Michael C. Hall, who has spent seven years playing Dexter Morgan, the serial killer with a heart of gold, says he feels “a lot of pride” and “an equal amount of relief” about the end of Dexter, which reaches its series finale on Sunday (TMN/Movie Central, 9 p.m.).
He’s sitting across from me in a restaurant in Toronto, here for TIFF (he’s in the movie Kill Your Darlings), but agreed to do one interview about the finale of Dexter, and this is it.
With elbows on the table and chin resting on his hands, his eyes look to the left and to the right, constantly. He won’t look straight at me. He’s not being rude and, anyway, I’m not surprised. I’ve run into him at TV events in L.A. Seen him arrive at a party, sit alone and look around but eyes down, like a man with keen interest in the shoes and socks other people are wearing. A connoisseur of footwear, you’d think. But a little shy, is all. A nice, kinda reticent guy.
Little wonder he inhabited Dexter Morgan so well – the orphaned boy, grown to be a childlike man who needs to kill but operates by a code. The code was established by a stepdad who recognized the killing instinct in his son. A simple code – Dexter must never get caught; Dexter must only kill other killers who cannot otherwise be stopped; Dexter must be certain of his victim’s guilt.
Over the seasons, Dexter has grown up a lot and the code has been under strain so many, many times. Now that it ends, what was Hall’s first impression of this strange man?
“I’d finished Six Feet Under [he played David Fisher, the emotionally-inhibited, gay funeral director] and announced I didn’t want to do another TV series,” he says. “ I was taking a break to look around at what might interest me. The pilot for Dexter came my way and I was resistant. Another TV series with a lot of death. Then I found I couldn’t ignore it. I read the script twice, I read the book on which it’s based. I knew after two weeks of thinking that I couldn’t resist the challenge of doing this, a drama about rooting for a serial killer. The voice-over element, the way Dexter knew these things that nobody else knew, it was irresistible.”
Hall must have given this kind of answer before. It’s routine, I can tell. The trick is to get him engaged. I ask him about the childlike quality of Dexter Morgan. This works.
“Yes, he’s just a boy, at the start,” Hall says, smiling, glancing at me for a second. “If you remember, there’s that moment when his nemesis, the Trinity Killer says, “Do you want to play?” And Dexter is playing a game, yes. He doesn’t understand yet that there are consequences, real consequences. Other people get hurt, get killed. He’s playing this game, a secret game. It’s very tricky territory for an actor. The grown man is a boy inside, but at the same time he’s perfectly competent as an adult. He’s good at his day job. But he’s compartmentalized everything. He stopped being a kid some time back, but maybe he wants to get back there?”
This is cryptic info, perhaps, suggesting something about the much-anticipated but secret ending to Dexter. I stick to the theme of children and Dexter. Tell Hall that a colleague once told me that her two kids saw an episode of Dexter, an apparently very adult show, by accident, and just adored Dexter Morgan. Hall looks at me directly now, all smiles, intrigued, fully engaged.
“How old are they, these kids?” he asks. I tell him they were about 9 and 11 years old when this happened.
“Well, well, there is something magical about Dexter, isn’t there?” Hall asks rhetorically. “But what is it?” I ask. And we’re having a real conversation now, his shyness evaporated.
“Think about it,” he says. “Things always seem to go right for Dexter in many ways. Dexter lives in a Miami where he can just walk into people’s homes and take stuff, download from their computers. It’s a Miami with no alarm systems and Dexter never encounters a deadbolt lock. This Miami doesn’t exist. It’s fantasy and kids like that. Dexter seems to have magical powers and, for all the kids know, he flies through the air when they’re not seeing him do the other things he does. Maybe that’s it. Or it’s the bright, bright colours of Miami.”
And the ending of Dexter – is he happy, or just plain relieved? I know this is a tricky question. Hall, now 42, has been through an awful lot while playing Dexter Morgan. In 2008 he married co-star Jennifer Carpenter, who plays his sister Deb on the series, and they split up two years later. In January of 2010 it was announced that Hall had cancer, a treatable form of Hodgkin’s lymphoma. (He attended the Golden Globes that year wearing a knit cap, as he’d lost his hair during chemotherapy treatment.) Later that year he announced that he was in full remission and going back to work. We’re not going to touch on any of that, and that’s okay – he’s reticent enough as it is.
“Yes, I’m very happy. The ending honours the story, but endings are always tricky,” he says with a rueful smile. “Six Feet Under ended in a way that satisfied a lot of people, and that’s unusual. With Dexter there’s nothing left to discuss. I think the ending has been signalled since last season. I think the Dr. Vogel character [Charlotte Rampling played Vogel who was part of the creation of Dexter’s “code.”] brought it forward to a sense of closure. The audience’s impulses, about a satisfying ending, will be met.”
And then he’s gone, as Dexter will be on Sunday. Me, I don’t know how Dexter will leave, but Hall leaves with a smile and a friendly handshake. He’s looking down again, mind you.