Michael C. Hall On Playing David Bowie On Stage

Michael C. Hall Playing David Bowie On Stage

Via The Guardian: When David Bowie and Michael C. Hall met for the first time, the rock star looked at the actor, held him in his gaze for a moment and then asked: “What is it with you?” Hall didn’t ask him to elaborate; he knew Bowie meant “death”. You can’t shake how strange a constant it has been in the 44-year-old’s life and work. Consider his great TV roles. First, there was HBO’s wonderful “Six Feet Under”, in which Hall made his name as the tightly wound David Fisher, a mortician in the family’s funeral parlour. Then, his stardom exploded with the Showtime series “Dexter”, in which he played a droll forensics expert who moonlights as a serial killer of serial killers. And now, Hall is the star of a show bound up, inside and out, with death, immortality and the afterlife. In “Lazarus” – the David Bowie musical that sold out long before it opened and well before the Starman himself died – Hall plays Thomas Newton, a man who can’t die.  

So when he woke up last Monday and learned, via “25 or 30 texts”, that Bowie had passed away, Hall felt a familiar “internal fist clench”. Handsome and anonymous in a West Village cafe, he balls his right hand and then spreads his fingers wide as he tries to explain: “Some sort of old survival mechanism kicks in. I think it’s about holding on, it’s about mirroring what I see to not be victimised by trauma.” And then these words come out in a quiet rush: “To not be a pitiful, fatherless son.”  

When Hall was 11, that fulcrum age of not really child but not quite teenager, he lost his dad to cancer. It is young to experience death, but Hall’s life was coloured by it from the start: his older sister died from congenital heart disease before he was born. It is easy, in other words, to get pretty heavy – pretty fast – with him. “It’s all right,” he laughs, “it’s inevitable …” and he makes a laissez-faire wave. Because, luckily for him, Hall also has a great capacity for silliness. You can see levity in everything he does – in the eyes of that affable murderer Dexter, or in the movement of the leaping but gravity-bound Newton on stage at the New York Theater Workshop.  

Before Lazarus, Hall was splattered with glitter on Broadway in the title role of the gender-bending Hedwig and the Angry Inch. “Which served,” he jokes, “as a very elaborate glam audition.” He already had the job before he met Bowie, but when it came time to sing, “I felt the butterflies start turning to bats. And Bowie said,” – Hall affects a voice of self-mocking kingliness – “‘Now sing my songs for me.’”   

In other words: “He was sort of naming the absurdity of the moment, which I really appreciated. I think he took pains to put people at ease. He was so generous, and palpably kind.”  

Hall began to sing “Where Are We Now?”, from Bowie’s album “The Next Day”, facing the pianist, and it wasn’t until he reached the last verse that he became aware of “oohs” coming from the figure in his peripheral vision. He turned and looked. Bowie, eyes closed, was singing the backing vocals. “And I thought: ‘OK, this is it. I have nothing left to fear.’ And that,” he smiles broadly, “was an amazing day. I kept it together, but when he left, I was alone in the apartment and my legs went out, and I sort of fell to the floor. I’ve never met someone for whom I had such reverence. And the thing about meeting him was not just that I knew him, because I was so familiar with his music, but, because of the resonance of his music and the way it affects anyone who comes to love it, there was a sense that he knew me.”  

On opening night, Bowie sent him, “a very, very amazing gift and note. Out of respect for his intense privacy I’ll just say that it was an artefact from his past that he had passed on to me. And it will be a talisman to me for the rest of my life.” There is a magnificently long pause as Hall seems to internally weigh up whether or not to say more. His forehead creases deeper. Finally, he signals that the thought has been dismissed and we move on. 

With yet more Bowie eeriness, the cast were scheduled to record the show’s soundtrack on that Monday of his death. The recording session became a sort of wake. “I did feel that a part of my work was to empty myself out and let it move through me,” Hall says. “As is often the case when you’re performing, but in this case, all the more so. Since he has passed, there’s probably been a more potent sense of his presence.”  

On the table between us are the iPhone and earphones that Hall was listening with when he walked in. He indicates them: “This is what he gave us so I’ll take it. It’s heavy, but it’s soothing.” He uses similar words to describe getting through the show last Tuesday: “So much of what I love about him characterised what I loved about doing the show that night – it was simultaneously heavy and as light as air.”  

Hall calls Bowie “dichotomous” – “revealed and impenetrable, and heartfelt and detached. Even his presentation of himself as an alien is what made him so universally relatable to humans. Because we all, in some way or another, feel that way, and – depending on your appetite for airy-fairyness or scientific background – he brought the stardust in.”  

If anyone in the cast of Lazarus knew how ill Bowie was, they kept it to themselves. Hall can certainly appreciate the wish to keep such a thing private. At the age of 38, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of cancer. He told no one on the set of Dexter, just got the job done and then quietly began chemo the day after filming wrapped on the show’s fourth season. The show ran for a critically acclaimed eight seasons, during which Hall racked up five Emmy nominations. He has a characteristically modest explanation for its success: “Some people like the bad boy and some people like the boy next door, and he sort of manages to present both. So I guess he kind of had that broad spectrum of appeal in his twisted way.”  

“The language surrounding cancer is not language I’m particularly comfortable with,” he says. (He is now in remission.) “This idea of ‘bravely succumbing’ or ‘successfully fighting’ or ‘winning the battle against’ … I didn’t want to do anything to encourage that language. People say: ‘You beat cancer.’ And it’s like: ‘No, a cocktail of chemotherapy drugs beat cancer.’” He goes on, scoffing: “When people go get chemo, they’re not injecting themselves with will – I have lost various loved ones to cancer, and I certainly don’t feel that I am any stronger or braver than them.”  

He did, however, receive his diagnosis with extraordinary calm. “There was a sense of bemusement,” he says, “but a sense of, ‘of course’ – y’know? Of course that’s a part of the story.” He is referring to the fact that, at 38, he was a year younger than his dad had been when he died. The age had always had a morbid significance and so: “I felt justified in what had been a preoccupation with this threshold in my life since age 11 – ‘Well, here I am.’” Another vast and thoughtful pause before he offers this: “In a way, the relatively sunny picture I had in terms of my prognosis, revealed to me the extent of my survivor’s guilt. I was like: ‘Well, dad had real cancer.’”  

“I mean, even in the moment when I received the diagnosis, I felt a twinge of connection. I think those are clues that I’ve looked for my whole life. I’m never more encouraged than to hear someone talk about how eerie it is that I move like my father.” In December, for example, Hall sang Lazarus on the Colbert Show, and when the number ended he stepped back and gestured to the band. Afterwards, his mother told him that in that moment he had looked exactly like his father. “And that was heartening to me. It’s some sense of not being alone,” he says. “Of being inhabited. In a way that feels good.”  

That description could serve for acting itself. Did his grief coincide with his decision to become an actor? “I think it became all the more of a lifeline for me at that point,” he says. “And the need to escape and the need to process things or confront things indirectly was probably solidified by that trauma.”  

Most of his career, though, has been about inhabiting trauma, so much so that I half expect his IMDb page to be spattered with blood. “I don’t have nightmares about embalming people or killing people or my home planet …but when so much of your spiritual, psychic, emotional energy is dedicated toward the authentic simulation of some fiction, it affects you in some way. I mean, that’s the tricky thing about playing a character for a long time – you initially feel it’s therapeutic. You’re tilling what would have otherwise been dead soil and airing it out. But after a while, it feels like you’re reinforcing bad habits. I mean, yeah, it was nice to check in with my doormat issues, but after a while I was ready to stop playing David Fisher, you know? Or, it was nice to really explore the degree to which I struggle with my own sense of authenticity, but after a while I was ready to stop playing Dexter.”  

Hall once said that it was only by secrets that he had a sense of himself. It sounds like a rather grave pronouncement, but when I mention it, he sparks into playfulness. “But we always have one, you know?” He points at me: “You have one! I always try to have one. It could be anything: ‘I’m wearing women’s underwear’ – whatever – or, ‘I killed my family.’”  

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Jeff Lindsay About “Dexter” Series And Moving On: “The Adaptation They Did Was Very Faithful In Spirit, And Very Well Done. So I Got No Complaints At All About Showtime.”

Jeff Lindsay About "Dexter" Series And Moving On: “The Adaptation They Did Was Very Faithful In Spirit, And Very Well Done. So I Got No Complaints At All About Showtime.”

Jeff Lindsay spoke on “Cityscape” about Dexter’s final book, “Dexter Is Dead”, and about his experience as the author of its murderous but oddly beloved main character. While Lindsay consulted for a while on the first season of Showtime’s spinoff (and snagged a brief role in the third), the “Dexter” TV show went its own way from the books before too long. The divergent plots didn’t bother Lindsay, who says he was luckier than other authors he knows whose work has made it to the screen. “The adaptation they did was very faithful in spirit, and very well done. So I got no complaints at all about Showtime.”  

Lindsay is puzzled, however, by the fact that so many people like his character. In general, Dexter kills people who are themselves awful; but Lindsay says he often wonders, “What’s wrong with people? Because you should remember that he’s a bad guy, he’s a serial killer. And no one seems to get that.”  

It seems, too, that some forget that Dexter Morgan is fictional. Lindsay told Don that he’s been threatened and harassed by readers and show-watchers unhappy with the end of the show or, inexplicably, with him—to the extent that “it makes me a little nervous from time to time.” But despite unwanted attention in that respect, he is happy with having ended the series and looking forward to next steps. “I have a couple of things out there,” Lindsay said, acknowledging that despite a collaboration with Marvel Comics on Dexter graphic novels, “I’m still sort of at the ‘throw things at the wall and see if they stick’ phase.” 

Lindsay also touched on differences in the publishing world since he began his series with “Darkly Dreaming Dexter” and has some unconventional advice for aspiring writers. “I have two pieces of advice. The first is, don’t do it—find something else to waste your time on. And the second piece is, if you have to—which is the only excuse, if you can’t help it—learn to arc weld. Because you’re gonna have to have a semi-independent profession…to pay the rent until the unlikely event that lightning strikes and you can support yourself with writing. It’s a lot harder now.”  

Click here to listen to the interview.

Jeff Lindsay On His Latest Book – “Dexter Is Dead”

Jeff Lindsay On His Latest Book - "Dexter Is Dead"After seven best-selling books about Miami-based serial killer Dexter Morgan, Lindsay is back to say goodbye to his beloved anti-hero. In his latest in the series, Dexter is Dead”, Jeff Lindsay gives Dexter an ending worthy of his iconic status. New Times spoke with Lindsay about his latest book in a recent interview. Read it after the jump.

Is Dexter really dead?

I don’t want to spoil anything, but is he really? It seemed like you could revive him should it be deemed necessary? Well, I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t actually paid for the book, but I would say that after you’ve paid for the book, you need to form your own conclusions. But I am thinking this is the last Dexter book.

Was killing him really the only way out?

No, I toyed with the idea of life in prison for a while because I’m a merciful guy. And I was going to give it the…well, there is a wonderful old movie Kind Hearts and Coronets, it has Alex Guinness in it. He is in prison for murder that he didn’t commit. So, he writes a confession for a dozen others he did commit. In the end of the movie, they say, “You are pardoned. You are free to go.” And he goes running out, hooray, and he rides off in his carriage and then remembers he left the confession in his jail cell. So, I thought of something like that too. But in the end, I think it had to end just exactly the way it did end.

I read in a Reddit AMA, that you said you hadn’t seen the TV series finale. Have you seen it now? And if so, do you approve?

No, I haven’t seen it. I am still getting hate mail about it, as if I had anything to do with it.

Are you staying away for any particular reason, or is it just inertia?

You know, I got three seasons behind. I was on the road for almost a year and I was all over the world. And I’m not a big binge watcher, I can’t do it anyway. And so, there was so much new stuff by then, that I never caught up.

Do you feel like the character of Dexter has turned into a cultural phenomenon almost out of your control?

I like to say I have an Edgar Rice Burroughs complex. Because you can go anywhere in the world and say, “Tarzan” and people will turn around and make the Tarzan sound. But you say, “Edgar Rice Burroughs” and people say, “Excuse me, I just have to get by you.” No one knows who that is. He was the creator of Tarzan. So, I feel like, to a certain extent, that has happened to me too.

Florida is a weird state. My dad calls it “America’s septic tank.” What do you love about the state and does it influence the way you write?

Well, we like to say that all the nuts roll downhill to Florida… I grew up there and it is my home, and every time I live somewhere else, I miss it. It’s got its hooks in me, that’s one thing. But, I love the way the sky looks when a storm rolls in. When the hair on your arms stand up and your skin tingles and the lightning hits and incredible rain. You think there is going to be a hurricane, but then, 20 minutes later it is gone. The sun is out and in half an hour the streets are dry again. Just little things like that. I love taking the boat out in the early morning and watching the sun come out over the water. It’s my home. I will wax poetic about it if I’m not careful.

So, it’s that weird edge of danger and alluring that is so captivating about the state?

Yes, would you put down that I said that? That’s pretty much it… I’ve said before that there is something surreal about Florida — a beautiful sunset, a palm tree and a headless body at the bottom of the tree. It all feels different.

There is a lot of food in your books. Dexter is almost always thinking of his stomach. What is your favorite place to eat in Florida?

You know, I think having one favorite place is like having one thing you eat for breakfast. So, it gets dull. So, it depends on the food and the weather and the mood. There is a place in Florida that has really good sushi that no one really knows about. There is a place in South Carolina that I’ve been to that serves wild game, but served in a nouveau-cuisine manner.

If you were on death row and you had to pick a last meal, what would that last meal be?

Something with a lot of courses… I read about these guys on death row and [the news stories] always say his last meal was something disappointing, like chicken fried steak, onion rings, and vanilla ice cream. God, they should have killed him sooner. But why not do something spectacular? You are only going to do this once… But I really couldn’t say, because it’s too hard.

If you could go back in time and give yourself some advice at a vulnerable point in your career, what would you say?

I would say, “Don’t be a schmuck! Finish the book!”

Is that about Dexter?

Yeah, it took four years to write it because I kept thinking, no one is going to want to read this crap.

But, I’ve read that you actually find some serial killers to be very sympathetic, who specifically and why?

No one specifically, just reading studies in general and talking to psychologist and forensic psychologists. And that’s one of the things they do. They learn how to act like they are sympathetic, but they don’t have empathy.

I met a woman in Australia. And she came up after one of the events and she was talking, but I was a little distracted. I said, “I have to go.” But then she said, “I never knew, until a few years after he died. When we found the skeletons under the house.” And I said, “Tell the next appointment I am going to be late.” This poor old lady. She said her life was horrible. He didn’t kill her obviously, but he didn’t love her because he wasn’t capable of feeling love. But, as she said, in those days you didn’t just walk out. If you got married, you stuck with it. But there were a dozen or more skeletons buried underneath her own home. And he put them there, presumably when they weren’t quite skeletons.

Do you believe in the idea of the perfect murder? How would you murder someone if you were to go about it?

You know, about 80-some-percent of murders go unsolved. So there might be too much emphasis placed on the whole idea. But with the perfect murder, you’d have to have no connection to the victim, which kind of defeats the purpose. But you’d have to pick a complete stranger and kill them and either dispose of the body so that it looks like a convincing accident or, in my case, take it out to the Everglades and put it in an alligator hole.

Florida has a lot of great places to dump a body.

Yes, it is the best.

 

Michael C. Hall On Being Hedwig And “Dexter”: “A TV Show Is Like A Marriage”

Michael C. Hall On Hedwig And Dexter:Michael C. Hall eats a dinner of of kale salad and roast chicken in his purple dressing room at the Belasco Theater on 44th St. in New York City. It’s a December evening, and his protective little rescue dog, Sal (short for Salamander), looks at him expectantly, waiting for a crumb. “If I don’t force myself to eat at certain times of the day, I’ll disappear,” Hall says apologetically between bites. Hall will play Hedwig until Jan. 21, when the show’s creator,John Cameron Mitchell, will return to the role for the first time on Broadway for an eight-week engagement. The musical, an hour and 40 minutes long with no intermission, is a nightly marathon of sorts for Hall, who dances in heels and elaborate wigs as he sings 11 songs, interacts with the audience and performs monologues without a break. Though Hall has musical-theater experience — he previously played the Emcee in “Cabaret” and Billy Flynn in “Chicago” — he said “Hedwig” is “the most comprehensively challenging thing I’ve ever taken on. I enjoy playing characters who are at first glance unsympathetic,” he said. “I enjoy the challenge to sympathize or at least humanize people like that.” As his weeks wind down as the internationally ignored song stylist from communist East Berlin — his final performance will be Jan. 18 — Hall sat with Speakeasy to discuss the show, what it was like stepping out as Hedwig for the first time, “Dexter” and more.  

*An edited transcript 

Did you ever ask John Cameron Mitchell why you struck him as someone who could play Hedwig? 

I guess John felt, given the work he’s seen me do and his sense of me as an actor, that I’d be an appropriate choice. I didn’t try to talk him out of it. 

How has this experience changed you as an actor? 

That’s something that will probably be easier to determine when it’s over. Hopefully it’s given me a greater sense of confidence and fearlessness. It’s like getting on a ride. Once it starts, you’re really taking the audience on a journey and it requires a sort of simultaneous laser focus and also a real looseness and an energy that welcomes whatever chaos might emerge. Which is fun, I think that’s a good thing to cultivate — the ability to do those things at once. 

To bounce back and forth between TV and theater must make for a good change of pace.

It does. Those two parts [“Six Feet Under” and “Dexter”] kind of defined my sense of what it was to be an actor for over a decade, so it’s nice to take on things that have an end in sight at the beginning.

Do you appreciate doing movies for that reason?

I do, it’s fun – movies are like a love affair and a TV show is like a marriage. 

How have the audiences been for “Hedwig”? There have been some instances at the show where people tried to touch you or called you “Dexter.”

That hasn’t happened that often. I think the people who are fanatical about “Hedwig” greatly outweigh the people who are fanatical about “Dexter,” at least in this audience. You know, if someone, because of being a fan of “Dexter,” is inclined to buy a Broadway ticket to see the show, then I’m all for it. But it hasn’t been a debilitating or constant thing. There have been moments. Sometimes people don’t seem to make a distinction between watching a screen and watching a live performance.

Is “Dexter” something you’re trying to move away from a little bit? 

As an actor, sure. The more work I do, like the “Cold in July” movie which I did right after “Dexter,” and “The Realistic Joneses” and now this, I feel like I’m putting more time and psychic space between me and that character, which I feel is important. I’m proud of the show and I certainly don’t resent the fact that people are more likely to recognize me for it than much else.

What’s been the biggest challenge of being a part of two shows with such cult followings?

Having strangers think they know you… But that’s not so bad. At least I’m recognized for something I’m proud of. I suppose some people’s sense of me as an actor begins and ends with those individual characters, but that will change slowly. I realize that if it’s not in the first sentence, it will be in the first paragraph of my obituary. 

Read the full interview here.