Hannibal‘s Hettienne Park will be the first to admit she’s got a twisted sense of humor.
The actress remembers laughing the first time she saw the sliced-up corpse of her character, FBI agent Beverly Katz, who was killed off and displayed in a Damian Hirst-esque “art” installation by the titular serial killer in Episode 4 of NBC’s Friday-night drama last month.
“[Executive producer] Bryan [Fuller] had described it to me, how her body was going to be discovered, but the computer-generated models he’d sent looked like a video game, so it didn’t have any real impact,” Park recalls. “When I actually showed up on set and saw the dummy of me in pieces, it was weird, it was shocking, but it was also kind of funny. The half that was in tact didn’t really look like me. It was a close resemblance, I guess, but it just made me laugh. Her face! It was so absurd.”
What wasn’t so funny, says Park, were the accusations of racism and sexism hurled at Fuller and the show via social media in the hours and days following Katz’s death. The imbroglio prompted Park to write a blog post, entitled “Racism, Sexism, and Hannibal: Eat The Rude,” that defended Fuller while delving into deeper issues of colorblind casting and minority representation in primetime.
In her first interview since Beverly’s death, Park dishes to TVLine about the “making” of her character’s body, the sad fate of Bev’s kidneys and the reasons she says she doesn’t completely disagree with fans who read something sexist and/or racist into the murder.
TVLINE | First things first, sad as I am that you’re not on the show anymore, your character certainly went out with a bang. I’ve got to ask you, how the heck did they make Beverly’s “body”?
I remember they were asking me if I wanted to choose a model, because they needed to make a mold of the body in order to fill it with organs and slice it up. And I was like, “What do you mean? Why would I choose someone else to look like me? Why don’t I just do it?” They kept trying to talk me out of it, and I said, “Well, I’m free this weekend. I’ll just do it!” So, I go to prosthetics, and it was like a 12-hour affair. [Laughs] It was completely insane. They basically take a silicone mold of each part of your body. As they described it to me, I thought “This isn’t gonna be a big deal.” But you can’t move. First, they start with the leg, and you have to stand still for 45 minutes while the thing sets. They put silicone all over you, then they put a cast on it, then it has to set and dry, and then they saw it off, and it becomes the mold that they fill. They did each of my legs, each of my arms — and we’re hanging out having a good time. Then we get to my head, and they all start acting weird around me. “Do you need to take a break? Are you going to be OK?” So I asked them why. And they responded, “Sometimes people freak out because you have to be encased in there for another 45 minutes. You can’t move. And we’re going to fill in your ears so you won’t really be able to hear anything. And we’re gonna have to cover your mouth, but we’ll have two little holes for your nostrils so you can breathe — can you breathe through your nose?” At this point there’s no turning back. It’s not just your head…it’s basically from the chest up. You really can’t move. And you can’t turn your head, and the thing is tightening around your throat and your face. I was pretty good until the last couple minutes — when I started getting really anxious.
TVLINE | If you knew then what you know now, would you have maybe bowed out from being the cast model?
Had I known I could’ve chosen a model-model with an amazing body, I probably would’ve gone that way. [Laughs] “Can you add a little bit more to the tits and ass maybe? Elongate my limbs a little bit?” They were like, “Why didn’t you just choose a model?” And I’m like, “Oh s**t! Why didn’t I think of that? I’m sitting here trying to be authentic!” But I have this other weird thing where if there’s something I’ve never done before and it’s something kind of scary, I want to do it even more. My curiosity, ultimately, would’ve made me say, “Oh p’shaw, I can do it!” And it was an amazing experience.
TVLINE |What happened with the sliced-up Beverly display when filming was completed? Did you take it home and install it?
I’m sure they’re hanging onto it, which they do with all the costumes and props — just in case they need to go back. I wouldn’t mind maybe having the smallest piece, but what the hell would I do with that? [Laughs]
TVLINE | The way Hannibal killed and displayed Beverly, did you take it as a sign of respect – since it was so much work? Or was it the ultimate desecration, a taunt to Will and Jack?
I thought it was pretty respectful. It was very clean and it was very well thought through. And it must have taken a tremendous amount of effort. I’m not sure how Hannibal was able to put all that together in one night, but you do see the next morning when he’s having breakfast with Jack, he’s in a casual sweater and his hair’s a little messed up — so maybe he pulled an all-nighter. Obviously there’s a little twist of the knife, having her get pulled apart the way she pulls apart a crime scene – but everything Hannibal does is very deliberate. So, he’s definitely sending some kind of message to Will and Jack.
TVLINE | And your poor kidney! It winds up going through a meat grinder! That was filmed so beautifully, and yet it was so horrific.
I don’t think I read that part [in the script], or if I did, I completely forgot about it because I was so distracted by the tableau of the slices of the body. So when I was watching from home and saw that he did take my kidney and it’s going through the grinder and he has it in the pie — which is hilarious and over the top — I was totally shocked and gasping and laughing at the same time.
TVLINE | Before Beverly is killed, when she goes to Hannibal’s house and she’s poking around, I was literally screaming at the TV: “Beverly, get out! Why didn’t you tell a friend where you were going? No! No!”
There were so many different versions of how to get Beverly over to Hannibal’s house, and a couple that I was more in favor of. The one we went with was fine. But when I was there on the day of filming, and started to go down into the basement, I was like, “She would never go down there!” [Laughs] “What is this?” I could already hear people screaming at the TV: “Don’t go down there! What are you doing?” But that’s part of the fun of it, right? We love being that invested and being on the edge of our seats. We can’t have everything be so logical, because then it would be boring. You want reality, turn on the news!
TVLINE | I read an interview with Bryan Fuller where he’d said your character was supposed to have been killed off in Season 1. Were you aware of that when you first signed on to the role?
Oh, yeah. Before we even began shooting Season 1, when I met Bryan, we sat down with [director] David Slade, the folks from hair and makeup, and he explained the whole thing to me. So I was fully prepared and expecting to die in Season 1. It was my ear that Will was supposed to vomit up at the end of the season. But the story changed, and obviously it became Abigail’s ear. But I knew eventually, sooner or later, Beverly was gonna be the first one from the team to get killed.
TVLINE | I felt like even in Season 1, when Beverly was just in the background, you always brought a certain intrigue to the character, a quality that made me want to know what was going on in her mind. Was there anything you did deliberately to make that happen?
All I really know how to do is to try to believe in the world that we’ve created. I have to maintain a certain level of professionalism, and yet still obviously be affected by the things I’m seeing. I find it fascinating, the people who do this in real life — how they cope. We had a forensics expert on set with us to consult with, and that was my question: “How do you go home at night after you work on crime scenes?” He had a very interesting way of compartmentalizing all his emotions. So I thought a lot about that, but I never sat there and thought, “How can I make myself intriguing?” I just tried to live in that world as truly as I could.
TVLINE | You wrote a long and complex blog post about Beverly’s death, about fan outrage over the killing of a strong Asian female character, about your experiences on the show and more. What prompted you to write that?
I’m on Twitter, and we try to interact with the fan base as much as we can. It’s because of them we got a second season. I follow Bryan’s lead because he’s incredibly generous, opening up those communication channels to people. I’m not sure if people realize it, but he hardly has time to eat or sleep. [Laughs] So the fact that he makes himself available to the fan base is amazing. He’s such a generous and caring person. I started getting messages from some of our fans that he was being attacked. I took a little peek and I was really saddened, because I think everyone’s entitled to their opinions, and I respect those opinions, but the way he was being attacked it went beyond the subject at hand. It got personal and vicious and ugly. He’s a fantastic human being, and him being accused of being racist and sexist was shocking and sad. So I just wrote it and stuck it on the Internet and it seemed to spread really quickly. I just wanted to stand up for my friend, really.
TVLINE | You addressed in your blog how there’s still a desire among minority viewers to see more representations of themselves on TV, to see more diverse casting.
It surprises me how attached people are to the character [of Beverly], though I do understand it. Everyone’s rooting for Will, and Beverly was his real lifeline. As far as her being an Asian female getting killed off the show and people being upset about it, I understand that, too. When I was growing up, there were no Asians on TV. The only Asian I saw on TV was Connie Chung. And when I look back, I think it’s a shame [Beverly] couldn’t have lasted ’til the end of the season, because I do think there’s a strong need for – forget about Asian – a strong female character who doesn’t have to play into any clichés. There are strong women who exist in the world. It’s not like this is some crazy idea out of left field. And certainly there aren’t enough roles for minorities. It’s nothing new. Is it surprising that it’s still like that in 2014? It’s disappointing, but I don’t know how surprising it is. But I do believe it’s changing. And just the fact that Bryan was open-minded enough to even consider blind-casting this role, then giving it to an Asian woman, was great. It’s a step forward. I don’t really think of myself as Asian. I know maybe that sounds weird. But I just play it the way it feels right, and if people can identify with that, that’s great. And if the outside of me is Asian and people are rooting for that, that’s great, too.
TVLINE | It’s interesting what you say about the attachment people had to Beverly on account of her being Will’s lifeline to the world. I hadn’t drawn that line, but it makes sense. You also talked in your blog piece about how it’s not just your decision or Bryan Fuller’s decision.
How do I say this in a very diplomatic way? I think [Beverly] could have stayed on ’til the end of the season. And for whatever reasons why, whoever decided she needed to go by Episode 4, I can’t say that those weren’t sexist or racist reasons. We’re talking about behind-the-scenes stuff. But as far as Bryan Fuller’s concerned, I don’t believe him to be sexist or racist by any stretch of the imagination. And I completely feel for the people who are upset by it. I mean, I agree with a lot of what they’re saying. I agree that it looks messed up. It looks sexist and it looks racist. It’s incredibly frustrating to finally have a cool Asian female character on TV, and right when you feel like you’re starting to get to know her, they kill her off. On the other hand, it is a show about a cannibal, and there are death tableaus, and that’s built into the story of the show. And if you’re upset about that, then maybe you shouldn’t be watching a show about serial killers. [Laughs] It’s complicated. If this was some other TV show that had nothing to do with murderers, certainly I would see how that could really cause an uproar. But the way our story is built around this guy who is killing all these people, it’s hard to avoid having the woman who’s super smart and gets hot on his trail and becomes a threat — of course she has to get killed! Hannibal’s the smartest guy in the room. There’s no way anyone who gets close to [uncovering] him is going to survive.
TVLINE | Once you found the plastic wrapped “meat” in his fridge, you were a goner…
Maybe even before that. When she invites him to do the autopsy.
TVLINE | Oh, God! That scene! Bring anybody with you but Hannibal!
She’s in a tough situation. She’s trying to suss out what Will is telling her. She’s a science girl, but she’s also got these strong instincts. So when she invites Hannibal to the autopsy, she’s trying to suss him out as well, and he picks up on that right away, obviously. I think that’s when he went to Home Depot and got all his supplies for killing her. [Laughs]