Michael C. Hall's definitive 'Dexter' final season interview

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ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Have your feelings changed toward character, or the show, over the years?
HALL: Dexter was like a baby when we first met him. Now he’s kicking and screaming into adulthood. A very tense adulthood fraught with uncommon issues. I still have a fondness for the character. It’s nice to play a characters who’s such a go-getter, who’s always moving forward. But life was simpler before his appetite for humanity had been whetted. When his life was compartmentalized and no one aside from his victims were suffering for his sins. You know, he is remarkably capable in certain ways and phenomenally clueless in others. It’s fun to play somebody who can be both those things. He still likes to eat, but we don’t see him eat much any more. Once he discovered he had the ability to have sex, that may have replaced it.

Did surviving cancer midway through the series impact how you felt about such a death-soaked show?
Not really. It’s a show that’s death-soaked, but it’s what I’ve been doing with my life so it feels more vitalizing than anything else. I was just thankful I got through it and was able to go back to work. If I were playing an oncologist or cancer patient it would have had more resonance.

I read that after having to shave every day for Six Feet Under, you lobbied for Dex to always be unshaven, and sold the idea to producers by saying the character is a serial killer, yet hates the sight of his own blood. Are there any other anecdotal stories like that behind creating the character?
One thing I’ve always felt is the character needn’t be bound by his voice-over. I’ve always thought that he wasn’t the most reliable narrator. There might be some voice-over beyond the voice-over that we don’t hear. I’ve also wondered where this voice-over coming from. Who is he talking to? Early on, I imagined Dexter had died and he had gone to purgatory and they were playing back footage of his life and he had to narrate the footage in such a way that justify his admittance into heaven. I don’t know if I believe in heaven or hell, but it was fun to think about. That idea will only go so far — because sometimes the voice-over is expository.

What’s your favorite part of shooting the show?
There’s always a sense of catharsis and completion whenever we shoot kill scenes. He’s vanquishing some unchecked external manifestation of his internal darkness and that always feels good. And any scene where things come to a head with someone who Dexter has indulged in a relationship with — Thanksgiving with Trinity, or having it out with Lila, or the rooftop with Jimmy Smits’ character. It’s fun to play someone whose pulse slows when the heat rises and perhaps he even cultivates chaos in his life because it’s the only place where he is calm. I can also say that anytime I have to put a wetsuit on under my wardrobe and jump into the salty waters of San Pedro is not one of my favorite [parts to shoot].

And now we’re up to the final season. How is Dexter at the start of season 8?
Well, of course, Deb found out [he's a serial killer]. Then over the course of the seventh season we saw Dexter managing the way that’s changed their relationship and seeing maybe that, perhaps, she can live with that information and he can continue [his pattern]. With the cliffhanger that ends the seventh season, all bets are off. For the first time the person who’s always revered and looked up to him is turning his back on him, and that’s sent him into a bit of a spiral.

He’s also been increasingly seeming more like a regular killer covering up tracks.
I’ve always been interested in challenging the audience’s affection for the character. I’m all for it.

Is there a romantic interest this season?
Yes, but the primary relationship with a female is a more maternal figure.

Yes, Dr. Vogel [Charlotte Rampling]. He gets to “meet his maker,” so to speak.
The presence of Dr. Vogel in his life, this woman who did as much as anyone to fashion the code [when he was a kid], she’s encouraging Dexter to believe his humanity is a misguided indulgence and who he’s really meant to be is a psychopath and all the other stuff is bogus. It’s a reasonable argument. Dexter isn’t so good at being human. He’s always been an effective killer. His appetite for humanity has compromised his effectiveness. But something that’s always existed in him is an appetite for rebellion. So if he’s told he can’t be somebody, he’s going to want to defy that diagnosis — to his and many people in his world’s peril.

How was directing?
The thing I liked about it the most is it forces you to be decisive. You have to be decisive or other people can’t do their jobs. It required a more welcome opening energy on the set. I probably relished most the scenes I wasn’t in.

Yeah, rather than trying to direct that Michael C. Hall guy.
You have to be a little less precious about your own work.

NEXT: Hall on the show’s final episode (spoiler free) and what’s next

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