Cancer conquerer Michael C. Hall returns to distress and impress as Dexter, writes Darren Devlyn
MICHAEL C. Hall is perfectly cast as a serial killer. For a start, Hall is mercurial and elusive. He’s a classic shapeshifter who, like jelly crystals in water, has the rare ability to dissolve completely into a role.
In Six Feet Under, he was compelling as gay funeral director David Fisher, who Hall called an ‘‘ internalised pretzel’’.
His Dexter Morgan, however, is unlike any TV character we’ve seen before: the serial killer as occasionally likable hero.
For much of the show’s run, forensic blood spatter expert Dexter has been true to his theory that he has no capacity for authentic emotion and could operate in conventional society only by faking all human interaction.
Dexter, however, appears to have evolved as a result of his experiences as a husband and father, throwing Hall one of his career’s great curve balls.
‘‘ It’s a real tightrope walk to maintain his real sociopathic nature, but also to move him forward into uncharted human waters,’’ Hall says.
‘‘ I like the fact that it remains ambiguous as to whether Dexter is developing as a person or is he just becoming a more nuanced simulator.’’
So heavily does the character weigh on Hall that he confesses the show manifests itself in his dreams.
‘‘ I have this dream where Little Chino (Matthew Willig), who is this giant Dexter tries to kill in the first season, then kills in the second season, keeps showing up at my door,’’ Hall says.
‘‘ I would have to kill him . . . even though I was at home trying to have a nice meal with my family.
‘‘ Every time he (Chino) would come to the door, I’m like, ‘ You again!’ But I was myself (not Dexter) in the dream. I’m rolling my eyes in the dream because it is so absurd.
Hall, meanwhile, has been through real physical and emotional traumas during the past year. He recently announced he’d split from wife of two years, co-star Jennifer Carpenter (who plays screen sister Debra Morgan). Actor Julia Stiles, who had been working alongside Hall on Dexter, released a statement denying she played any part in the marriage bust-up.
‘‘ I have absolutely nothing to do with the split between Michael and Jennifer,’’ Stiles said. ‘‘ We are good friends and enjoyed working together. This is a personal matter between them, and we should respect their privacy.’’
The good news in Hall’s life is he has completed treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Hall, 39, was diagnosed in January, shortly before winding up filming on season five.
One of the great misconceptions about the illness is that because it has a high cure rate, the treatment regime for it must be easy to endure. On the contrary, the chemotherapy course can be ravaging.
Losing his hair as a result of treatment, Hall says, was the least of his worries.
‘‘ Losing your hair is just proof the treatment is working,’’ he says matter-of-factly.
‘‘ But it (treatment) is no fun. The treatment really had two stages for me. Initially, I welcomed the poison. I was like, ‘ Get this wizard juice in me, get this cancer out of me’. Once the cancer went into remission and the treatment continued, I just felt like I was poisoning myself. Once I was in remission, the treatment really started to feel insidious.
‘‘ One of the most challenging parts about it is managing other people’s reactions. You are not just taking care of yourself, but also trying to take care of other people’s fears.
‘‘ I had every intention of keeping it (illness) quiet. My friends and loved ones knew, but it was only when I was invited to the Golden Globes that I felt compelled to make an announcement.’’
Hall says the diagnosis did not come as a surprise to him because he had wondered since childhood whether he would live to be 40.
‘‘ My father died (of prostate cancer) when I was 11 and he was 39. I turned 39 over the course of the treatment,’’ he says. ‘‘ There was a sense of bemusement, like, that’s ironic because this is an age and time in my life I’ve been looking toward since I was 11 and my father died. I saw it as some kind of marker.’’ Dexter, Eleven, returns January 17 Emotional baggage: is Michael C. Hall’s serial killer Dexter starting to care — or getting better at faking feelings?