Interview: Hettienne Park on Hannibal’s Badass Female Characters and Fans

Walk into a room of Hannibal fans (aka Fannibals), and two things will immediately strike you. First, there will be flower crowns. Everywhere. Second, the people surrounding you will, for the most part, be women.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it is about the sublimely gory horror-thriller Hannibal that appeals so much to women. Some, like me, were already hardcore horror fans, drawn by the show’s promise of people-eating and creeping dread. But many weren’t—and yet the predominantly female fanbase has continued to grow, even three years after the show aired what could be (but hopefully wasn’t) its final episode.

Perhaps it’s the subversion of the male gaze that draws us in. Maybe it’s the strong emotional core. More likely, it’s a combination of many factors—and the show’s roster of complex and capable female characters certainly helps.

Hettienne Park played one such character. As the brave and brilliant crime scene investigator Beverly Katz, Hettienne won fans’ hearts… and then swiftly broke them when her character’s kidneys ended up in a pie in the second season (spoilers!). In a show where cannibalism is the name of the game, Beverly’s death still struck a particularly painful nerve with fans, especially as one of the series’ most interesting female and minority characters.

Hettienne spoke out about accusations of racism and sexism leveled against the show’s creators in a thoughtful blog post shortly after the episode aired, and remains a firm fan favorite to this day, long after Beverly’s kidneys were digested (sorry Bev!).

I recently caught up with Hettienne to discuss the badass women of Hannibal, the difficult subject of Beverly’s death, and the surprisingly supportive community that has sprung up around the horror show.

Hannibal was fairly unique as an adaptation of Thomas Harris’ novels in the way it diversified the predominately white male cast of the books. Was that something showrunner Bryan Fuller discussed with you going in, and did it influence your decision to be part of the show?

Bryan did not discuss this with me. All I knew before going in was that he wanted me to read for Beverly Katz after he saw me perform on Broadway and I didn’t think I had a chance in hell of actually getting cast. I mean, it probably speaks volumes about the industry at that time that even though Fuller asked that I read for Beverly, I still was not expecting that the network would be open to an Asian woman playing that role. I’m glad I was wrong.

Playing a female FBI investigator, did you draw any inspiration from Jodie Foster’s portrayal of Clarice Starling in 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs?

The only time I consciously thought about Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling was during the scene where I faceoff with Hannibal in his basement. If I recall correctly, I think it was intended to be reminiscent of Foster’s Clarice—not to recreate that awesome scene, but just a subtle nod. How could it not be? She was incredible in Silence of the Lambs and that scene with her hunting while being hunted in the dark is unforgettable.

Hannibal contains so many ass-kicking women. If you hadn’t played Beverly, is there another role in the show that you would have loved to portray? 

Hmm… that’s a tough question. I honestly can’t imagine playing anyone other than Beverly. I love and admire her so much I don’t think I would want to play anyone else. 

Beverly operated in a heavily male-dominated environment. Were there other female actors in the cast that you would have liked to have more interactions with onscreen? 

I would have liked interacting more with all of the women, particularly Alana Bloom [Caroline Dhavernas], Bedelia Du Maurier [Gillian Anderson], and Bella Crawford [Gina Torres]. All the women on Hannibal are awesome.

Fans know Beverly as one third of what they’ve dubbed “Team Sassy Science,” with Scott Thompson’s Jimmy Price and Aaron Abrams’ Brian Zeller completing the trio. Starring alongside two comedians playing largely comic relief roles, how did you approach the more serious character of Beverly to ensure she still stood out?

Well, I wasn’t trying to stand out. I was trying to portray her as truthfully as I could under those imaginary and often insane circumstances. If Bev stood out for being more serious or whatever, that was in the writing. Zeller and Price had more exposition and Katz had a little more material to play and she had a closer relationship with Will Graham.

But all three members of Team Sassy Science are comedic. I think anyone working in that field has to have some sense of humor just to survive.

Let’s talk about Bev’s death. While Hannibal is something of an equal opportunities cannibal (he eats his fair share of white males on the show), it was truly saddening to see Beverly go. You’ve talked before about the fans’ reactions to Beverly’s death—looking back, do you think it’s a positive sign that audiences are becoming more outspoken about female and minority character deaths on TV, which was once just the norm?

No. Looking back, it was not a positive sign. A positive sign to me is when you see actors being cast in roles regardless of their appearance and actually being a part of the storyline playing multi-dimensional characters—not sidekicks, friends, or having to play stereotypical roles. When viewers are outspoken about female and minority deaths on TV it’s because of the lack of representation.

I mean, of course I’m glad people are speaking up so that those in power recognize that there is a demand. But if people are being outspoken about it that means we aren’t seeing enough of ourselves on our screens. It’s 2018. I think it’s a little nuts that we’re still fighting for this.

Given that Vlad Cubrt’s Garrett Jacob Hobbs popped up in visions and flashbacks for three seasons—despite being killed in the pilot episode—do you think there’s a chance audiences might catch a ghostly glimpse of a Beverly in a future season? 

Is there a future season? I only heard rumors of a possible Season 4. If that actually happens, anything is possible. 

We’re keeping our fingers crossed for Season 4! But even if it doesn’t happen, Bryan Fuller has a tendency to work frequently with actors he loves across his body of work. Would you be excited to work with Fuller again? And are there any of his previous shows that you’d have loved to be a part of?

Of course! Bryan is not only incredibly gifted and a pure joy to work with, he is also a genuinely beautiful human being. I would be more than excited to work with him again on anything. And I would have loved being a part of any one of his shows. Any actor would. He’s a visionary and is one of the very few who elevates television to an art form.

You’re appearing at the fan-organized convention FannibalFest in Toronto in October. Are you surprised by how active the show’s fan base remains, even three years after it went off the air? 

Yes! I’m headed to Toronto in October for FannibalFest and I can’t wait to reconnect with the Fannibals. I believe the fan base has persisted because they’ve become such a beautiful community and support one another. It’s way bigger and deeper than the show.

The Fannibals I’ve personally met so far are so sweet, supportive, positive, loving, respectful, intelligent, and classy. It’s a tight-knit community which I suspect will last for a long while. 

Hannibal fans are remarkably passionate. When did you first become aware of the cult following the show had generated?

It became extremely apparent to me after [spoiler alert!] my character was killed. I mean, I was aware that people enjoyed the show from social media and some mail I had received. But I don’t think I fully realized how devoted and widespread the fans were until Katz was killed. I started to see incredible fan fiction and artwork and the cosplay and was truly blown away by the loyalty and the love. And it persists to this day which is just amazing. 

Your appearance at FannibalFest will be the first time fans will see a convention reunion between yourself and co-stars Aaron Abrams and Scott Thompson. Are you excited to get the gang back together? 

I am SO EXCITED to see Aaron and Scott. We’ve seen each other here and there but it has not been the three of us together at the same time in the same room. I love those guys. I can’t wait.

Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us, Hettienne! What’s next for you? 

I’ll be on The OA: Part II (Netflix) and Blindspot (NBC), which Aaron Abrams has been on since their first season. I also appeared on Blacklist (NBC) and High Maintenance (HBO). And I’m currently also working on launching a health and wellness site. 

Hannibal fans can meet Hettienne Park and the rest of Team Sassy Science at FannibalFest 2018, taking place October 11-15 at the Toronto Marriott Airport Hotel.