In a recent report it was suggested Anders Behring Breivik, who was responsible for the massacre in Norway this summer, claimed “Dexter” was his favourite show. And many others, especially the sick but untreated, say they’ve watched the show closely to pick up on how they can cover their own shameful tracks and misadventures. Those with mental illness, like bipolar and borderline (which Dexter-esque Jeffrey Dahmer was set to suffer from), have joked that the show is like an instructional guide on how to be a compulsive liar – because it’s something that the character does so well. Compulsive lying is an art-form that Dexter has perfected, and he’s helped many like him achieve the impossible trickery through the show’s many daring and clever scripts.
Since the show’s beginnings, the Showtime series has accurately portrayed the sociopath, psychopath and BPD sufferer.
Dexter Morgan (Michael C.Hall) is a serial killer that’s also suffering from anti-social Personality Disorder also known as psychopathy/sociopathy.
The character of Lila, played by Jaime Murray, on the hand suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder – like Dexter, she’s brilliant at covering up her many compulsive lies, and, ultimately, her murders. Though she has some empathy, as some with BPD do, Lila’s rage and jumbled emotions consequently saw her take the life of innocent people. Dexter himself would fall under the spell of the charming, seductive Lila (in Season 2), and as he discovered more about her erratic, frightening behaviour, he recognized her motives are being controlled by more emotions than his own. In short, her affliction may be more of a silent killer – so to speak – than his.
It’s been noted by professionals that the show definitely appeals to sociopaths, psychopaths, narcissists and shady cops – and not at all surprisingly, considering the characters in it are credible reflections on themselves. That’s how good a job the show’s writers are doing at convincing those out there like Dexter, or some of the other characters on the show, that these are mirror images of themselves.
But the show also has it’s many fans outside of the precincts and asylums – horror fans, devotees of the procedural series and, in particular, critics with whom have helped seen the cable series go on to awards-winning glory.
PHOEBE GALLAGHER caught up with ‘Dexter’ himself Michael C.Hall to discuss the series, it’s influence on those that are unwell, on the eve of it’s sixth season now hitting DVD.
We know that the mentally ill, who are renowned for being so good at covering up their compulsive and shameful lies, can relate to Dexter Morgan, but what about guys in general? Those lie about where they were tonight and so on? Can you personally relate to the liar within him?
Yes. I think all men can relate to it in a sense. But for those others, it’s a struggle with a sense of shadow energy, a struggle with a sense of managing it, and with a sense of keeping it secret. I dunno about men…there may be ways in which men relate to Dexter that are fundamentally different to woman. I guess, like any character, they appeal to men and women differently.
How do you think the notion of remorse, which many of these people don’t feel, has evolved for the character over the course of the series?
We – do you mean how has a notion evolved…
…in Dexter’s case?
I think, you know, the first time we see Dexter deal with a sense of responsibility, a genuine responsibility, and therefore remorse is with Rita’s murder. And in a way I think Dexter, since that, is at – has still been in his very unorthodox and arguably unhealthy way is still dealing with the trauma of that.
I mean, he obviously has the initial trauma of it. He’s revisited that trauma. I think his sense of responsibility or sense of awareness that he can’t exist in a bubble is something he’d like to get back to. He’d like to feel like he’s doing what he’s doing and it’s not affecting anyone in this world, but I think it’s been proven to him that that’s a difficult thing to maintain. And I think that is a big part of what gives us any sense of remorse that exists in him.
I don’t think he has remorse for anyone he’s killed who fit the code or anyone who he’s killed because he had no choice in his mind. But I do think he has a genuine sense of connection to certain people in his world, and when they are affected. I mean, I think Season 5 in part was a big – him trying to exercise his sense of remorse by giving Lumen her life back. One woman’s life was taken away and he felt he owed it to the Universe to give another woman her life back.
I’d like to know, how did you prepare yourself to play Dexter? I mean, did you take inspiration from any real psychopaths or sociopaths? Did you study their behavior?
Yes, I read transcripts of interviews with serial killers, watched some documentaries that I came across, read some books by FBI Profilers who detailed in their mind what makes up a profile of a serial killer. I would imagine that Dexter himself would have familiarized himself with that in an attempt to avoid fitting any such profile. I did all of those things. Ultimately, I think the role requires an imaginative leap. He is singular in my experience, in terms of the kinds of people he targets and the way he operates.
Why do you think the character is so popular? Is it because he shares the same traits as many of the show’s fans?
I think it’s a character who people have relished the opportunity to identify with. I think, you know, Dexter is obviously on paper, yes, he’s a killer, but he’s always, as we’re introduced to him, afflicted with a unique set of circumstances and challenges, and I think we’re invited to actually admire the way he has managed his darker impulses.
And as far the show lasting as long as it has, I think that’s, you know, in part of ((inaudible)) – in large part ((inaudible)) to our writing staff. People who are – have done such a great job at imagining and reimagining the character’s world and the challenges that they can put in front of him. And, you know, there have been some fundamental things that have really shaken up his world and changed the landscape, and I think that’s always a good thing to be able to do if you’re going to sustain the show as long as we have.
But how can people love a guy like Dexter?
I think we all have our shadowy side. We all have secrets that we keep. Dexter, perhaps, has bigger, more formidable secrets and shadows than the average person, but I think that’s a part of what makes him relatable.
Religion plays an important part in the sixth season, so what did you find the most interesting religious dilemma Dexter was struggling with?
Well, I don’t think it’s a question that had ever really been put to Dexter or occurred to Dexter, but in a lot of ways I think if there’s a God in Dexter’s world I supposed it’s arguably Harry or the code or Dexter himself. You know, he is taking God’s work into his own hands, in as much as he’s ending people’s lives. A broader sense of what God might be is nothing Dexter has faced until now. What I like about – or one of the things I like about the season is that it shows both a very negative manifestation of religious states with these killers who are basing their heinous acts on scripture. And then also, you know, we see Dexter enter into as authentic a friendship as he’s ever entered with Brother Sam, someone who has been rehabilitated through the redemptive power of religious faith. So you see the shadow side and the light side, both are represented and Dexter is exposed to both.
I think when all is said and done at the end of the season, with all this concern about the nature of God or religious faith that Dexter does once again take things into his own hands, and at least in the final moment is executor of some kind of divine vengeance.
All right. But when you compare Dexter in the sixth season with the Dexter in the first season, what to you is the most interesting difference?
I think Dexter’s been thrust into situations that have forced him to either experience himself or simulate an experience. You know, I think it’s still arguable that it’s undeniably more human. I think he has experienced a genuine sense of connection to his son, certainly someone who wasn’t in the world at the beginning of the show. I think he maintains a sense of connection to, an allegiance to his sister, though I think that was something that was there from the beginning. I think the biggest change that’s happened for Dexter has been that he’s seen his behavior affecting more than just him. It’s resulted in the death of Rita. It’s resulted in what his son has witnessed. It’s resulted in a lot of confusion for his sister and it’s – he is – he’s certainly experienced himself in ways that are undeniably more typically human. I think his claim that he is without a capacity for humanity has been kind of blown out of the water, but I don’t know that we were ever meant to totally believe that that was true.
We’ve got season 7 and season 8 in the pipeline, have you got a thought on how you would like things to end for Dexter? Do you think there can be a happy ending for him?
It’s difficult, to be honest, for me to foresee an entirely happy ending for the character. I have – I do have my idea or ideas about how the story may well end, but you know those decisions have yet to be set in stone, certainly. It’ll be sometime probably before that happens. But yes, I – it’s – I don’t want to give anything away, nor do I – am I really in a position yet to know what I would be giving away, but I do struggle to imagine a purely happy ending for the show or the character.
And you get so many fabulous guest stars as your opposite member killers in the show, do you have actors sidle up to you and say, “I’d make a really great serial killer.”
That has happened. I’ve been amazed by some of the people who have said it. You know, sometimes they have a – two or three drinks and I’m at a party and I wonder about the sincerity of their claim, but it is flattering to have people with no ((inaudible)) to at least casually to be on the show. It’s a real shot in the arm for us, the caliber of actors and the variety of actors that we’re able to attract to take part in our crazy little world.
You’ve already played this character for six years now, so you know it by heart. So what’s the most difficult part in playing Dexter for you these days, and what’s the most challenging part?
I think the most challenging part is managing – is playing a character who is in a place that I had never imagined when I started. I mean, when we were shooting the first season I didn’t foresee him having sex, let alone getting married or having a child or having a – some sort of relationship in which he invited other people into the kill room, or I didn’t imagine Rita’s death or those kinds of ramifications.
So I think negotiating the story-telling twists and turns and maintaining some sense of what I understand to be the character’s truth is the challenge and is as challenging as it’s ever been, given the twists and turns that the characters been through. And I’m thankful that the show remains challenging in that way and with the way the landscape has changed for Dexter going into the seventh and eighth seasons, I think I’ll once again be challenged to incorporate some very, very new and powerful dynamics into his world.
Do you yourself have any favorites that you’d like to see as the next serial guest killer in the season 7 or 8?
You know I would hesitate to say because if I said it might make it less of a possibility, but – so I’m going to plead the fifth on that one.
Well, how long – does it ever get – do you ever get tired of playing the same character, and have you thought about how long are you willing to play Dexter?
Well, I think the (set) have been eight seasons will be the final season, you know, we’ll – that’ll be it. As far as getting tired, I mean sometimes I get tired, sometimes I get – I feel stuck or confused, or what have you. So I imagine, you know, that’s something that’s would characterize how Dexter actually feels himself at times, so I try to just roll with it.
Do you have projects which would not include dead bodies all around?
No, I actually – it’s in my Mission Statement as an actor that I always be in one way or another surrounded by dead bodies. No, I would – yes, I – look, I mean, I think issues off life and death or Dex and death, you know, they’re fundamental. So I’m thankful that I’ve been spending time with material that’s in way or another close to, you know, one of those fundamental roots of what it is to be a person, so yes, I’d love to do a comedy here nobody died.
I heard that a few months ago that you would probably be part of the adaptation of Big Fish on Broadway. Is that correct and can you tell me a little bit more?
I – you know, I spent some time with them. I actually – to be honest, I don’t know exactly how that leak happened. You know, I committed to do a reading of the musical in New York, which I did and was wonderful, but I think with the Dexter schedule and with the kind of commitment that they’re looking for, I don’t think it’s actually going to be a possibility for me to, you know, give them the time that they deserve.
In every season it seems it’s always a woman who define what happens to Dexter, from Rita to Lumen, and of course Debra. What could we expect from the series regarding this?
That’s interesting. I think, yes, certainly once – I think that trend will continue in new ways. You know, I’ve never actually heard anyone make that observation, but I think that’s very apt, you know, that women and their presence in Dexter’s world does dictate a lot of what happens. I guess I can tell you that that trend will continue in deeper and more complicated ways as we move forward.
The character Dexter must be such a difficult tightrope to walk everyday on set. The fear of just making one misstep or one overtly evil look and risk crossing that border between being relatable reprehensible forever is this daunting or is it getting easier?
I think, you know, in some ways it gets easier, in as much as you’re familiar with the sets and the characters and the other, you know – but in a way it becomes more daunting.
I think – or specifically in the case of Dexter, it becomes more daunting because he has evolved and yet he does maintain a compulsion to kill. So though we see him, I think, certainly in the Sixth Season he’s completely derailed from that. He’s firing on all on cylinders when we meet at the beginning of the Sixth Season. A year has passed since the fifth ended. But the realities of being a father and the realities of this preoccupation with these doomsday killers derails him from his, you know, more tidy world.
But yes, I don’t know, I mean the tightrope remains. He’s a crazy person to consider. I mean, I’m not even sure in reality if Dexter is a person who could ever be, but that’s a part of what’s, I guess, intriguing about the show.
Now, obviously both Dexter and Six Feet Under have afforded you the opportunity to showcase your amazing acting skills, but what about – are you disappointed that Dexter hasn’t afforded you the opportunity to showcase some of your amazing singing and dancing skills?
I would love to find a chance to do that again, but I’m – I don’t – I’m not sad that Dexter hasn’t gotten the chance to showcase it. I don’t think it’s quite the proper venue. I don’t think we’re going to see a musical episode of the show, right?
Do they tell you beforehand the direction they’re going to take the characters to? Do you have any kind of feedback you can say to them, “(Them go there)” or just, “I would like to try that.”
Yes, absolutely. I mean, always have a – at least a broad stroke sense of where we’re headed each season and, you know, I think I have a relationships with the writers where I certainly don’t aspire to write the show. I don’t want to get so involved that I lose my ability to do my primary job. But I think I’m welcomed and even encouraged, to be a part of the conversation, in terms of where we’re going and perhaps more importantly, how we get there.
Sometimes my contributions seems to focus more on, you know – the writers maybe have a sense of what’s going to happen, and obviously flush out how it unfolds. But sometimes there are issues and execution that I feel betray my sense of the character and I’ll, you know, get very specific about the changes I want. But usually, you know, my conversations with them are more thematic and broad stroked about bigger picture.
Okay, and I wonder, what was your first reaction when the Dexter and Debra (romance) line was taken?
I did expect it. I did have a sense that that’s where things were headed. My reaction to it as an actor is that it sort of does something to her emotionally that takes further steps to prepare her emotionally to accept the inevitability of one day finding out who Dexter is. If – you know, Dexter doesn’t know anything about that development, so as Dexter I don’t really preoccupy myself with it.
But yes, I knew that that’s where things were headed and I think – yes, I think Dexter himself says, “If I can have feelings for anyone, I’d have them for Deb.” And you know, I mean it would be a conversation with Jennifer and her sense of Deb how much there’s been some sort of underlie. But there’s an undeniable connection between the two and I think, yes, it’s always been there from the beginning. And I think they’ve – you know we’ve always been on a bit of a collision course, in terms of her finding out.
I don’t know if you heard, but Anders Behring Breivik, who was responsible for the massacre in Norway this summer, he actually claims that Dexter was his favorite shows in his manifesto. I just was wondering, what do you think about that he and other – several other killers has pointed out Dexter Morgan as an inspiration for their actions?
That’s a very upsetting thing to hear. I feel like I can objectively appreciate a sense that I have that, you know, the show is in no way advocating serial murder, and that anyone who would use it as some sort of justification is using it as a further justification of an impulse that predates the shows existence in their world.
Do you believe Debra will be able to turn her brother in to the police?
I don’t know. I mean, maybe. I mean, she could, she’s a police officer. She’s the head of the police department. She’s also come to this, you know, sense of connection to him that maybe she’s suppressed. Its – you know, it’s a fundamental thing that they’re both going to have negotiate. We’ll see. I’m not going to tell you because I’m not even sure at this point what’s going to happen, but even if I were I wouldn’t tell you.
I was wondering, in the series we switch constantly from dark scenes with Dexter to the lighter ones in the police station, how does that work with the crew? How do you make up for all those dark slayings and killer scenes?
Oh, the dark scenes are the most fun, you know? That’s when the crew’s really invigorated, you know? When we’re back the precinct we’re like, “Oh, yes, back in the precinct, back in the briefing room.” No, it’s – I don’t know. I mean, it’s – we all get it. Everybody gets their job. It’s a family at this point and I – I don’t know. It’s – we don’t really talk about it. But I will say that I think I sense that there is a sort of hush, hush reverence and focus and excitement when we’re doing the darker scenes, I think on set generally, and that certainly includes the crew.
Many TV actors who play one role for a long time are afraid that they will be stuck with that role for the rest of their life. Are you afraid sometimes that you will be Dexter for the rest of your career?
I wouldn’t say afraid. I’m aware that there’s an inevitable, you know, residue of Dexter that won’t be on me, you know? You know at the same time, Six Feet Under entered and everybody thought I was a gay funeral director and then I guess he was Dexter’s first victim, and now people associate me with Dexter. I understand that the show has a real presence, but I’m not really afraid, I’m just aware…
I was wondering, do you consider Dexter as a hero since he only kills horrible bad people?
You know, I think those kinds of labels are left for audience members to debate about. I consider Dexter to be a person with a certain set of circumstances that are certainly unique, but I don’t put any kind of white or black hat on him. He’s just a guy trying to deal with his gifts and limitations.
Okay. And in Holland you’re well-known by Six Feet and Dexter, both series with dark humor, is it compelling to you?
I think so. You know, I mean, it’s sort of maybe revealed itself to me, given the kind of projects that I’ve gravitated to or that have gravitated to me. But yes, I think a sort of darker more, at times, subversive tone is something that’s always appealed to me, and I think those kinds of things are only patible if they’re accompanied by or infused with a sense of humor, you know? I don’t think if Dexter – if Dexter didn’t give you the opportunity to laugh it wouldn’t really be something you’d want to watch. But yes, I think – I like to laugh and I like situational humor, as opposed to maybe more joking humor.
What’s next for you after Dexter, and what about a Dexter film?
I am not talking to anyone who’s talking about a Dexter film. What was the other part of the question?
Yes, I’ve heard that on IMDb that…
…there was maybe – there could be a Dexter film coming.
I suppose it’s a possibility, but you know I think we’re focused on doing two more seasons of this show right now.
Yes. The other question was what’s next for you after Dexter? Are you already working on something?
Yes, I mean, I’m – you know, I’m in the midst of hiatus from Dexter, so right now, I’m going to do a few days on this – actually this Web series, the series that’s going to be – appear on the Web called (Ruth and Erica). It’s produced, I think with Google and YouTube. It’s some sort of new thing. I’m doing that.
I’m doing a film in New York in – it shoots in March for the – about five weeks, and then I’ll come back to L.A. and shoot the seventh season of Dexter, and then we’ll have another hiatus ((inaudible)) fit somewhere in there. But it’s nice to find other things to sink my teeth into in the gaps between returning to Dexter.
One of your new projects is To Appomattox and you are playing Ulysses Grant, a totally different…
…role, when compared with Dexter. Was it difficult or will we – will it be difficult to play this icon of American history?
I – first of all before I say anything, I should say that that is a project to which I and many people are apparently attached, so there is no production – definitive production schedule in existence. So you know, I’m glad to hear that that’s been reported, I enjoyed meeting those people. It’s something that I’d love to do, but as far as I know that production is not a reality at this point. But I mean, Ulysses S. Grant is an amazing character who I, you know, would – he’s just a fascinating person to consider. Would it be difficult? I would hope so, you know? I mean, I welcome challenges.
Okay. The question is because you know Grant and Lee were bloody persons on the Civil War that ((inaudible))…
Yes, I mean I got (that they’re greatest) – there again, the dead bodies are very much making their appearance in that world too. I know, I can’t get away from them.
Do you guys ever censor yourselves? Like you have certain scenes on tape, and then you decide to edit them out because they’re like too nasty or the language is going too far or something like that, or violence?
You know, I mean, there’s certainly, in terms of how much we see on the gore front, yes there are discussions about that and different sensibilities, and I think all the sensibilities come together to create what we see and – but sure, those are conversations that we have. I – you know, I think Dexter – the most horrifying images in Dexter are – may well be the ones that you fill in the blanks with with your imagination.
I wanted to know how difficult was it for you as an actor to make the transition from playing for five years gay David Fisher in Six Feet Under to serial killer Morgan Dexter?
I think the big difference that I relish when I move from one to the other, I guess was this – Dexter was such a man of action that he was not a doormat to anyone, you know, he – certainly, so there was a fundamental difference there. But I mean it was just – you know, it’s a completely different set of circumstances. If there are any sort of parallels, it’s probably a preoccupied – preoccupation with a sense of internalized dead father energy. Aside from that they’re pretty different and I was just really glad to, you know, play a part in creating a new world.
So – well, what do you think will become of Harrison, Dexter’s son, at the end of the show?
That’s – you know, I think as key a question that, you know, the show (as it resolves) will answer. I don’t know. I mean, if – yes, if there’s any silver lines – lining, does it reside there? I don’t know.
Dexter (falls) with a lot enemies in the past show, which ones do you – did you prefer most, Trinity or the Ice Truck Killer or Miguel Prado? Which one do you prefer?
I can – it’s hard to pick. I mean, truly. There’s no doubt that the cat and mouse sort of story line that existed with Trinity and Dexter was as captivating as anything. But – and John is an amazing actor, Jimmy Smits has a incredible talent and an incredible generosity, and Christian Camargo, who played the Ice Truck Killer, I didn’t actually work with him that much. I was following him. Though, I did get a chance to work with him again in the sixth season for an episode, and that was a thrill and, you know, that first season of the Ice Truck Killer. I can’t pick them, you know? They’re all his victims and he loves them equally like his children, you know?
Before you got the role of Dexter, were you a big a fan of the Jeff Lindsay novels, and was there a deliberate decision for the story line to deviate from the story line in the novels?
I wasn’t familiar with the novels and read the book in preparation of the first season, because I knew the first season would be based on first book. I also knew that, you know, there were talks about the possibility of basing subsequent seasons on other books, but the decision was made to diverge from that, and so, yes, that was a (conscience) decision as well.
Yes, but that – I mean, the deliberate decisions to change the gender of the baby and, you know…
It was a deliberate decision to not base subsequent seasons on subsequent books, so the stories of the books and the stories of the show are completely divergent because they’re independent. So the characters are the same, but the world is – they’re parallel universes, if you will.
From the beginning of the show, everybody wonders what will happen if Debra discovers Dexter’s secret, and finally it happens. So what do you think Dexter’s approach will be?
I don’t know. I mean that’s the fun of what comes next. I’m eager to learn what that will be just as much as everyone else is, but you know the fun of the show is speculating what will happen next. I’m certainly not going to give you any clues. Not that I have any at this point, to be honest.
Besides Debra and the Dexter situation, there are many unanswered questions at the end of season six, like Ryan Chambers and Louis Green and his plans. Will we find answers for these questions in seventh season?
Yes, I mean, I think – I don’t think any of the, you know, plates that are spinning will not – you know, everything will be addressed. I think, you know, part of the richness and the fun of the world that the writers have created in season 6 is – it’s got so many loose ends and story arcs that need resolution. So yes, I mean, I think any – I would hope that anything you’re preoccupied with, as an audience member, will be revisited and addressed in the seventh season.
- Phoebe Gallagher
DEXTER Season 6 is out June 20