Richard Armitage plans to slay in Red Dragon TV series

"The way he becomes a monster, I just found that fascinating to explore as an actor." - RICHARD ARMITAGE on his role of Red Dragon (above)
"The way he becomes a monster, I just found that fascinating to explore as an actor." - RICHARD ARMITAGE on his role of Red Dragon (above)PHOTO: AXN
"The way he becomes a monster, I just found that fascinating to explore as an actor." - RICHARD ARMITAGE (above) on his role of Red Dragon
"The way he becomes a monster, I just found that fascinating to explore as an actor." - RICHARD ARMITAGE (above) on his role of Red Dragon

As Red Dragon in the new Hannibal TV series, Richard Armitage hopes to make viewers empathise with the character's traumatic background

Thomas Harris' Red Dragon is one of the most iconic book-to-film characters around, but English actor Richard Armitage does not feel any pressure portraying him.

The 43-year-old star takes on the much-anticipated role of the infamous serial killer in Season 3 of television drama Hannibal - an endeavour which he describes as "exciting".

He follows in the footsteps of actors Tom Noonan and Ralph Fiennes, both of whom played the roles to critical acclaim in Manhunter (1986) and Red Dragon (2002) respectively.

Perhaps it helps that Armitage has not seen either of the movies.

He tells Life and regional media in a recent telephone interview: "I didn't study anything that others had done before, so I don't know if my characterisation will be similar to their characters. They're both actors that I admire, but at the same time, I wanted to just be free of what they'd done.

"What I did was I took everything from the Thomas Harris novel and the script, and then put my own ideas into it."

Red Dragon is the alternate ego of the mentally disturbed Francis Dorlarhyde, the creepy protagonist featured in Harris' best-selling 1981 novel, Red Dragon.

The character is known for murdering entire families. Due to his tendency to bite his victims' bodies, he is also known as the Tooth Fairy.

The character is likely to be the last major new villain to debut on Hannibal, given that the show has been cancelled by its network NBC. Reportedly, the producers are undergoing discussions with other studios to prolong the series.

Armitage declined to discuss the future of the show, but he concedes: "It is sad news that the show is no longer continuing, but at the same time, I have my job to do and that is to bring out a new character and to try and maintain the audience that the show already has.

"It's an exciting character that people have high expectations for."

And despite how despicable his character happens to be, the actor hopes that his portrayal will elicit some form of empathy from viewers.

"Obviously, I don't condone what he does. But he experienced such trauma in childhood - abuse from his step-siblings and abandonment by his mother, and those are on top of his physical deformity with his cleft palate.

"So to an extent, I extend my sympathy towards him because there's a history of damage there to push him to become who he is.

"And the way he becomes a monster, I just found that fascinating to explore as an actor. If the audience can somehow empathise with that, then it would be a strange achievement for me," says the star, who plays the role over a six-episode arc that began last night.

Although he did not take cues from either of the actors who portrayed the character before him, his own research methods were meticulous.

Every day during filming, the theatre-trained actor would write a diary entry in character as the Red Dragon to get into his head.

He would then share some of the entries with the show's creator and showrunner Bryan Fuller, before discussing the character with him at length.

"I saw myself as a student of Dorlarhyde. And one of the highlights of my experience on the show was collaborating with Bryan," he says.

"He absolutely took my ideas on board and we were e-mailing back and forth about more or less the same things about the character and the story. I can't even think of a single time when we were on different pages."

Outside of filming, the star also picked up something else from working so closely with Mr Fuller - becoming more active on social media.

Mr Fuller, 45, who also created cult TV shows such as Wonderfalls (2004) and Pushing Daisies (2007 - 2009), is known for interacting with his fans through his social media accounts. His Twitter account @BryanFuller, for instance, has more than 119,000 followers.

Armitage, on the other hand, started a Twitter account last year (@RCArmitage), but began tweeting regularly only in recent months.

The bachelor says: "The way Bryan works is that he really engages his fans through social media, which builds excitement for the episodes.

"I've come to discover that I also enjoy being a part of that - just talking with fans and rolling out a really good TV show like this one.

"For an actor, to be able to work in Bryan Fuller's universe that is always so sumptuous and cinematic makes me feel like my work is elevated and I'd like to share that."

• Follow Yip Wai Yee on Twitter @STyipwaiyee

• Hannibal Season 3 airs on AXN (StarHub TV Channel 511) on Sunday at 9.45pm.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 27, 2015, with the headline 'Sympathy for a serial killer'. Print Edition | Subscribe