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.
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