A little over a week ago, the news came out that Michael Pitt will not be returning to the show Hannibal in the role of Mason Verger. Knowing that I am a huge fan of the show (and an even bigger fan of the actor himself), friends and social media acquaintances of mine were quick to bombard me with the details and await my reaction; expecting me to have a fit.
I’ll be honest; they weren’t exactly wrong. My first instinct was to write up an angry rant about how bad a move this was. I still feel that way, but had I done that at the time, my thoughts would have come from a place of anger about an actor I love, and from that place alone.
Which is exactly why I decide to wait at least a week before addressing the news.
Look, I have been a Hannibal fan since the very beginning of the show. It hit the ground running, and has only gotten better and better with every episode. Visually, it is the most striking and beautiful show I’ve ever seen. The dialogue is great, the way the suspense and tension is allowed to build in a painfully slow manner is fantastic. Overall, the show is one of the best I’ve ever seen, and it’s certainly the best in this recent trend of television horror.
But that’s the thing. The main reason for this is the casting. While other horror shows have some stellar actors, Hannibal also has this, but goes a step further. The thing that sets it apart is that in its case, you almost could forget you’re watching actors. Each person becomes their character. Not only that, but the cast is taking on roles that we’ve all read about or watched onscreen before, but in a totally fresh and unique way. And in a creepier way.
No one in the entire cast, not even Mads Mikkelsen himself, has embraced that creepiness more than Michael Pitt. He came in halfway through the season as Mason, and it’s like he was there all along. I’m not alone in feeling like he steals every scene he’s in: the way he torments his sister without ever being completely unlikable; the way Pitt plays Mason as being even more screwed up than Will Graham (but completely narcissistic about it), and as someone who can get the best of Hannibal. But it isn’t just that. The thing that made Michael Pitt such an asset to the show, is that once you see him in the role, it’s hard to picture anyone else in it. He just is Mason Verger.
I can only imagine how hard it must be to play a role like that. A lot of times what ends up happening is that the actor either is never really that scary or believable as a villain, or they go so far over the top with it that the character ceases to be eerie and becomes comical. Pitt’s Mason struck just the right note between him being completely irredeemable and an actual normal person.
When we last left Mason, his face had been…well, disfigured, to say the least. So, naturally when we meet him again, the character’s creepy factor will be all about his voice, pattern of speech, tone, and all those things.
And therein lies the problem. It wasn’t just the facial expressions and mannerisms Michael Pitt brought to the character that made him so good. It was the way he said things; the way he spoke to the other characters, the way he paused between certain words, and the way he changed his speech slightly depending on which character he was talking—all of that while still maintaining a sort of dripping condescension and superiority in everything he said. It’s difficult enough to pull off a role when you can use every asset. I find it hard to believe that anyone could replicate that, or be as utterly terrifying as Michael Pitt was just using his voice.
I’m going to make a bold statement. Michael Pitt’s portrayal of Mason Verger has been comparable to Heath Ledger’s version of The Joker. It was just that intense and fascinating.
And once you have something that good, losing it can only detract from the show.
It doesn’t even matter what the behind the scene details are. The thing is, it’s all a business. Business is about doing what’s best for the company, and the company’s efficiency and productivity. It is the responsibility of The Powers That Be to oversee this. At the end of the day, letting Michael Pitt go, no matter the reason, was a really bad decision. Everything should have been done to keep him. And, who knows, maybe everything was. If so, then it’s sad to realize the truth: this will ultimately have a negative impact on the show. Any pop culture nerd knows how difficult it is to garner support for a replacement when it comes to be popular character or popular prior actor. It’s going to be twice as difficult in this case.
With that said, let’s pay tribute to Michael Pitt’s time as Mason, and wish him well in all he does in the future.