BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Monsters as horrible as Chucky or Jason or Freddy Krueger can’t compare to Showtime’s Dexter. He’s doubly frightening because real serial killers like him do exist.
And as embodied by actor Michael C. Hall, Dexter not only harbors an evil side, but a benevolent one. And combining the opposites is what makes Dexter fascinating to watch and to portray.
“Dexter’s a vexing character,” agreed Hall. “In some ways I feel like he’s a person who could never be; he’s an idea. It’s implausible to think that someone could pull off what we’re invited to believe he’s pulling off. So that’s tricky. And you can’t really spend too much time thinking about logistical implausibility. (You must) let it work on a more symbolic or metaphoric level.
“What I think ultimately you need to do, no matter what, is focus on the script and the words you have to say, and that is your map. And I think if you honor that, you’ll be OK if it’s a script that’s worth anything. And in the case of ‘Dexter,’ they certainly are.”
Just accepting the creepy role was an act of valor. Hall had just come off playing gay mortician David Fisher in “Six Feet Under.” He was severely cautioned against both roles.
“I’ve welcomed that, and I don’t entirely feel they’re choices I’ve made. I feel that the roles chose me,” he said.
“It’s not like I looked at every other part that was available for an actor on television and decided, ‘You know, I think I’ll play David Fisher.’ It just came across my desk. And when I read that script for ‘Six Feet Under’s’ pilot, I had the sense I knew how to do it,” said Hall, 41.
“Because he was a gay character – and this was back in ‘99 – when I auditioned there was a sense, ‘You’re going to be pigeonholed. You’re going to shoot yourself in the foot.’ I heard that, but the question I asked myself was, ‘Well, am I an actor or not? This is as complex a character and rich an overall world as any I’ve read in any play, television script or new film script that I’ve seen. If there is some issue of typecasting or hamstringing myself, I’ll deal with that.’ ”
But it turns out he’s dealt with much worse. Hall was diagnosed with a form of Hodgkin’s lymphoma and had to undergo chemotherapy while he was making “Dexter.” About that he sighed, “Thankfully I’m fine and out of the woods.”
A short time later he and his second wife, Jennifer Carpenter, divorced. Ironically she plays his adoptive sister in “Dexter,” and they continue to work together on the series.
“It’s a challenge, I won’t pretend it’s not a unique and unprecedented dynamic that exists for both of us in our relationship,” he said. “But I think we really have truly remained friends and certainly colleagues who have a lot of respect for one another and a lot of respect for the show. I’ve always taken pride in that and wasn’t going to allow whatever transpired to jeopardize that, and I’m very thankful that we were always on the same page about that – whatever twists and turns we had to navigate personally …”
Pausing, he added, “I think we both actually take a lot of pride in the way that we maintained our professionalism, our commitment to one another, our commitment to the characters we’re playing in the show. It’s certainly a lot more interesting than we anticipated going in.”
Though he confesses that he sometimes feels unequal to the task, risk taking has been part of his life. For that he credits his mother. His father died when he was 11. He was an only child and his mother supported him as a teacher, guidance counselor and eventually dean of students.
“I think my mother has everything to do with everything that’s strong about me,” he said. “She’s the constant in my life. She’s the one who’s always been there of course, and before I was born she lost her first-born child and lost her husband, which I saw happen.
“A few years after that, her older sister and best friend and her mother died. It was sudden and a blow. Mom bore up through a lot of loss and not only managed to survive but to continue to grow and evolve as a person and keep her mind and heart open. And that’s been a really good model.”
A spiritual person, Hall explains, “I don’t identify myself with any … particular religious faith though part of my exploration is reading and talking about different faiths. I’m more interested in finding commonalities than differences, and I think that’s probably something that informs what I try to do in relationships with people. That’s something that continues to evolve. My experience of the spiritual is probably most potent in my experience interacting with other people and doing my best to be present for that.”