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Aaron Abrams Talks Hannibal, Horror, and Playing Punchable Dudes

Posted on: October 11th, 2017

Since showrunner Bryan Fuller teased that talks about a fourth season of Hannibal have officially begun, fans have been more excited than ever. And the cast and crew have admitted that they are just as eager to see the acclaimed horror show make a comeback.

Amongst them is Aaron Abrams, who plays sassy and arrogant crime scene investigator and lab assistant Brian Zeller. Alongside Scott Thompson’s Jimmy Price, Zeller provided both snark and comic relief on Hannibal, which was known for having a dark vein of humor running throughout. I caught up with Abrams recently to discuss his upcoming roles, his love of the horror genre, and his hopes for Hannibal’s potential fourth season.

SCREAM: Last year you wrote and directed your first short film, It’s Not What You Know, so congratulations on that.

AARON ABRAMS: Thank you!

Is directing something you’ve always been interested in?

Uh no, not really! Once you start working as an actor on set all the time, you want to try your hand at other things, so it’s sort of a passion that always escalates over time. I’ve always written, and they sort of go hand in hand—it’s ultimately storytelling. So yeah, it was an incredible opportunity for me to go do it, and hopefully I get to do more in the future. That’s the plan.

Excellent, I hope you’re able to. Now on television, you’re one of those actors who pops up everywhere, from NCIS to Blindspot. Do you get find you get recognized a lot on the street?

It’s about a once every two weeks sort of thing. It depends on what city you’re in. In Los Angeles, everybody who’s walking on the streets is on television a little bit, so it doesn’t really happen as frequently as when I’m in Toronto or New York or someplace. And I’m lucky enough to be on shows that have really fervent fan bases, like Hannibal, where the fans are not only incredibly warm and kind, but very excited as well. So you can feed into that energy, and it’s always great to run into somebody!

You do tend to play a lot of arrogant jerk type characters, which could be interesting when you meet fans.

[laughs] Yeah.

Are these roles you’re going after because they’re fun to play, or is it happening naturally?

I think it’s happening naturally. I certainly have always, even since I was a little kid, wanted to play bad guys. I had no desire to play James Bond—I wanted to play the villain. And so whenever a role like that is available, I probably attack it with more passion and fun than most. It’s also something that snowballs over time. The more you play, I think it’s a skill that develops like anything else. You’re developing how to play an antagonist, which is a very specific role in a TV show or movie. You develop the skills how to do that and make it different each time, and make it more specific and interesting each time, so all these guys are very different. But ultimately yes, you’re right, they’re all fucking jerks. It’s always a treat now when I get to play a good guy. But generally, there’s a lot of punchable-face dudes.

Well, villains get to have the most fun.

Yes, I agree. It’s always super fun.

Now you’ve mentioned in the past that one of your favorite IMDb credits is for your role in Kevin Hill, where you’re credited as ‘sexy water delivery guy.’ Do you think you’ll ever top that for a great character credit?

Oh, I don’t think so at all! That’s the peak. I really peaked early—I think that was the second job I ever had, something like that. It was also a preposterous job. Christina Hendricks had a crush on me and was too shy to ask me out, and she finally did and I turned her down. That role is preposterous!

Speaking of your IMDb page, you had a little trouble with it at immigration services a few years ago when the officer began to grill you about it. Do you ever get nervous going through customs that it’s going to happen again?

No, no, luckily I think it all worked out. It was a very strange thing. It’s a very stressful time, and the interviewer was particularly hilarious and cutting with me. And so I tweeted some of the back and forth that we had after the interview, and my lawyer freaked out. She was like, you don’t have your green card yet, you’ve got to take all that down! Then Entertainment Weekly picked it up and printed them all, and wrote an article about it, and then I got panicked. I was like, oh, I’ve just pissed off the United States, I am such an idiot! But yes, thankfully it all worked out.

You joked on Twitter that the immigrations officer referenced your scene in Resident Evil: Apocalypse, which was cut from the final film. Just between you, me, and the readers, would that scene have made the movie any better?

Oh, of course! [laughs] Of course! I was magnificent. My whole career trajectory would have been different. It wouldn’t have just been a one-time deal—I would have booked every sexy delivery boy for the last ten years. I wouldn’t have played jerks, I would have only played sexy water delivery boys. Actually, that’s not true—in that movie I did play a total jerk.

One horror movie you thankfully weren’t cut from was 2015’s Regression with Ethan Hawke and Emma Watson.

Well, I was cut quite a bit from it!

Oh really?

Yeah, there was a lot more of me in it.

Are you a fan of the horror genre?

Oh god, so much, so much! I think it’s from being on Hannibal—it really escalated a lot. Horror has always been one of my favorites. When I was a kid, Jason was how I got into it, through the Friday the 13th movies, which I still adore. I think that’s a great place to start because they’re so titillating. They’re about the anticipation of a murder happening, that’s where the fear comes in. They’re kind of joyous romps. I mean they’re scary, but then you escalate from that into The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, or the weirdness of Hellraiser, and it goes on and on forever. There’s so much of it—the genre is so deep. And so now I always love a great horror movie because it’s about what can they do that people haven’t seen before. The parameters of horror are somewhat smaller, so what people can do inside that box, if they can pull out something that’s truly horrifying or exhilarating, it’s sort of magical now. Any horror movie that comes out, I immediately watch.

I’m the same. I’ve always been a fan, and that’s one of the reasons I started watching Hannibal in the first place.

What’s your favorite horror movie that nobody’s seen or that you think is very underrated?

Oh, goodness. I love Jacob’s Ladder, and that’s one that a lot of people surprisingly haven’t seen, which is strange to me.

Oh they’re crazy.

Oh, and there’s a British movie called Ghostwatch that nobody outside of the UK really has seen. It’s very spooky, surprisingly chilling. I’d highly recommend it.

I’ll absolutely take a look at it.

Now Hannibal obviously always had one foot firmly planted in the horror genre, but your character Brian Zeller, along with Scott Thompson’s Jimmy Price, was one of the more rational and grounded people in that world full of psychopaths. Did that affect how you approached the role at all?

I don’t think Scott or I ever really thought of ourselves as sane, in the normal sense. I think that it became that way, where we were a little bit like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern where the craziness is happening around us and we’re sort of commenting on it from within it, which was really fun to do. Especially with Scott, where there’s such great chemistry there and he’s obviously hilarious. They were crazy in their own way, I think. If there was some secret craziness to them, it would almost have been too much. Scott and I don’t read necessarily as sane or as normal as some of the other people on the show, so to put some sort of crazy dark backstory on them would have been excessive.

Bryan Fuller confirmed recently that talks about a Hannibal resurrection have begun. If the show returns, where do you think we’ll find Price and Zeller?

You’re asking me to predict the imagination of Bryan Fuller, which is a never ending impossibility! They could have some sort of country home or bed and breakfast, and they’re pulled out of retirement. They could be the new heads if Jack has retired. Maybe they’re teaching classes. They could be doing literally anything, but frankly, I think they were exactly where they wanted to be. And grooming the future team is probably the only new task that they would love—you know, getting some young kids who are just as sassy as they were.

That would be great, although I’d love to see the bed and breakfast subplot somewhere. Now, one of the things that Fuller has teased for a fourth season is a Cuban food theme. Do you think there might be a beach holiday in Price and Zeller’s future?

Oh! Of course! Why wouldn’t there be? Always. I just think any reason to have Scott in a speedo would be just what the world needs.

Maybe matching speedos.

Sure, sure. Whatever he can do, I will also do. That’s the rules.

You’re appearing at the upcoming Hannibal fan convention FannibalFest in November. You talked about this a little bit already, but what’s been your experience of meeting the fans, especially after Hannibal ended?

Hannibal fans have really been one of the most special things about the show. The community that’s risen out of the show is this self-sustaining thing that’s so filled with love and joy, as well as excitement and creativity. It’s really remarkable to witness every time we’re around it, that’s why I’m so excited and I think Scott is as well, and Demore [Barnes], and everybody else who’s going [to FannibalFest]. It’s what we talk about whenever we’re at a convention—the fans, and how amazing they are, and how gracious they are, and how lovely they are, and how they’re just bursting with life and creativity. And so I’m so excited to be at FannibalFest.

The fans are fantastic. I understand we’ll get to see more of you soon in the upcoming show The Oath, which is slated to air next year. Can you give us any teasers about what we can expect from the show and from your character?

It’s going to be a really exciting show. It’s on Crackle, it’s with Sean Bean who many people know from Game of Thrones, but it’s a cop show, sort of like The Shield. It’s very action-packed, lots of twists and turns—this guy’s now evil, these two are now teamed up. It’s a really exciting show, I’m really thrilled to be a part of it, and I play a punchable-faced piece of shit. So I look forward to Sean Bean attempting to teach me a lesson at some point.

That sounds great. And of course Blindspot is coming back in October—is your character returning?

Yes, I just left New York from my character returning and filming some episodes for that, so that’s also super fun. He is a huge jerk as well, so that’s always fun to play. And now the show is taking place a few years in the future, so you get to see what everyone’s characters have been doing for a little while. I think it’s going to be a great surprise what my character’s been up to and where he’s been when he comes back. It’s a great entrance for him.

Very exciting. Thanks so much for speaking with me Aaron!

My pleasure!

You can catch Aaron Abrams in the third season of Blindspot, premiering October 27th. Hannibal fans can also meet him at FannibalFest, taking place in Toronto from November 2-5.

Words: Samantha McLaren (@themeatispeople)

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