Michael C. Hall is no stranger to playing controversial characters, but you’ve never seen him like this before! From his role as a gay funeral director on HBO’s Six Feet Under to playing a forensic blood splatter analyst who moonlights as a serial killer on his hit Showtime show Dexter, the 40-year-old actor continues to push the artistic envelope.
In a new photo shoot with BULLETT magazine, Hall, looking hunkier than ever, depicts a polygamist cult leader with a harem of child brides. In these exclusive images from the shoot, which you will not find in the pages of BULLETT’s winter Secret Issue featuring Hall on the cover (on newsstands now!) the actor convincingly channels the controversial polygamist lifestyle that has been highly hyped in recent months due to the television show Sister Wives and the real life case of Warren Jeffs.
Michael C. Hall arrives to the set of his photo shoot—a sprawling Glendale estate—in army-green attire, the earthy ensemble that his longtime character, beloved serial killer Dexter Morgan, sports as camouflage to hide his alienation and blend into society. In Los Angeles, where Hall’s face seems to occupy every billboard, his nondescript apparel masks the celebrity—seems like he learned a thing or two from channeling Dexter, the enigmatic antihero he plays to such great effect on the hit Showtime series, Dexter. The hypocrisy of Dexter’s actions—it’s okay to kill, so long as the person you’re offing is morally bankrupt—isn’t enough to keep the show’s zealous fans from rooting for him as he avenges the bad guys, always making sure he has proof for his (and for our) peace of mind. We like to believe that he cleans the streets while turning a blind eye to his peculiar rituals, and we look the other way as pleasure flashes across his face at the sight of his kind. We grant him immunity as if he were his own one-man secret society, for he allows us, in exchange, to indulge vicariously in our own suppressed appetites for justice without consequence.
In person, Hall appears quite handsome and charming when his infamous gaze, the “blue-steel” of sinister, is safely tucked away. He seems reluctant as he surveys the Jim Jones–inspired ranch where we’ve scheduled his photo shoot, scanning a clumsily built shack, a rickety trampoline, and rusty cages overgrown with ivy. He’s obviously worried that he’ll forever be associated with all things creepy, a concern that worsens when he meets the models we’ve hired: young women who’ll play the child-brides to his cult leader. But as he’s always done throughout his varied career, Hall welcomes the challenge of entering the world of a new character.
The photographer motions the model to put her hand on Hall’s thigh. He shuffles uncomfortably as their bodies entangle into one another on the dusty matress. His often-masked masculinity becomes overwhelming in a white tank top. His piercing eyes transition effortlessly between darkly intense and amicably placid as the shutter clicks. From the looks being thrown his way by his nervously giggling “cult girls,” it becomes obvious Hall could play the role of a heartthrob in his sleep.
The next morning, Hall meets me for breakfast at Café 101, a ‘30s-themed Hollywood diner on Franklin Avenue. His mask this time is a baseball hat, pulled all the way down so that it covers the top-half of his face. Not long after his oatmeal arrives topped with a sad, brown banana, I begin to probe him for secrets, using the theme of this issue as an excuse. “I have a childhood secret,” he offers, smiling.
Back in the second grade, he and his friends hung out by a creek near their homes in Northern Virginia, until a construction crew threatened to replace their sanctuary with an apartment complex. “We took it upon ourselves to drive them out and get them to stop building the complex,” he says. “We did all kinds of things to their equipment when they weren’t there. The tamer version of what we did involved spreading a concoction of peanut butter and jelly all over their truck’s console, steering wheel, and shifting gears. When we got particularly adventurous, we’d pee all over the tractor seats, and, you know, it got progressively worse over the course of a few weeks.” While describing the exhilaration he felt from hiding his youthful rebellion from his parents, he looks every bit the part of Dexter—albeit a milder version.
About landing the part of Dexter only a year later, he says, “I felt so lucky. I felt like I had shit on both of my shoes.” His tone tells me that this is meant to be a pleasant thing. “It’s not supposed to happen this way.” Does he see a therapist? Hall nods to confirm. “It’s probably affected my psyche in ways that I can’t really appreciate or articulate, but I haven’t completely lost my mind or anything,” he says. “I still understand that it’s all make-believe.”
With Dexter’s new season comes a much-needed antidote to the monotony of Sunday nights, this time by tapping into some spiritual territory with its biblically charged villains and Dexter’s newfound curiosity about his divine purpose. Never before has America had a sweetheart that was an antagonist of such intensity. I turn to Hall for his secrets of making the self-rationalized character so relatable. Chalk it up to modesty, but he says it’s the darkness within us all—and not his superb acting—that’s responsible for Dexter’s popularity. “I can definitely relate to the simultaneous burden and exhilaration of behaving in some taboo way,” he says. “I think we all have a bag of shadows that we drag around with us. Maybe not as formidable as Dexter’s, but I think that’s a part of what we relate to. I can relate to a sense of compartmentalization, a sense of compulsion—I mean, I’m compelled to do things, but thankfully, it’s not killing and chopping people up.”
Hall admits that besides their mutual compulsion to misbehave, he shares with Dexter a search for authenticity, as well as an appreciation for anonymity. “He has a sense of lacking authenticity or faking of all human interaction. I mean I strive for authenticity in a way that he does. I know what it is to feel that I’m wearing a mask to suit whatever situation I’m in, I think we all do that.” There is a visible shift of empathy from the hero to the villain, making the anti-hero the new hero. “I think we live in a time where a lot of people feel an increasing sense that they have no control over their world,” Hall says. “So there’s a vicarious thrill to spending time with a character, who in his own way, and in his own little corner of the world, has taken some form of control.”
Unlike Dexter, Hall is effortlessly “connected” to the world and those who surround him. For example, the man can carry a tune—and he’s not ashamed to let people know. “I sing,” he says. “But that’s no secret.” The thick quality of his tone must be what allows him to portray such a believable master manipulator. Even when he jokes, his voice carries such a tone of assurance that it makes you question his deadpan sarcasm. “Why did you close your little book?” he says. “Are you done with me?” with a steady stare. He is very funny, but seriously.
Will Dexter begin to see what we’ve seen all along: That he is the embodiment of divine intervention. “I want to believe in divine intervention,” Hall says before leaving the restaurant. “It’s hard to definitively say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to questions like that, but there are facts of my own story or other peoples’ story that seem to have been guided by a knowing beyond their individual mind.”
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