On a rainy day, in the dark, lushly appointed Hudson Hotel in Manhattan, Michael C. Hall — the star of Showtime's addictive hit show Dexter (Sundays at 9 pm/ET) — sat down behind a chess table and talked to TVGuide.com about playing the most likable serial killer around. In Part 1 of our interview, he talks about Dexter's steamy love affair, what made him the way he is and why people want him to get back to his old habits. In the next installment, he'll share his thoughts on Dexter's nemesis and his oldest ally, plus the new movie Hall is working on.
TVGuide.com: Dexter is such an unlikely hero — I mean, he's a serial killer, but you can't really help rooting for him.
Michael C. Hall: The show allows for that empathy to exist on the part of the audience, in that he's taken this unique responsibility for his darker compulsions, which I think is, in its twisted way, admirable. Dexter pinpoints a lot of reasons why he believes he isn't fundamentally human, but I think those are really the things that make him as relatable as anything. We're meant to be skeptical about his claim that he's without the capacity for emotion. Because he had a light shine on his darkness through Harry's unorthodox parenting techniques — you know, his father basically said, "I see your darkness, and I love you, and I believe in you, and not in spite of it." Dexter's adherence to the code may initially just be about pragmatism and not getting caught and covering his tracks, but I think there's emerging in him a sense of responsibility. It's really tricky — I never want the performance to be something that you can definitively pin down, "Oh, now he's human, and now he's faking it." There needs to be kind of a blur. That's the fun of it.
TVGuide.com: How would you characterize this season as compared to last?
Hall: I think the question that Dexter is posing to himself over the course of the first season is, "What happened to me?" And now it seems to be more "Who am I? Or what am I?" In a way, the story of the second season is that while he can't quite consciously make the connection, he's literally in recovery in terms of his NA [Narcotics Anonymous] cloak, but he's figuratively recovering from a gaping emotional wound that went along with doing in his brother [the Ice Truck Killer, at the end of Season 1], a person he never thought could exist. And I think that makes him susceptible to this Lila character. [Last season], there was sort of a streamline trajectory, and this year it just feels like it's chaos. I mean, the bodies surface, and Rita finds the shoe, and that relationship is crumbling, and he's going to NA and pretending to be a drug addict. And Doakes is more rabid than ever, and it's just spinning plates.
TVGuide.com: Whenever things start going his way, something else comes up to throw a wrench in his happiness. Is it possible for Dexter to really be happy?
Hall: And do we really want him to be rehabilitated? In a way, Dexter is alienating and hurting people in a way he never has before, and it's in the midst of him entertaining the possibility of his rehabilitation. You watch him and you're almost like, "I wish he'd just start killing people again!" Because that's who he really is; that's who we've experienced him to be. It's a tricky thing that the show creates in the audience a sense where they actually root for him to get back to that. And, you know... when and if he does, I think as an audience, you're kind of left with the fact that you wished for it.
TVGuide.com: He must be such a complicated, fascinating character to play.
Hall: If you're going to play a part for a long time, it's kind of ideal, in a way, because there are so many layers. So you're not doing the same thing week in, week out.
TVGuide.com: It's interesting that both Dexter and your last TV role, David from Six Feet Under, are in the business of death.
Hall: Dexter's more on the supply side. [Laughs] Rim shot! But he is. He's so much more proactive. David really, in his way, wore his heart on his sleeve. And Dexter is convinced he doesn't even have one. They intersect in some ways, and in others they're very different.
TVGuide.com: They both have an active life of the mind.
Hall: They're both complex characters, and certainly the idea of having a secret life is something that David is dealing with in the beginning. The skeletons in Dexter's closet are a bit more formidable. And it's like a walk-in closet.
TVGuide.com: And they're actual skeletons. It seems like Dexter keeps building its fan base. How does that experience compare to doing Six Feet Under?
Hall: With Six Feet Under, HBO as a network was really at its peak. The Sopranos and Sex and the City were both hits for the network, and so Six Feet Under had a built-in audience of people leaning forward to see what was next, where Dexter is maybe more a part of Showtime's getting to that place and having people lean forward to see what's next.
TVGuide.com: Lately there have been some pretty steamy scenes between Dexter and his NA sponsor, Lila (played by Jaime Murray).
Hall: He's really come a long way in terms of his sexual evolution.
TVGuide.com: In her own way, she's just as dark and obsessive as he is.
Hall: Yeah, she's messed up.
TVGuide.com: Has he met his match?
Hall: We'll see. [Laughs] It's only a matter of time before the extent of her darkness and how it might threaten Dexter will reveal itself. And how he deals with that, we'll see.
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