Michael C. Hall talks about the future of “Dexter”, his childhood and more in a candid interview with Tim Teeman.
His fellow coffee drinkers may have seen him play the serial killer Dexter, or the hot, perennially freaked-out undertaker David Fisher in “Six Feet Under”, but today Michael C. Hall’s anonymity in an Upper West Side cafe is guaranteed thanks to a baseball cap inscribed with a rainbow atop Brian Eno’s name. The actor lives nearby with his third wife, Morgan Macgregor, and their black long-haired dachshund Salamander. Handsome, charming, and eloquent, and with a light beard of reddish-gray stubble, Hall will talk about death, both as a shadow in his own life and in the roles that have made him famous. He will talk about giving up alcohol, marijuana, and becoming a vegan.
When we met, the 47-year-old Hall had already done two preview performances of his new one-man play, Will Eno’s Thom Pain (based on nothing), at the off-Broadway Signature Theatre. Hall’s name and not inconsiderable fan base guarantees healthy audiences for Thom Pain, but he knows Dexter fans have a more pressing question: Will television’s best-known serial killer return, and if so when?
“Every time I’m asked about this I say, ‘never say never,’” Hall said, smiling. “The next thing I know there’s an announcement on the internet saying ‘he’s going to do it again.’ The way that show ended gave no sense of closure for people and a lot of questions unanswered. He seems to be in this self-imposed exile, he certainly didn’t ride off into the sunset. His sister died. It left a gnarly knot in some viewers’ stomachs. I stand by how that 8th season ended.”
For Hall, the tragedy of Dexter is that “if he had kept on killing people he’d have been fine, but he gets married, he opens his imagination and heart. He has a real connection to people, and all those people are compromised or destroyed in some way. For it to be all tidied up after that would have not been honest. For him to simulate his own death and extricate himself from the context of his life made sense to me. As far as any more of that happening, it’s possible.”
In terms of discussions around the series, Hall said, “There have been different possibilities that have come up. They haven’t felt worth doing. But there’s still something potentially there. But there are no immediate plans to do that.”
Hall’s relationship with death can be traced to his childhood growing up in North Carolina. “I was born into a family of two parents who had recently lost my sister, Julie, who was not yet 2,” Hall recalled. “She had a lot of developmental and physical problems and I think they knew she wasn’t long for this world, but she was in the world and did die and that was a very difficult thing for my parents.” Hall recalls photos of Julie in photo albums. He was fascinated that she had once been alive, there, “the idea I had a sister.”
“So, there’s an awareness of the fact of death when I was very young. My father died when I was 11. My aunt Linda, my mother’s older sister, died a few years after that. In each year of my high school someone died: 3 instances of a car accident, 2 were in cars one was a pedestrian.” He did not, he emphasizes, have a fascination or preoccupation with death, but rather “an awareness of the fact of it, its inevitability, the fact it is one fate no one escapes.” He was an only child, and “somewhat solitary. Though I had friends, I tended to gravitate to kids who were part of really big families so I could be a surrogate satellite member of a household that had more literal life in it.” He laughed softly. “I think I was a preoccupied kid. I think I was in my head. I was pretty much like I am now. With less of a story.” Hall said he isn’t sure where nature met nurture in his personality. It was a serious household, his parents were “hard workers from small towns.”
“There was a certain degree of seriousness about themselves,” he said. “More generally, the larger family and environment were somewhat repressive and puritanical. Not explicitly, but ebullience and enthusiasm were discouraged, a conditioning I have somewhat managed. But I also think I have an inherent playfulness and silliness about me. Part of it came from my mom. She laughs at my jokes. I can make her laugh. There was some impulse from a very early age to find an outlet for some sort of expression that went beyond somewhat restrictive boundaries.”
Acting was always Hall’s love though he never felt confident or safe admitting that to anyone, “or even fully to myself,” until he went to college. He told people he was going to study pre-law, and hoped the conversation would end there. It was a smokescreen. After attending a liberal arts college in Indiana, he eventually studied acting at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. His mother was nervous, though comforted herself that with a masters degree in acting he “could teach in a theater department somewhere.” She was never a stage mom, Hall said, and while she expressed her concerns about his ability to make a living as an actor, she allowed Hall’s enthusiasm to belong to him.
For Hall, fame was something he “needed to make room for.” It began with Six Feet Under, but Dexter (2006-2013) “took it to a different place, where you can’t turn the faucet off.” When he was playing David, people looked at him with a degree of affection: “‘Oh gosh, you’re such a long-suffering doormat,’ they’d say. ‘I can’t wait to give you a hug. Sorry that guy put a gun in your mouth and poured gasoline over your head.’ Of course, I got to turn the tables on that guy when played I played Dexter. I got to pour the gasoline on the guy’s head. Then people would say (and he puts on a butch growl), ‘Yeah, get him, Dex.’”
For all his killing, people liked Dexter “because we live in a world where we increasingly lack agency and control,” thinks Hall. “People loved being presented with this character in this little corner of the world, eliminating things and people metaphorically and literally. It was cathartic, like a pressure valve being released.
I will say that it was on the days driving home from work after having shot a scene where I killed someone that I felt the greatest sense of relaxation, release, and just ease. The days where I was playing Dexter hiding from something were harder. I guess playing him was cathartic for me in a way. You do whatever the internal alchemy is, or take the imaginative leap you have to, so you can connect with what you’re doing. I certainly experience road rage and anger at people who deserve a good pummeling, but ultimately I do not want to kill people.” He smiled. “But it’s fun to pretend to. People would say, ‘You’re giving me the Dexter look, and I’d say, ‘No, it’s just my face.’”
“I became a vegan. That grew out of a desire to do something aside from keeping myself informed about how dire everything is.The general question that occurred to me was what I could do about the welfare of actors, the environment, and my own physical body and a desire to combat corporate corruption. All those things led me to veganism. That’s felt good.”
In 2010, Hall was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He’d had a cold which he couldn’t shake off. “Along with the diagnosis came the assurance that my prognosis was really good if I just decided on a course of treatment and just did it. I was never in a 50/50 life or death proposition. It was scary, but I wasn’t really frightened. I was more just interested in finding out the answers to questions surrounding what I needed to do, and eager to do them in terms of treatment.” Hall said the experience had changed his attitude to life in different ways. “I got sober. Became vegan. All those things are not unrelated to the fact of that mortal illness.” His drinking was “functional, but not something I could deny. It was an ebb and flow, but the general trajectory was more drinking, pot smoking and recreational this and that. There was an undeniable, long-sensed of diminishing returns and the sense that life was shortening; and in terms of those preoccupations and those behaviors it was progressing in a certain direction that I felt wasn’t sustainable. I don’t do any more of anything now.”
Hall rightly thinks he looks better than he did five years ago, with his vegan diet and “no booze and marijuana, or anything else.” Of aging, he laughed. “I have a sense of that things are going to start falling apart. But yeah, I feel pretty good. I’m thankful.” He’s done yoga in the past, circuit and weight training. Doing the show is his formal workout of right now. How does 50 seem to him? Another laugh. “Soon. I found myself thinking, ‘I’m not 35 anymore. No, wait, I’m 37. No, wait, I’m 47.”
I asked if David Fisher and Dexter Morgan had stayed with Hall.“I feel like I’m able to walk away from them, and I think there is some part of us that doesn’t distinguish between reality and ritual. I think they remain part of my lived experience.”
Read the full interview HERE