Interview: Dexter’s Michael C Hall

The actor explains how to make a serial killer lovable…

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Who is Dexter Morgan?

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By day, Dexter is a blood splatter analyst, a forensics guy working with police officers at Miami Dade Police Department. By night, he focuses his time on pursuing and killing criminals – other killers. He has a compulsion that he cannot quite deny, but I think he’s admirable in that he has made lemonade from a pretty substantial lemon. Everyone has skeletons in their closet but his closet is definitely a walk-in one…

What drew you to this project?

There were people involved who I’d worked with before. Michael Cuesta – who directed the pilot and works as a producing director on the show – and Bob Greenblatt – who is the head of original programming for Showtime – are both people I worked with on Six Feet Under. That was a plus.

But ultimately it was Dexter. He’s a singular character. I have never encountered anyone quite like him. It’s an interesting challenge to make a flesh and blood human character out of someone who claims he isn’t human. At least when we first meet him, he believes that about himself.

He is a complex character. He can’t be easy to play?

No. And yet because he testifies to wearing masks all the time, it’s wide open in terms of what you can do from scene to scene, situation to situation. He’s a bit of a chameleon so [with this character] I never have to try and convince myself that I am not acting.

Is there a difference between Dexter the man and Dexter the killer? And which is the real Dexter?

That’s what’s interesting. It’s not a Jekyll and Hyde sort of thing… When we first meet Dexter he is living a life that is as black and white as it ever will be, but the shades of grey become more pronounced, more troublesome for him.

Initially, you think [he’s the real Dexter] when he’s killing people, but as time goes on you see there is some fundamental part of him that is revealed when he interacts with children, or with his sister, or at a crime scene. And [as an actor] if you are doing something that is an open-ended commitment like a TV show, then it’s nice to have a character that can go lots of places.

But he’s definitely struggling with his identity?

Yes. I think part of his struggle through the course of the show will be that question – who am I? Am I just a cobbled together version of my father’s code and whatever I have picked up from what I have read, observed or watched on television? A “personality” that I have manufactured?

I think we all wonder who we are; whether we are just this aggregate of elements that have no real centre. So what is so great, so funny about Dexter is that when he is setting himself apart from others and talking about why he is not human, that’s when he is most accessible.

Is there is a little bit of Dexter in everyone?

There was a line in the pilot: “People fake a lot of human interactions but I fake them all.” You could argue that we all fake our interactions, or at least tailor them to the situation. The person I am now in this interview is not the person I am when I am home, or when I am on the phone to my mother or when I am ordering a cheeseburger. We all ebb and flow and change and wear different masks… and kill people at night. No, we don’t…

What about Dexter’s relationship with his sister?

I think the way Dexter conducts himself with Deb has something to do with his father Harry’s code. Dexter recognises that Deb was left out of her father’s life because of the interest that Harry took in Dexter. So as a way to honour his father’s memory he is a father to Deb, in a way. It’s interesting that the more he helps her move forward in her work, the better equipped she will be to get to the truth about him. So it’s the closest relationship but also the most dangerous.

How do you get an audience to sympathise with a serial killer?

Well that really is the trickiest challenge of the role, and the show as a whole. A lot of that is on my shoulders, but certainly not all of it. The tone of the show has a lot to do with it, and the way we introduce the people I kill.

And I don’t think we imagine that the audience will perpetually be on Dexter’s side. We aspire to a moral ambiguity, and I think there will be times when people are torn, but hopefully the audience are in a way implicated because they are the only ones that are hearing the full truth – or at least Dexter’s take on the truth – and are in his head along with him.

One final question – what does the C stand for?

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Carlisle.