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.

Michael C. Hall On Hedwig, Dexter’s Finale And Possible Future

Michael C. Hall On Hedwig, Dexter's Finale And Possible Future 

Via The Daily Beast: “I just got my nails done,” gushes Michael C. Hall, extending his manicured, silver digits towards me. “I try to touch it up every couple of weeks. If it gets a little trashy and starts to chip off, it feels… appropriate.” 

We’re sitting across from each other at El Quijote, a vintage Spanish restaurant in the Chelsea area of Manhattan that appears lifted straight out of a Tarantino flick. Hall’s on a strict diet for the 7-performance-a-week show—one that not only requires him to cut out carbs, but also demands 40 minutes in the makeup chair each night. So, while picking at a pair of grilled shrimp appetizers, we discuss everything from grinding on buttoned-up Broadway patrons to Dexter’s finale—and possible future

You’ve starred in two Broadway plays back-to-back with “The Realistic Joneses” and “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”. Was this an inch you’d wanted to scratch while on “Dexter”? 

Yeah. I had told my representatives that I was interested in doing a play again and getting back onstage, but I was interested in doing a new play by a young, preferably even American playwright. “The Realistic Joneses” fit the bill. And then this emerged. I do think that, with “Dexter” ending and “Six Feet Under”, that’s 13 years of playing two characters with small breaks here and there. It really predominated my experience of being an actor, and both characters were fraught with a certain tension, sense of conflict, and interior turmoil. There was a desire to perform an exorcism. Realistic Joneses got it started, and I think Hedwig has really cracked the nut; it’s completely recalibrated my instrument, and has been therapeutic. I’ll probably descend into a deep, dark depression when it’s over, but it’s great for now. 

Did playing such a demented character like Dexter for so long mess with your head? Because as an actor, you have to rationalize his decisions constantly.

Definitely. I think I’m only now processing that issue. You can do some sort of intellectual or emotional alchemy and substitute whatever Dexter is doing away with, with whatever you might deem worthy of doing away with. But in the end, you’re simulating murder and a life based on fundamental, formidable secrets and lies, and that’s going to do a number on you. There’s a part of us that doesn’t distinguish between ritual and reality, and there’s some way that whatever you’re performing is encoded in you, hence the need to perform some sort of exorcism. I think actors have a degree of preoccupation with their sense of what it is to be authentic—they’re dedicated to simulating authentic human behavior—and to play a character who himself is claiming to be without the capacity for that authenticity takes it to another level. 

If you play a character, initially you’re called upon to investigate and bring to the table certain things that are initially useful, but if you do it for five seasons or eight seasons, it can feel like you’re beating a dead horse, tilling dead soil, or trying to reinforce things you’re trying to transcend in your own life. It’s an occupational hazard, I guess. 

How did you end up starring in Hedwig?

John came to see The Realistic Joneses and we went out to dinner after and talked casually about the show, but that was it. He didn’t ask about me doing it. Then he sent me a text and asked if we could “chat,” and he invited me to do it. I took a couple of weeks before I said yes because it’s a lot. But I’m a big rock ‘n’ roll fan, and a big fan of the music. The first time I met John was at Kim’s Video many years ago, and I geeked out on the movie and also saw the show downtown a while back. I harbor a rock ‘n’ roll fantasy, just like anybody, and I welcomed the challenge. She’s extreme, and I welcomed the challenge. I’m living a rock ‘n’ roll reality now, which is actually a lot less glamorous than you’d think. 

It’s a grueling performance. What sort of preparation did you do for Hedwig? 

Two or three weeks before rehearsals officially started I stopped eating bread and tried to get my cardiovascular fitness up, because singing those songs while executing all those moves—among many other things—is a real cardio challenge. I got a pair of heels before I started rehearsing that I used for a time before the ones they made for me for the show came, and they were higher than the ones I wear in the show and more difficult to negotiate. I started walking around the apartment in those and never rehearsed out of them. By the time I transitioned to the ones they made for me, which are made for my specific foot and calibrated to a male’s weight distribution versus a female’s, they felt like sneakers. 

People who have only seen you in Six Feet Under and Dexter are going to be very surprised to see you as Hedwig.

Hedwig calls on me to have a much more expansive energy—not so interior. But still, someone who’s in some sort of state of conflict. 

Right. You’re so great at capturing that inner turmoil. Are you plagued by your own sense of inner turmoil?

Sure. I sometimes feel vexed by—but also addicted to—a sense of conflict, or a sense of being at odds with myself, or my choices. They say your strengths can become your weaknesses, but in my case, perhaps my weaknesses have become my strengths. 

You’ve faced plenty of adversity in your life, from your father passing away when you were just 11 years old to being diagnosed with cancer at 38. You’re a resilient guy. 

Yeah… or maybe I’m just not really here. Maybe I’m just a cipher. 

I saw you in Hedwig. You seem very much present. 

Oh yeah, I was there. That happened. But it’s the only life I’ve known, and I think that anybody can make room for whatever comes their way, and on some fronts I’ve had to make room for things that not everybody has. But all in all, I feel pretty fortunate. As far as the cancer goes, it wasn’t a 50/50 scenario as far as my prognosis. I was told from the beginning that the odds were overwhelmingly in my favor as long as I decided on a course of treatment and went through with it. As far as cancers go, it’s one that they’ve known how to treat effectively, and because I was young and in good health, I could take the assault of the treatment. It coincided with a hiatus from work, too. I have a friend who said, “You know, when you have wet pants? It’s like having wet pants for six months, and then you take the pants off.” I try to keep that in mind. 

I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you about the Dexter spin-off that Showtime’s hinted at.

First off, doesn’t a spin-off mean that it’s focused on another character? I don’t see how it’s a spin-off, but more of a recontextualized Dexter. He’s still alive as far as the story goes, and he didn’t really share with us what was going on with him in those final moments, which is a part of what some—not many viewers—found upsetting about the ending: “He’s not talking to us! What’s going on? What’s he doing?!” It was definitely an anti-closure ending, and if the character—and show—has life behind it, it leaves the door wide open. I finished Six Feet Under and said I’d never do another TV show and then Dexter happened almost immediately after, so if I said right now that there will never be another incarnation of anything involving the character of Dexter , cut to three months later and I’ll probably be on set shooting it. Never say never. But right now, I’m interested in doing other things. 

I caught “Cold in July” at Sundance, and it’s a very good film. 

I did that right after Dexter ended. It was the first step in my Dexter detox—to play a guy who killed someone without meaning to do it. 

How’s the Dexter detox going?

It’s good! Really good. I feel like it’s in its final stages now that I’m doing the rock ‘n’ roll thing. The general notion of Dexter existing in a different context and, because of who he is, being a very different person, is interesting. I don’t know how to execute it, but that’s potentially compelling. Let me know if you have any ideas!

It’s funny that you’re involved in what many consider one of the greatest series finales in history in Six Feet Under and also one… 

…That’s the most exasperating, frustrating, and roundly ridiculed? [Laughs]

And now Sia is huge. Every time I think of her I think of that Six Feet Under finale. 

I know! Have you seen that “Chandelier” video? I only saw it recently, and I think I watched it ten times non-stop. She can really wail. I know some people who can’t hear that song [“Breathe Me”] without crying. I think Dexter was reeling ever since The Trinity Killer killed his wife, and was trying to make amends on some level, and it did nothing but destroy the lives of everyone around him. The idea that he chose to exile himself from the world by simulating his death and going to the middle of nowhere and disappearing is a justifiable choice as far as my sense of the character goes. The way it was executed was maybe not satisfying to people, and it was in no way tied up in a bow.

But would it have been strange to tie up Dexter in a bow?

Well, the only way Dexter could have been tied up in a bow was if the last episode would have been the last episode of Season 4. There’s his own son lying in a puddle of blood. Then I would’ve been in the two best finales! [Laughs] But we did four more seasons. Also, at that point the head of Showtime, Bob Greenblatt, left, and then our showrunner, Clyde Phillips, told that story and then left, so we were left without somebody running the writer’s room and how to deal with the mess that had been made of Dexter’s DNA and the world of the show, and I got cancer so I wasn’t very focused. Those last four seasons were inherently different, and there were times where I really struggled with my sense of who he was, but then I always fell back on, “Oh, well I guess Dexter is struggling, too.”

There’s a miniseries you’re set to executive produce, “God Fearing Man”, whose script is co-written by the late Stanley Kubrick. 

It’s based on a script that he wrote called God Fearing Man about a guy who was initially a man of the cloth who became the most successful bank robber of his time. The script would be used as more than just raw material, but would need to be fudged. We’re in the process of figuring out who might be the right person to do that, and it’s in its early stages. I’m not positive that it would work out that I’d play the part, but I’m interested in playing it. When I start talking about the character with writers, I feel like I’m talking about Dexter sometimes. 

Do you feel liberated now that you’re no longer tethered to a long-running TV series? 

As most actors are, I’m convinced that everything is going to disappear and that I’m not going to be able to do this anymore, but it’s nice to commit to things that have an immediate end in sight. That’s a whole new world. I didn’t anticipate things would go this way. Maybe I’ll just go to the Pacific Northwest and chop down trees. 

Click here to read the full interview.

Michael C. Hall On “Hedwig And The Angry Inch” For W Magazine

Michael C. Hall On His Latest Broadway Role In "Hedwig And The Angry Inch"Michael C. Hall is starring in the current production of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” at the Belasco Theater through January 4th. The actor chats about this new Broadway role for W Magazine.  

This is such a physical show. How far in advance did you start preparing and what was the preparation like? 

There were probably about 22 proper days of rehearsal leading up to the performance. And there are so many learning curves: the fishnets and heels and bra learning curve. And the mike cord learning curve. And the German accent learning curve. And the choreography learning curve. And the gymnastic climbing the set stuff. It just goes on and on. 

Only 22 days? You must have been in amazing shape to begin with!  

Certainly before rehearsals proper started I was, you know, thinking about those hot pants. They definitely got me to go to the gym to run. You want to look good in a dress, so I dropped a little weight.

Well, I don’t know if anyone’s ever told you this, but you have a great pair of legs. 

Thank you. I really don’t know that they’ve ever been featured in this way, so that’s been a nice thing to discover. 

Were the heels the hardest part to get used to physically?

I guess they were early on. My feet definitely were in a state of shock during the first week of rehearsal. But I had the heels before I started rehearsal, I was walking around the apartment doing the dishes in heels. It definitely helps me appreciate the trials of being a fashion-conscious woman. 

Do you have a recovery process you do after every show? 

I have these yoga toes things I use. They’re these jelly things that separate your toes and you put them in the freezer so they simultaneously reduce swelling and spread your toes out. So I wear them for 20 minutes. And if you get on the floor and put your legs up on the wall and just let the blood drain from your throbbing feet as they’re stretched out, you’ll see some swelling reduction. 

I am totally going out and buying those, thank you! Did you pick up any other tips you can pass onto us ladies? 

No, but if any guys want lessons on how to tuck, I can do that. 

Was that a self-taught thing or did you get advice? 

I got some pointers from people who do cross-dressing. To make the line of some of the costumes work it seemed like a good idea to figure out where to put things. 

What’s going through my head seems awfully painful.  

You put one thing between your legs and the other things from whence they came, sort of up in you. I think ninjas do it, too, when they fight. 

I have no use for that tip, unfortunately, but it’s great to know. And the makeup is amazing, did you get a lesson in how to do it? 

It is applied by professionals and it takes about 45 minutes. When it’s all done it looks pretty fantastic, but there are stages along the way where I catch myself in the mirror and it’s pretty scary. It’s like Norma Desmond on a bad day. 

Do you carry any of Hedwig with you when you’re off stage? 

Not really. I still stand up when I pee. 

That’s good to know. The show also involves some audience interaction: you “carwash” (dance above a person’s face in a fringed skirt) one person and kiss another. How do you choose your subjects?

Sometimes I’ll spot someone early and go, okay, that’s DEFINITELY who I’m going to carwash. But it’s really more fun to just decide in the moment. 

Have you ever had a bad reaction from someone when they’re chosen? 

I did it to a 16 or 17-year-old kid who turned to stone. He was absolutely horrified. But then I got flowers from his mother thanking me. I guess she felt like he needed to be shaken up a little bit. So, you’re welcome!