signs that things might be changing for the better. A great example off the top of my head — Mindy Kaling [actor, writer, director, producer]. She’s definitely changing the game. But yes, we need to see more, absolutely.
Question: Even though I absolutely loved Season 2, one thing I thought was odd was that both Will and Jack seemed to have forgotten about Beverly by the end of the season. Not that we should have had a “This one’s for Beverly” scene, but I thought for sure Will’s guilt over Beverly’s death would be more overt. Do you have any thoughts on how Beverly’s death shaped Will’s and Jack’s choices as the season continued and why the writers didn’t make it more explicit in those final episodes?
Hettienne: I do think Beverly’s death marks a turning point for Will where we see him begin to change and decide to play the game with Hannibal. And I think it might be the last straw for Jack as well as we see how he plays his own cards by the end of season 2. But I can’t answer why the writers didn’t write more regarding the aftermath of Beverly’s death. My guess is there’s only so much they can cram in especially as they’re introducing new characters. I think Beverly’s send off was both horrific and respectful and they simply had to get on with the series. Or maybe they really are racist. Or sexist. Or both. I really don’t think so. But I just don’t know. Would I have liked it if maybe Price and Zeller shed some real tears and maybe weren’t so quick to get back to cracking jokes? Maybe Price falls off the wagon in grief and Zeller confesses to his secret love for Katz? And Jack gets the BAU [the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit] to erect a bust of Beverly in memoriam in the morgue? Yes, I would have liked all of that. But the title of the show is not BEVERLY. It’s HANNIBAL.
Question: Thank you for being so generous with your time, Hettienne! I’ll continue to enjoy your work on HANNIBAL during my many Season 1 and 2 re-watches, and I’m looking forward to seeing what you do next. Best to you and your family!
Hettienne: Thank you, Curtis!
The HANNIBAL Season 2 Blu-ray and DVD comes out Tuesday, September 16. Season 3 will air on NBC early next year.