Jennifer Carpenter: “The Show Is And Always Has Been Paramount”

Jennifer Carpenter Dexter

Jennifer Carpenter stars as Debra Morgan on ‘Dexter’ TV show, which just wrapped its six season Sunday night. Carpenter dished on the success of Dexter, her relationship with co-star Michael C. Hall and what she’s looking for in future roles. 

“I love playing Debra because I learn a lot from her. She sort of acts without thinking, which is a luxury that I don’t really have. I like that she is always operating from her gut. I really admire her. She’s good at her job and she’s relentless about making sure her personal life is in tact. She does a lot of work on herself as a woman, as a friend, as a sister, and as an aunt.”
“I made an early decision that I had to write my own dictionary in a way and make sure there were infinite definitions for the F-word. That way, it wasn’t so repetitive to me and didn’t feel like a crutch. She needs to think of herself as a very expressive person. Although her vocabulary seems limited, I think that she is actually a pretty excellent communicator.”

About her relationship with Michael C. Hall: “It’s sacred for an actor to keep their personal life personal. I would like to reassure all Dexter fans that the show is and always has been paramount. We’ve always done a nice job of protecting it and each other. We play important roles in each other’s lives and always will. Our friendship is true and strong and always will be as far as I’m concerned.”

About the success of ‘Dexter’: “I think I might have been the only cast member shooting the pilot thinking that it wasn’t going to go well because I couldn’t imagine that a network would champion a serial killer or that audiences would either. But I guess they were the smart ones!”

“I think people might be attracted to the character Dexter because they get to exercise some of their own demons through him and live vicariously through him. I think it tests audiences in a way that a lot of other shows haven’t until now. Audiences enjoy being in the know. They get to be in the head of the serial killer and the other characters are in the dark. It’s interesting television. It makes you gauge where your moral center is and sometimes it surprises you that you lean so far from one side to the other.”

What she’s looking for in future roles: “I made a very solid commitment at eight-years-old that I wanted to be an actor, and I never deviated from that decision. I truly did feel like it was a calling, so at this point in my career, I have to decide if I have something new to say as an artist and ask why I am still so hungry. I think it’s because I just love working so much. It’s hard for me to say no to roles that people automatically associate me with — like darker things, horror things. I need to make sure that I’m taking roles that I feel like I can communicate through. never thought that I would be so attracted to television, but I don’t think gigs like Dexter come along too often. I love that there’s a beginning, middle and end to a film and you can craft what the whole journey is going to look like. And then I always love the whole open-endedness of television. I feel like I hear a lot of actors say this — but I know why — you just want to work with really great people. I just want to be with great teachers. If that means I’m in a horror film with good teachers, I’ll do another horror film. But I would love to branch out and do more comedy or just more straight dramas.”


Michael C. Hall In ‘East Fifth Bliss’ Movie

Michael C. Hall East Fifth Bliss

Michael C. Hall East Fifth Bliss

Can you describe East Fifth Bliss?

It’s a . . . I think the tagline for the movie explains it best. They call it a coming-of-age story for someone who should have come of age a long time ago. Morris Bliss, the character I play, has been spinning his wheels for some time. He’s still living in the apartment he grew up in with his father. You learn pretty early on that Morris’ mother died while he was a teenager. He never really moved past that; part of him is frozen inside. Then certain things conspire, and he is propositioned by a very young girl. Simultaneously things become crazy that force him to start moving forward.

How did the project come to you?

It was Michael Knowles, who directed the film. He edited a documentary called The Edge of Things that was directed by a woman I went to grad school with. He discovered from her that she had a relationship to me, and asked if I would come to read the script, which I did. It just took off from there.

Did you read Douglas Light’s novel of the same title, on which the film is based?

Oh, yes.

What did you pull out of it for your character?

A great deal. It’s a very faithful adaptation, so I took just more details about what Morris’ days were like. Not a whole lot in the book had to be excised for the script. Also, I lived in the East Village for years, on Fifth Street.

So you knew what kind of vibe to bring.


One thing I often read about indie movies is how tight the shooting schedule is. In that sense, given your many years on one-hour episodic television, were you more prepared for that?

Yeah, I don’t think I’m really fazed by quick film work. It’s really comparable, the number of pages we shoot in a day for the show and the amount of material we went through for the movie. It’s good training ground for film.


Why is it fans can’t get enough of Dexter?

I don’t know. Lots of different reasons, I suppose. We live in a world that seems to be spiraling out of control. The character has a lot going on in his own little world, and, in a unique way, he is trying to get control. I think people identify with that.

Given your musical-theater background, were you jealous that Grey’s Anatomy did a musical episode?

I don’t remember jealousy being among the pangs I felt when learning that.


I think a musical episode of Dexter would be a natural. Songs like “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”

The ship hasn’t totally sailed. . . . But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

How is your health?

Good. It’s been a year since my last treatment. I had some exhaustive tests that confirmed I’m all clear. I’m feeling good.

Did that experience change you?

Yeah, but I think I’m still sort of processing what happened. The diagnosis came during the course of doing the television show. It was really a matter of making those decisions and then getting the treatments. I don’t think I’m the type of person who is in the business of denying my mortality. But I do now have the highest sense that life is precious—and of gratitude.

Festival organizers told me they are trying to get you down here for the premiere.

Oh, yeah, I’m coming. The 28th, right?

Yes, April 28. Were you also a producer on the film?

No, I just acted in the film, but I want to support it.

Well, you’re familiar with the area because some of Dexter is shot nearby in Long Beach, right?

Yeah, we go down there all the time. Any time we want to fake Miami, we just go south. Anything with ocean on the side and no hills in the background can sub for Miami.





Julie Benz Dishes On Finale

Julie Benz Dexter

Is there any chance Rita is alive? Was it a dream? That she’ll be back as a ghost?

There has been no talk of me coming back to the series in any way. A lot of people have been begging me to tell them that I’m going to come back, and I’m like, ‘Rita’s dead!’ Rita is dead and Trinity killed her. There’s all these theories that Dexter did it, or Deb snuck in and did it, but I don’t think it could get any more obvious that Trinity killed Rita. Rita is dead. And there has been no talk of Rita being a ghost. No one’s approached me about coming back.

Why, why, why? Why Rita? And why did her death have to be so horrifying? She deserved better! What were the writers thinking?

It is tough, and my first reaction was, ‘You’re killing the mother of the show! You’re killing the woman who’s suffered more violence than anybody!’ She suffered more violence than Dexter ever suffered. Dexter witnessed the death of his mother, but he didn’t suffer any physical violence. Rita was beaten and raped by an ex-husband on a regular basis, and yet she still has this innocence and sweetness about her. And the death was such a graphic image. I think that’s why everyone has such a physical reaction to it. When they first told me I was dying, they didn’t tell me how I was dying, and I thought I was going to be the jumper off the building, which for some reason isn’t as graphic. I did feel anger about them taking this innocent, sweet woman in such a violent and terrifying way—which we know from the woman in the bathtub in the first episode. And with the baby. All of us were on the set, and we know we’re making a TV show, but you see a little baby and fake blood, and it was still a very disturbing image. But it’s a poetic way to go, poetic of course, because it’s a direct reflection of Dexter as a child and there’s poetry in that if you can get past that, which I think is what they were going for.

If we don’t get more Julie Benz on this show, can we get her on another awesome TV show?

That’s the question, isn’t it? There are rumors out there that I left Dexter for a film career—I did not leave Dexter. I don’t know anybody in their right mind that would choose to leave Dexter. I did not choose to leave. I love being on television, especially a show like Dexter. I love FlashForward, Grey’s Anatomy, Mad Man, 30 Rock. I’d love to be a part of a show where they don’t think it’s cool to kill me!

How did the cast react to the news you were leaving?

There were a lot of tears the whole last week. When I found out, I called Jennifer [Carpenter] right as I was leaving the offices, and she thought I was playing a joke. She couldn’t believe it. She was shocked. And then the producers told the rest of the cast because after telling Jennifer I just said I can’t do it. It’s too hard. I get really emotional thinking about it. It was my family and my favorite place to go every day. I relate it to Cinderella and she’s at the ball and she’s having the time of her life. But it’s midnight and she has to leave even though the ball is still going on. It doesn’t change her experience because she enjoyed every minute of it but it is time to go home and that is sad.

How do you feel about Rita’s death now? Do you think it will serve a greater purpose?

When you make a bold move to kill off a main character, and a bold move to kill off the mother of a newborn, it’s a fifty-fifty shot, and kudos to them for taking that risk. So many other shows, so many other networks would have shied away from it. I really hope that it pays off, because I would really hate to see Rita’s death be in vain and to lose viewers. I hope it catapults the show to a whole other level. I hope it opens the story up to so much more drama. I hope it opens Dexter up to finally releasing the Dark Passenger within him—let’s see the monster that he really is. So I have acceptance. In the long run of Dexter, I think it’s opening up season five for amazing stuff. As sad as it is that Rita’s gone, it’s just going to catapult the show into a whole other area. Creatively, it’s a brilliant decision.

Final thoughts? And what will happen to Harrison?

It’s been such a great four-year run. I know there are a lot of people saying they won’t watch this show anymore, but please just watch. I will be tuning in because I am deeply concerned for my children. I assume Astor and Cody will go with their grandparents, but what about Harrison? I know that one option is to have them jump ahead in time. They have the option of taking the story creatively wherever they want. But of course I worry about Harrison. The first thing I said when they told me about Rita’s death was, ‘What about the children?!’ I felt like a real mother, and I will be tuning in to make sure that Harrison is taken care of.

Julie Benz Dexter 


Dexter’s Julie Benz

Julie Benz Dexter

When you first heard the storyline of Dexter, what did you think?

When they sent me the script, I didn’t really know anything about it, except they said, “We have an audition for you tomorrow, here’s the script.” And I read the script, and I thought, “This is one of the best pilot scripts I’ve ever read. And I’ll never be a part of it, because they’ll never want me!” It was so good. So yeah, I just thought it was absolutely amazing.

Dexter is such a fascinating character, because you find yourself sympathizing with him or rooting for him, but then you remember what he is. Do you think of him as sympathetic?

I do! I mean, in watching the show, I think you can’t help but start rooting for him, and it’s a really bizarre feeling you’re left with, when you find yourself rooting for a guy who’s a serial killer. But he’s trying to do right! [Laughs] I mean he is trying to live by a moral code.

How is it working with Michael?

He’s the most intelligent actor I’ve ever worked with, as far as understanding the material and the character and the scripts on a whole. Not just from a selfish standpoint, but from a whole overall theme and vision standpoint. He’s a very generous actor as well. I was intimidated at first, because I was such a big fan of his from Six Feet Under, and it’s hard to go, “Oh my god, I can’t believe I’m working with him!” I had to get past that.

What’s it been like for you playing Rita and portraying someone with such a big protective bubble around herself, that she slowly starts to let go of?

I guess Rita’s just the more vulnerable side of me. I didn’t really feel that I had to do anything, except be relaxed enough to tap into that vulnerability, and really just live off of what Michael gives me, which is amazing.

As the season has gone on and Rita and Dexter have grown closer, you’ve had some pretty intimate scenes. Did you figure going in, “Okay, this is cable… We might end up doing some naughty stuff”?

Yeah, I mean it is a concern when you sign on to do any show really. But I felt those scenes we had to do, where there was some nudity involved, it was integral to the script and it was not gratuitous. They shot it beautifully. There is a little bit of hesitation, but for me, the script was so good and Rita is such an amazing character that I was not going to let that stand in my way of playing the part. And they have held up their end of the bargain, which was not [to have me] gratuitously just walking around naked, but it was an integral part of the script and story.

Julie Benz Dexter

Because of the part she plays in Dexter’s life, it’s obviously built in to the role that you’re not around for the police investigation stuff on the show. Is it strange having several costars you’ve never worked with yet?

[Laughs] Yes, because we all get along so well! We see each other at parties and it’s like, “Oh my god! I can’t believe we’re in the same show!” We laugh about it. There was a scene written where I was going to be working with some of the other actors and it was taken out. I forget which episode it was. I was so excited, but then, you know… I see everybody at the table readings, and we get together for the show. But it actually makes it great when I watch the show, because the whole Ice Truck Killer storyline I was not involved in and did not get to see how it played out. So it was very exciting for me to get to watch, and really watch it as an audience member, and not as somebody involved in the show.

Do you ever get to see the sets for the crime scenes or the crazy body part props they have on the show?

Not really. I mean, I could if I wanted to, but they usually shoot those on the days I’m not there.

Does Michael ever tell you stuff like, “Oh, I just shot a scene in a room filled with blood” or things like that?

Yeah. Everybody, when they shoot some of the cool stuff, not just Michael, but the whole crew will talk about it the next day.

It seems like even as we come to like Dexter and Rita, that their relationship can’t help but end tragically, in one way or another. Do you foresee a way that she could at least get a happy ending?

Oh, maybe he completely reforms himself, and never reveals his true side to her! And they live happily ever after! I think she’s perfectly happy being oblivious.

How is working with the two children who play your kids on the show?

They always say never work with children and animals, right? But it’s really refreshing. I’ve learned a lot from them, actually, about acting. They really just are on set; they are who they are and they’re really just alive and living truly in the moment. They don’t really have preconceived ideas about how things are supposed to go. So as an actor it keeps you on your toes and it’s very refreshing to have that. They keep me on my toes and keep me alive when I’m working with them.

Have they ever done or said anything in a scene that kind of threw you, but you went with it?

Sometimes Daniel [Goldman] has a hard time with some of the words they give him and he mispronounces them, and it’s just so cute. He had trouble saying marshmallow, and it was just… Michael and I could barely contain ourselves from laughing. It was so cute what he was saying!

Now I have to out myself as a major Buffy and Angel geek.

That’s okay!

You were on the original, unaired pilot of Buffy. I’m curious what your memories of filming that were like?

I just remember it being really chaotic. I haaaated my wardrobe. I remember that specifically. [Laughs] And I was dealing with a lot of the vampire makeup and stuff. I was what I call the “test dummy” for the vampire look. So I was put through a lot of camera tests, having to come in, and they’d put the vampire face on and they’d redo it and reapply it and all that. None of that was down yet. It was pretty tough for me to handle all that stuff.

You were one of the only people to be there from the very beginning of Buffy to making appearances up through the end of Angel. What was it like to see that through the duration and see how much people reacted to it, and how it resonated so much?

It was a really great experience and a really get journey for me as an actor. However, I cringe when I look back at the very beginning Buffy episodes. Because I was so young, and I had bad hair… [Laughs] I like to say I wasn’t fully formed as a woman. So yeah, I cringe. I look at it and think, “Oh god… I’m so young!”

Did you watch the final night of The WB, when they rebroadcast the Buffy and Angel pilots?

Yes, I actually was with Charisma [Carpenter] at [former WB head] Garth Ancier’s house, and they had a big party for the ending of the network. We watched it there. It was fun. Once again, we were both cringing. We were like, “Oh my god! Look at us! What were we thinking wearing that? Why did I think bangs were a good fashion choice?”

Well now of course that look is immortalized as an action figure. What’s it like to have figures of yourself?

It’s definitely very exciting to have action figures made, and it will be something when I’m older, and have a family, to pass down through generations, and they can all make fun of their grandma. It’s cool. I just wish it looked a little more like me! And that it was more the later days of Darla. I would like to see a period costume Darla. They need to do an action figure where you can change her hair and her clothes. And the face; where you can snap on like the regular face and snap on the vampire face.

Did you ever get used to the makeup and the teeth?

The teeth were easy to get used to, although I used to break mine, because I grind my teeth. But I never got used to the prosthetic makeup. They tried to make the process as easy as possible, and they were really great about it, but you are putting a lot of chemicals on your face, and you’re gluing something to your skin! So having to remove it is really not that pleasant. They try to con you by saying, “It’s like getting a great facial.” But it’s like removing seven layers of your skin on your face. And I have very sensitive skin, so it took its toll on me.

I’d imagine you never could have imagined Darla would turn out to be so integral to the story. You’d done some flashback episodes after you’d died on Buffy, but what was your reaction when you learned they wanted to bring you back on Angel in such a big way?

I was shocked. I just thought once you poof’d, you poof’d! I thought that was it. So when they threw it out to me that I was coming back… They didn’t tell me they were bringing her back to life. They just sent me the script for the season finale for season one of Angel, when they rose me from the dead. I was reading the script, and half way through, Darla still hadn’t shown up, and I was like, “Alright…” I get three quarters of the way through and I think, “Maybe they sent me the wrong script…?” And then I get to the last page, and I was like, “Oh my god! I can’t believe this! This is so cool!” At that time I’d been committed to another project too, and we weren’t sure how long my commitment to them would be. We didn’t even know if I was going to be available or not. But it all ended up working out.

There had been some rumors and speculation about why Darla left for awhile near the end of season two, after Angel and Darla slept together. Can I ask what the truth is behind all that?

Just the storyline ran out. They wanted to move on to another storyline. That’s what I was always told! What was the speculation?

Well with a rampant fanbase like that show had, I think I’d heard every possibility for why something happened.

Yeah, I just think they thought they’d played out the storyline as much as possible, and rather then… You know, one of the things I really loved about playing Darla was I was never relegated to a C or D storyline that maybe wasn’t very well supported. And they didn’t want to do that to the character; they felt it was important to move forward. And in order to do that, they had to have me run away, so then I could come back for season three!

When you came back in season three, Darla was pregnant. Through the years, you also got to play her human, and play her as the more angelic version that appeared to Connor. I’d imagine it must have been fun to explore so many different sides of the same character?

Yeah. I felt like every week they were throwing challenges at me right and left, and seeing if I could do them. And it’s great when you’re on a show where they do that. You’re never bored! Every week it was always something else to look forward to in the script that I was just gonna have to do or a fear I was gonna have to conquer. I had to sing one episode, and I don’t sing. And [Angel Executive Producer] David Greenwalt called me up and he’s like, “Let’s do it.” And I said, “Look, I’ll give it a try, but, you know…” It took a lot of courage for me to go in and do it, ’cause I am not a singer and I suffered horrible stage fright with that kind of stuff. But I thought, you know, I’m not gonna say no. And every week, it was always something. I had to be buried alive at one point, underneath the dirt. And granted, it was topsoil or whatever, but you know, it’s not my favorite thing to do! Another time I had to ride a horse through a fire ring and you know, once again; not really something I do every day! So there were physical challenges they presented me with every week, as well as the emotional challenges. Every script I’d get, I’d think, “I don’t think I can do this…” I’d be like, “I have to quit. I can’t do this, I can’t do this!” There’s be this whole freak out, like, “I can’t do it.” And then I would do it. And then I’d be like, “Wow! I can do anything!” And then I’d get the next script and go, “…I can’t do that!” [Laughs]

Sounds like it was a good testing ground!

Yeah, it was a great place to grow and learn as an actor, and they really provided a warm and safe environment to make choices, and to fall on your face, if need be. They wanted you to be creative. They wanted you to come to set with ideas about how you were going to play the character and how you were going to bring the script to life. They wanted that. It was really a wonderful atmosphere.

Well, I think you pulled off the singing very well.

Aww, thank you! I’ll never do it again!

Your last scene on Angel was with you, David Boreanaz, James Marsters and Juliet Landau. Those scenes were great with the four of you. Was it fun for you guys to play that quartet?

Going back and doing the episode “The Girl in Question” was just a great way, I think, for all of us to kind of say goodbye to our characters, to be together and to have some fun. And to not have it be this painful, one of us sobbing on the floor, kind of moment. Because it was always one of us having to do that! Whether it was me, or Juliet or Spike or Angel, it was always one of us who had to…

Have the angst?

Yeah! It was really kind of fun and refreshing to go in and just be playful and we had a great time shooting it. My sheet that I was wrapped in kept getting stuck on the camera dolly, and it was kind of funny. It would kind of fall down. It was a great way to end; flashing everybody! We had a lot of fun, and I’m so happy they had us back to do that scene, because anything else I think would have been too hard; too difficult; too painful.

I always thought they should make a poster of that great shot of the four of you walking in slow motion together.

Aww, isn’t that wonderful? FYI, we shot that at like 3:30 in the morning. We were all half asleep!

Oh really? So they’re saying, “Look cool” and you’re just thinking, “I want to go to bed”?

We were like [in drowsy voice], “Okay, where do you want us? Okay. We go from point A to point B… Alright. No problem.”

Have you shared your own experiences with Michael C. Hall playing a mass murderer or given him any tips?

Noooooo. Because you know, he just slices them up. I get to suck their blood. It’s a little different.

Halo 3 is coming next year, and I was curious how you came to be involved in that franchise?

I actually am only involved in Halo 2. I won’t be involved in Halo 3.

Oh. That’s what I get for trusting imdb too much.

No, they called recently and said I will not be… They’re changing the voice. Am I allowed to say that?

You’re allowed to say that! Because when it comes out, people are going to be mad, so they might as well know now.

Yeah, they’re changing the voice. They’re giving her an accent is what they said. I don’t know if that’s true. That’s what I was told. I will not be involved in Halo 3. But with Halo 2, they were big Buffy and Angel fans and they came in and asked if I’d be interested in doing it, and I said, “Sure!” I had no idea what it was!

So you had no idea how huge it was?

I had no idea. I wasn’t even allowed to tell people I was doing it. And then when I finally was able to tell people, “I’m gonna be in Halo 2,” they went, “No way! No way!” I was like, “I just thought it was a game…” I didn’t know! But it’s great. I love doing voiceover work. It’s a great job. You get to go in with your sweatpants. You don’t even have to shower, if you don’t want to, as long as you don’t smell too bad. And you can go in and record, and it’s really fun. You have to use your imagination and really put yourself there. And it’s a big acting challenge, I find, to do that. It was so much fun be able to go in and do it, and I’m sad I’m not involved in Halo 3.

I am too! Is it strange to hear your voice come out of a videogame character?

I’ve never played the game! They sent me the game, but I don’t have the machine! They sent me like four [copies] of the game, like limited edition and all this stuff. I was like, “Oh! But I don’t have the machine…” I guess I should go buy one! It’s on my list of things to do.

Speaking of voiceovers, your husband, John Kassir, is the voice of the Crypt Keeper. As a horror fan, I have to say it’s amusing to think that the Crypt Keeper is married to Darla.

Yes. We have a very creepy household.

It’s an Addams Family vibe?

Totally, totally! [Laughs] No. It’s weird. It’s bizarre. We laugh about it, because we’re just regular people, and we kind of just go, “Wow. Okay, we both have trading cards and action figures,” you know? But no, it’s fun and we enjoy it.

You’ve done convention appearances. How is it for you doing those and interacting with your fans?

I enjoy it. I really feel that one of the reasons that Darla was around for so long was because of the fan response to her. So I really owe the fans a thank you for keeping me employed for so long. And also the response to the show… I feel like it’s my opportunity to give back and say thanks. I love hearing the different theories and the ideas they have for the storylines for the show. They blow me away with their knowledge!

Yeah, some people know a lot of things about the shows.

Yeah, but you know what? I respect that, and it actually made me pay more attention to the show. I love that the fans are as passionate about it as we were making it, and I totally respect their passion for it.

So what can you tell us or tease us with about the season finale of Dexter?

It’s big! It’s big. They went all out. It’s really… It’s amazing what they’ve done with the story. I can’t really give anything away, because I want the audience to go with it. I’ve enjoyed so much having fans, family members, and friends coming up and asking me things. For awhile everybody wanted to know who the Ice Truck Killer was. I said, “I can’t tell you!” Hearing everyone’s theories and philosophies, it was really fun and exciting, even though I knew all along! But I don’t want to reveal anything. It’s big! And there’s a big cliffhanger.

Julie Benz Dexter

I’m very excited you guys are doing a second season.

Yes, we are too.

Do you know when you’re gonna start filming that?

I think we go back around the end of April/beginning of May.

It’s a great show. Definitely my favorite new show this year.

They’ve done a really great job of writing; acting… Just everything’s been so well put together. I love working for Showtime.

Any hints on if Rita comes to be involved in the Ice Truck Killer story before the end?

I can’t tell you anything! You’re a reporter! I mean, I may be blond, but…! [Laughs] No, it’s a very exciting episode and it’s great television. The last episode will be really, truly amazing, and you have to tune in.