“I’m Just a Guy Who Works in a Morgue!” A Conversation with Hannibal’s Scott Thompson

Hannibal

Hannibal fans have always been blessed by a cast and crew that is just as enthusiastic for a revival as they are. The hilarious Scott Thompson is no exception.

Scott played Jimmy Price, part of the forensics team that was dubbed “Team Sassy Science” by fans of Bryan Fuller’s sumptuous horror show. Hannibal ran for three seasons before its network, NBC, announced in 2015 it would not be renewed for a fourth. But the Fannibals have never given up hope—and in August, Fuller revealed that “conversations” about a potential resurrection have begun.

Scott remains optimistic. Since hanging up the lab coat, the Canadian actor and comedian has been hard at work with a variety of exciting projects, even appearing (albeit briefly, but very memorably) on Fuller’s new show, American Gods. He’s also received rave reviews for his recent stand-up show and his stage performances as Buddy Cole (one of the most iconic characters from his tenure on The Kids in the Hall), with L.A. Weekly naming him the year’s Best Comedy Comeback. But he would wholeheartedly embrace the chance to get back in the lab.

Before setting off for a well-earned vacation, Scott took the time to chat with me about the enduring legacy of Buddy Cole, the private life of Jimmy Price, and the surprising fate he would love for Jimmy to have if Hannibal gets that coveted fourth season. 

SAMANTHA: You recently returned to playing Buddy Cole. You’ve been playing him now for about 30 years.

SCOTT: Yeah, it’s getting on there.

What was it like bringing this iconic gay character back in such a radically different political and social climate?

Well I’ve always done him. I’ve never really abandoned him. So it’s not that big of a deal for me, because I’ve never stopped writing for him and I’ve never stopped performing in character as him. But it is definitely a different social climate.

I’ve been doing stand-up quite a bit lately, and that’s very different. But Buddy Cole, when I did the show, people loved it. It felt like the time is right for him. What’s fascinating about his monologues from the last 25 years, basically since The Kids in the Hall went off the air, is that people really enjoy watching [them] move through time. And people are kind of surprised, especially young people when they watch it. It’s like, “Oh my god, that happened? It was like that?” Because I don’t think people really quite realized what it was like, especially for gay men back then.

I completely agree. I grew up in the UK, so I only saw The Kids in the Hall more recently. I was really surprised by how open and how frank it was; I never saw any TV like that when I was growing up. It was really refreshing, and I can only imagine what it was like for people when it first aired.

Oh! When it first came out, oh my. [Laughs] Yeah, it was pretty polarizing. You know, we were Canadian, so in a way we’re caught between the two giants, England and America, and not taken seriously by either. And when you’re not taken seriously, sometimes you’re allowed to go further. But bringing Buddy back has been great, because there’s things that I did in my act that I know make people uncomfortable, but when I do it as him, people love it.

Do you think that audiences are getting more accustomed to hearing very frank discussions about gay relationships and gay sex?

Oh absolutely, that’s a huge change. I mean, when I first started performing, people were so uncomfortable that Buddy Cole could send half the room fleeing. And a lot of people who didn’t like him were gay people. They were very uncomfortable with him. What’s interesting now is that it’s not as much the content that throws people, it’s the way he behaves. I think people are so conditioned now [to think] “Is that guy making fun of gay people?” [They’re] not used to seeing that kind of caricature. Buddy just owns his effeminacy, and doesn’t give a damn what anybody thinks about him. And that’s kind of freeing.

You’ve mentioned that one of your favorite things about playing Jimmy Price on Hannibal was the fact that Bryan Fuller wrote him in such a way that his sexuality was the least interesting thing about him. It wasn’t relevant.

To be honest, I don’t think there was sexuality. There was no sexuality to Jimmy, really. If there was, it was people projecting it onto him. But in terms of actually being written into the character, I don’t think it’s really part of him almost at all. I’ll never play Jimmy gay.

Was it refreshing to be pitched a role in which you weren’t pigeonholed, where you could just play it however you wanted to?

Oh yeah! Oh god yes. I waited my whole career for that. I waited forever. Most of my career until recently was basically playing gay characters that advanced an agenda, or gay characters that reflected positively, which is so boring for art. It’s a terrible trap to put an actor in. What is this—art or activism? It got very frustrating for me. So yeah, Jimmy Price was a delight. Like, oh, I’m just a guy who works in a morgue! Excellent.

Now, I know that you’re a big fan of the fantasy genre.

That’s what I’m working on right now actually. I’ve been up all night working on a pilot for a series I’m trying to get made, which is fantasy.

Oh, excellent! Can you give us any teasers into that project?

It’s called Husk, and I’m developing it as an animated series. It’s based on a graphic novel that I published a few years back, called The Hollow Planet. I’ve got my fingers crossed, but it looks really good.

Speaking of fantasy, I think that, in many ways, Hannibal is a dark fantasy show.

Oh yeah.

Jimmy Price, along with Aaron Abrams’ Brian Zeller, is almost one of the things that tethers it to the real world. Was that something you considered while playing Jimmy?

That’s interesting. Yeah, I actually agree with that. I think that Jimmy and Brian are maybe the only two sane characters. They are the link to the real world. They’re never part of the murders; they’re never dragged into it in any way. They’re always on the outside, and they always keep their heads. So yeah, in some ways I do believe they’re our fragile link to the real world.

Even though they don’t get involved in the murders, they’re still the people who are standing over these horribly mangled corpses and delivering some of the show’s most comedic lines while they’re doing it. Was this blend of horror and wickedly dark comedy something that attracted you to the role in the first place?

Well, it’s something I certainly grew to enjoy. But I read the pilot—I thought it was an incredible pilot—I auditioned for it, and I didn’t expect to get it. I just did it as a lark, like, “Oh, no one will give me this part!” But I’d watched other things that Bryan Fuller had done. The guy’s brilliant—I loved his work, anything he does.

I didn’t quite realize where it would go. I just loved the story, you know? I like stories. And even if I have a small part in it, I’d rather have a small part in a great story than a big part in a terrible story.

Fans got to see you recently in Bryan Fuller’s latest show, American Gods, where you met a very sudden and grisly demise. After playing the man picking through the gory crime scenes on Hannibal, was it fun to experience it from the other side?

[Chuckles] Oh yeah, it was great. Every actor wants to have great deaths on screen.

That was a pretty spectacular one.  

It was a good one, yeah.

Now on Hannibal, you got to act opposite the legendary Lawrence Fishburne. How do you begin to mentally prepare yourself for that?

You don’t. You just don’t. You just have to throw yourself in there! I was very nervous when I met him; I’ve been a big fan of him forever. But from day one, we got along really well.

But I was scared—those first few takes or so, oh, I was terrified. He’s a great actor, he’s got a huge reputation, he’s really charismatic, and when you look at him, you can’t help but see all those roles. He’s a great guy. One of the great things about the show was that everybody was really fun. Everybody had a great sense of humor, and it was a really light set. Lawrence was definitely part of that.

Bryan Fuller has confirmed that talks about a potential fourth season of Hannibal have officially begun. If the show does make a return, how do you think Price and Zeller would react to the events of the finale, which saw [spoilers!] Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) and Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) plunge from the edge of a cliff in each other’s arms.

I think Jimmy would say, “I called it!” That’s what he would say—”I knew it!” That’s exactly what I thought.

Are there any aspects of Jimmy’s character that you regret not having had time to explore during the show’s run or that you’d like to revisit in a fourth season?

Yeah. I’d have liked to explore a little bit of Jimmy or Brian’s personal life. I’d love to know a bit more about who they were outside of the lab. That would be nice. If that ever happens, if there is a fourth season, I’d love to find out something about that.

People can make conjecture about it all. I made my decisions very early on about who Jimmy was, and I acted that way appropriately. I would love to see if Bryan [Fuller] had the same picture that I did!

In an episode of Hannibal’s “Post Mortem” interview series, you mentioned that you think that Price and Zeller are a little bit jealous of Will Graham from the start, since Jack Crawford treats him like the Prodigal Son. Do you think they might be secretly thrilled that he’s kind of blown his chances of getting back in Jack’s good graces?

I think maybe a little bit. Because it’s true—they’re smart, they’re very educated, they’ve worked hard their whole lives, done everything by the book. And then this guy comes in, and how does he solve crimes? Hunches. That would drive you crazy. Yes, there would be a little schadenfreude at his fall.

It’s been more than two years since Hannibal ended, but the fans are still just as eager for a resurrection. You’ve attended fan conventions in the past and are appearing at the upcoming FannibalFest convention in November. What has your experience been like of meeting the fans so far?

It’s fun. I love fandom. I’m a big fan of many things, and I love the creativity that people bring to it. For me, it also gives me a chance to perform live. I do standup, I tour all the time, and these conventions are kind of an opportunity to just fool around and be funny. For me and Aaron [Abrams] particularly, because we’re such small characters on the show, it’s fun for us to spread our wings at these conventions. We get to have a lot of fun—we enjoy each other, we have good chemistry, and we really enjoy when we’re performing.

What is the thing you miss the most about being on the show?

I think having a regular job! I miss the camaraderie… I miss everything. You know, I just love acting. I miss the cast, mostly. Being on a show with a group of people you enjoy, it’s the greatest thing in this business. And actors always look for stability, and that’s one of the things a show will give you. But I don’t miss Bryan [Fuller], because I see Bryan all the time! Bryan and I are friends. I don’t miss him because I see him a lot!

Well that’s good to hear. It’s interesting to talk about stability on a show where your character could meet a sudden end. Did you ever imagine that might be how you left the show?

Not really, no. I didn’t think my character would ever get killed. He’s through all the books, and I just didn’t see it in the cards. There was one chance that he might get stabbed, but that didn’t last. I never thought he would die, I don’t know why. I was never worried about that.

I do remember one moment in the third season when Jimmy swabs inside Hannibal’s mouth as they’re investigating him. Do you think that might be something that could make Hannibal turn on him?

Yes, that’s true! I mean, I was hoping that he might get kidnapped and tortured, but I didn’t think he’d ever actually die. And you know what, in the fourth season, if Jimmy’s kidnapped and tortured a little bit, that would be excellent!

You’ll need to tell Fuller to write that into the script.

Oh, I’ve told him. He knows what I want for Jimmy.

Thanks for taking the time to speak to me, Scott!

Thank you!

Fannibals can meet Scott Thompson at the upcoming convention FannibalFest, which is being held at the Toronto Airport Hilton from November 2-5. 

Author: Samantha McLaren



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