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.’”  

Click here for the full article.

Michael C. Hall In “Christine” – First Promotional Stills

Michael C. Hall Christine Promotional Photo class=

Michael C. Hall is hiding something dark inside – while Tracy Letts is openly intimidating — in The Hollywood Reporter’s exclusive first look at the actors in the newsroom of “Christine”. Directed by Antonio Campos, the drama is based on the true story of Christine Chubbuck, the depressed Florida newscaster who infamously shot herself on live television in 1974.  

In the new promotional stills from the film, Michael C. Hall – playing a fellow local anchor George (based on Christine’s real-life crush George Peter Ryan) – seems like the typical all-American character, but he sits at the news desk unsettled. “Michael injects the character with this wonderful darkness and humor – I’d watch the monitor in a trance when Michael was on,” Campos told THR. “He was always doing something unexpected and coming up with a gesture or ad-libbing a line that would make me jump with joy or laugh out loud.” Click here for more exclusive photos.  

“Christine” will make its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.

Michael C. Hall Talks About “Dexter” And His New Play “Lazarus”

Michael C. Hall Lazarus

 Via timeout: If you ask Michael C. Hall, being known worldwide for playing a convincingly charismatic serial killer is every bit the head trip it sounds. “It’s existentially challenging,” he says with a laugh. “People have told me that they relate to the character and that they have their own homicidal fantasies that the show’s soothed.” When he’s off the clock, the 44-year-old is a low-key kind of celebrity who could be mistaken for an average guy if his clothes weren’t just that much nicer and his looks that much more handsome. Sitting by the window at a West Village coffee-shop not far from his home—we won’t say which spot, because, you know, creepy—the former Dexter star isn’t attracting any scarily devoted superfans, but he’s still drawing glances from the clientele over their flat whites. The roles Hall takes tend to be far from the fairly normal guy he seems to be, whether it’s a vigilante forensics analyst on “Dexter”, a gay funeral home director struggling with his sexuality on “Six Feet Under”, a glam-rock gender bender in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” or the reason for our chat today: an extraterrestrial captain of industry in new Off Broadway show Lazarus.  

“I had no mission statement to have a certain number of characters surrounded by bodies,” he says. “It’s just the way it’s unfolded. I just take it as it comes, and this seems to be what keeps coming. But, yeah, I do seem to find myself with the chance to play characters who are in their ways singular or odd or isolated or extreme.” 

Hall plays one of his most atypical roles yet in Lazarus, an adaptation of Walter Tevis’s 1963 novel, “The Man Who Fell to Earth”, with a script co-written by Enda Walsh and direction by Belgian visionary Ivo van Hove. Not only is Hall tackling the character David Bowie nailed in Nicolas Roeg’s 1976 film adaptation, but he’s also singing a selection of Bowie songs, including some that were written specifically for the stage show and have yet to be performed in public by anyone—even Ziggy Stardust himself. “I met him probably a month or so before we started rehearsals and sang through most of my stuff,” he says of working with Bowie. “And it was a very heady experience to sing Bowie songs in an East Village apartment for Bowie. I had to turn off a part of my brain just to keep my head about me.”  

Despite working from the same source material as the film, not to mention Bowie’s involvement, Hall insists that Lazarus will be “its own organism.” The play picks up with Newton where the movie left him, well after he gave up on his mission to bring Earth’s water to his own drought-stricken planet and succumbed to the sad, decadent lifestyle afforded to him by Earth’s market for alien technology. “A great number of years have passed,” says Hall, “and he’s in a state of self-imposed exile, in a world that he meant only to visit and can’t leave, and is in a bit of a prison of his own making, a prison of his own mind.”  

“The name of the film is The Man Who Fell to Earth,” points out Hall, “not The Alien Who Fell to Earth. He comes to planet Earth and falls victim to appetites and ego and longings that are fundamental to any human’s experience. He’s simultaneously singular and an everyman.”   

The actor describes Lazarus’s staging as “some sort of mash-up of the realistic and the existential” and “as much an interior as an exterior landscape,” but he’s not willing to give away much more. Maybe he got used to keeping secrets during Dexter’s age of spoiler alerts. “It was kind of miraculous that we were able to keep things under wraps on Dexter,” he says, “given how many people were involved in making that show. I mean, we were never required to sign a nondisclosure agreement. We had watermarked scripts and cover letters that said please don’t divulge any story secrets, even to your family or significant other.”   

The North Carolina native moved to NYC in 1993 for the Graduate Acting program at NYU. “I don’t think what I was able to do in 1993—coming here, living in the far East Village and going to grad school without being completely crippled with debt—would be possible now,” he tells me. “Of course, when I got here, the conversation was the same. Everyone was telling me how great it used to be. Maybe that’s just perpetual,” he says. “But there are times when Manhattan just feels like sort of a self-congratulatory playground for the rich. That can be distressing.” Hall certainly seems uninterested in that kind of environment; he says one of his favorite things to do in the city is walk his dachshund-spaniel mix Sal (short for “Salamander”) every day in Washington Square Park.  

For the time being, he says he’s more or less living at the theater. “Lazarus” is taking up so much of his headspace that Hall seems a little disoriented when I bring up his upcoming project “Christine”, the Antonio Campos film about news anchors in ’70s Florida that’s slated for release next year, before his secretive reflex kicks in. “I’m not even sure what I’m supposed to say about it,” he tells me. “Something happens.” Fair enough.