Robin Sayers caught up with “Dexter” star Michael C. Hall for a Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine Q&A, here’s an excerpt…
The existential, elliptical issue of nature versus nurture permeates Showtime’s groundbreaking series “Dexter“: Did environment—witnessing his mother’s murder—literally demonize the title character and foster his nocturnal mien, or was he embryonically, hereditarily bad to the developing bone? The antihero himself seems genuinely stupefied, rejecting neither innatism nor empiricism in the show’s oft VO’d phrase, Born in blood…this is fate. Or is even this mantra a weapon of obfuscation? The fact that these most fundamental, binary questions linger after four seasons is a credit to Dexter’s writing staff, but it’s Michael C. Hall who makes viewers still give a damn about the answers.
Prior to this year, it was inconceivable that the actor—also beloved for his portrayal of repressed, non-prodigal gay son David on HBO’s “Six Feet Under” — had much in common with his alter ego. But after fighting Hodgkin lymphoma into remission early this year, it’s apparent the two share, at the very least, a disdain for elegant surrenders. A clean bill of health is not Hall’s only cause for celebration—the fifth season of his lauded show picks up right where the jaw-dropping finale left off, and both a second wedding anniversary (with costar cum wife Jennifer Carpenter) and 40th birthday near for the North Carolina transplant.
RS: Your childhood schooling was at a place called Ravenscroft in Raleigh, North Carolina. That sounds like it belongs in a horror film, with Edgar Allan Poe serving as headmaster.
MCH: And our mascot was a raven.
RS: That’s so on-the-nose.
MCH: Yeah, I know.
RS: And then you went to Earlham College in Indiana, ostensibly to become a lawyer?
MCH: [Laughs.] That’s just what I told people. I never had any intention of going to law school.
RS: When did you first come to Los Angeles, and what were your early impressions?
MCH: In 1997. I was here doing a production of “Skylight” at the Mark Taper Forum. I thought the city was incomprehensibly vast, and the weather seemed perpetually decent. The first night I was here, I went with a group to El Matador State Beach and watched the stars, and that was fantastic.
RS: That was before GPS was standard in most cars. Did you have a Thomas Guide?
MCH: Oh yeah. I didn’t have a GPS until very recently. I held out for a long time — kept the Thomas Guide in my car. There’s nothing like a hard copy, you know?
RS: What neighborhood did you live in when you first arrived?
MCH: They put me up at the Oakwood, on Barham Boulevard. People there are in the midst of career changes or divorces, or maybe their house flooded. But for me, coming from New York, having lived in crappy apartments for years, it seemed amazingly deluxe. I mean, I had a dishwasher, for crying out loud!
RS: What would you say is the most underrated facet of L.A.?
MCH: Its cultural diversity. People think of it as a homogeneous, surface-y, Hollywood kind of place, and it’s not that — or maybe it is that and a thousand other things, too.
xRS: As an Angeleno now, is there a piece of Tinseltown iconography you love seeing?
MCH: Every time I take Fountain, I think of Bette Davis.
RS: Has anyone ever rendered you starstruck?
MCH: I don’t know if it was technically “starstruck,” but I went to a bar on Sunset with a friend several years ago, and O.J. Simpson was there. That made quite an impression on me!
RS: Rattle off the names of every job you’ve had besides actor.
MCH: Clothes salesman, furniture mover, O.R. recovery-room technician, toy salesman, bartender, busboy, knife seller.
RS: Knife, as in…knife?
MCH: Knife, as in, you know, stab you with a knife.
MCH: I don’t know that there is an actual cannibalistic society that you can be a card-carrying member of. But to me, their secrets seem fundamental — and there by necessity. The Freemasons’ secrets are more various and designed.
Dexter fans were weirded out when you started dating your now wife, Jennifer Carpenter, because she plays your sister. Isn’t that just a testament to what incredible actors you both are?
MCH: It’s a testament to the investment people have made in the show, and it messes with their minds to have to make room for that information. But the freak-out phase on that really seems to have come and gone…
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– Robin Sayers
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