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.