In Season 5 of the Showtime drama Dexter, Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) goes from happily married husband to guilt-ridden single dad, after the huge dramatic twist in last season’s finale that took the life of his wife, Rita (Julie Benz). Now, America’s favorite serial killer will struggle with his ability to maintain an average-guy facade while satisfying his need to kill, as his secret life and new responsibilities threaten to overwhelm him.
During an interview to discuss the changes in Dexter’s life this season, actor Michael C. Hall talked about how being a single father will affect the character, the addition of some new cast members and how grateful he is for the support he has received, since publicly announcing that he had Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which he is now in remission from. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
Question: Is this season a new origin story?
Michael: When we learned what happened to Dexter toward the end of the first season, we knew that he was this innocent baby in a pool of his mother’s blood, having watched her die. Now, Dexter is coming home to find his flesh and blood son in a pool of his wife’s blood, but Dexter is no longer innocent. The blood is, at least in part because of his passivity in regards to killing Trinity, on his hands. It’s that very thing.
How would you compare this guilt to Season 2, after killing his own brother?
Michael: I think that was a kill that was pragmatic, in spite of it being heavy. It had to be done. He made a choice between that guy and his sister, so it was a very different thing. I think there are deep scars that probably happen every time Dexter kills somebody, but as far as them blooming into a sense of remorse, I don’t think that’s the case there.
What reaction did you get from people to last season’s finale?
Michael: The reactions were varied. Some people were traumatized, horrified, exhilarated, perplexed, in a tailspin or shot out of a cannon. It’s been a lot of different things to different people.
How does it impact this season?
Michael: We have to pick up and take responsibility for the real dismantling of the structure of Dexter’s world.
Michael: They’re working through their own grief. Astor is having a general frustration with her relationship to her own father, and then to Dexter, and to not having a father around. She’s fed up and she feels that Dexter promised that everything would be okay and he would protect her mother, and he didn’t do that.
How is it to play Dexter as a single father?
Michael: Everything that has gone beyond the first season has been uncharted waters, and the fact that he is now a father is a big part of that, for sure. The father he was in the fourth season is different from the father he’ll struggle to be in the fifth, given that he’s now a single dad. I don’t know. I think the show works because it’s imminently relatable, and yet it’s a really extreme character, in the midst of relatable situations.
He was already spread so thin with a wife. How can he balance his activities now?
Michael: Well, he hires a nanny (Maria Doyle Kennedy). There’s a lot of stuff that we don’t see. Maybe he has a special, sleep coffin he gets in. He sleeps two hours, but it feels like six.
What was the process of Dexter interviewing nannies like?
Michael: Actually, Deb (Jennifer Carpenter) takes the lead on that. She’s good with interrogating people.
How is Dexter dealing with remorse? Does he have any?
Michael: I think it’s sublimated. I don’t know if he’s consciously aware of it, and yet I think a lot of the things he does and doesn’t do, at the outset of the fifth season and throughout it, are motivated by some subterranean sense of remorse that he can’t even quite consciously be aware of. I think he does want to atone.
There has to be a grieving and sadness after Rita’s death. With the malicious glee of Dexter’s lifestyle, how are those two things going to mix together?
Michael: Stay tuned because that’s the mess that we’ve made of it. It’s like, “Oh, this has real consequences.”
Did you miss the possibility of having a scene where Rita finds out what Dexter does and confronts him?
Is there anybody in the department that Dexter works with that, in a moment of weakness, he would confide in?
Michael: The short answer would be no, but Dexter relishes opportunities to reveal himself covertly and say things that are true, on one level. But, no, I don’t think so. I certainly hope not.
Aren’t there one or two characters who’d be okay with it and cover for him?
Michael: Not enough to risk letting them know actively. It never works out for the people who find out.
Are you looking forward to Dexter dating again, at some point down the line?
Michael: I don’t think that word is in his vocabulary, at this point. I don’t think he aspires to it. I’m sure Dexter will be thrust into unique relationships, but I don’t think he’s seeking out a significant other.
Real serial killers have groupies and women sending them letters. Does you get that for Dexter?
Michael: No, not at all. Everything that finds its way to me is sane. People talk about loving the show, and they recognize that I’m an actor. I really don’t get anything from people who seem to think that I’m him, thankfully.
How do you feel about the event television Dexter has become?
Michael: It’s thrilling. We tell stories in the hopes that people will pay attention to them and get involved with them, and the fact that this is a show that people get excited about, and that it brings to them together, and that people have viewing parties, is fantastic.
There was a moment at Comic-Con this year, when the fans really acknowledged how great it was to see you there and see you healthy. Can you talk about that moment and what it was like?
Michael: It was really gratifying. When I found out that I was sick, I didn’t imagine that I would share it at all. It coincided with our hiatus, so I thought that I could just get through the treatment. But, there came a time when it really made sense just to let it be known that it was something that I was undergoing. The collective sense of well wishes, affection and concern that I genuinely felt was a real goose. It really helped me get through the final third of the treatment. I’m very thankful and feel so lucky that I contracted something that was as treatable as it was.
Was it especially important to get right back to work after your treatment?
Michael: I feel especially grateful that I was able to, for sure.
How are you feeling?
Michael: Great. I feel good. The Hodgkin’s went in complete remission, over the course of the treatment. I finished the treatment and I’m four months done with it, so I feel really good.
What perspective does living through that give you on your life and work?
Michael: Just gratitude. It’s really an invitation to that.
When do Peter Weller and Julia Stiles start on the show?
Michael: Towards the beginning. I do honestly feel that to say too much about the characters they play would reveal too much about things that really are meant to be surprising on the show.
Will Dexter confront this idea that he does have emotions?
Michael: I don’t know if it’s so much of a confrontation, as it is an emergence of something. But, I think we can expect that he still is fundamentally stone cold crazy and is probably going to keep killing people. That’s the tightrope you have to walk.
Michael: That’s a good question. Stay tuned.
When you signed on, did you think this story would have such a long arc?
Michael: Every time you’re doing something and you feel enthusiastic about it, you have hopes, but I wasn’t counting on it. I thought that, if it did find an audience, it would be not so broad.
How well do you understand this character now?
Michael: He’s elusive. That’s the great thing about this job. It’s never boring. He continues to evolve and change. It’s beyond anything I ever anticipated, in the beginning. Were we are now, the story we’re telling now, where the character is and what’s happened in his life, I’m happy with.
Is it where you expected it might be?
Michael: I felt like it had to be some sort of movement forward towards some percolating sense of his own humanity, but how that would go down, I had no idea.
Dexter seems more unrestrained this season. How was it to go wild like that and explore that side of his killing?
Michael: It was fun.
Did you get any deeper into the psyche of him going that wild?
Michael: Yeah. I think that place in his psyche has always existed in my imagination. Maybe it was the first time we went there, but yeah.
What was it like to go back to the set, after such gruesome things happened at the end of last season?
Michael: I was thankful that the hiatus managed to coincide with my treatment and that we didn’t have to miss a beat, in terms of our schedule. It has really become a family, at this point, and it’s gratifying to show up on set and realize how, across the board, everyone is so excited to be back, and so appreciative of this particular working environment. It felt, and continues to feel, really good.
You have created the perfect anti-hero with Dexter. He’s the killer everyone cheers for and loves. How do you personally feel about that?
Michael: I don’t lose sleep over the possibility that I’m advocating serial murder through my work. It’s undeniably relatable. He’s killing people. Most people that live in L.A., spend time in traffic and get that impulse. I’m proud of the show. When I hear comments like that, I don’t really worry that they are going to be taken to heart. I feel like it’s more a meditation on the nature of morality and our shadow side. If I hear a comment like that and I’m in the room, I just smile, nod and say “I know. I hope that this helps lessen the flames in you, and that you can watch it and have it be therapeutic.”
When you first saw the script for last season’s finale and learned about what would happen to Rita, what were you thinking Dexter should do next?
Michael: While I consciously knew that’s where things were headed, I really tried to approach everything that led up to it without that foreknowledge, and decided I’d just cross that acting bridge when it revealed itself. But, what’s interesting is this idea of atonement and that Dexter is forced, through what’s written, into those situations where he has to step into waters that he never anticipated stepping in. It starts out subterranean, but there is some sort of appetite to address his maybe not even consciously acknowledged sense of guilt, remorse or need for atonement. The circumstances of his life manifest an opportunity to do that, in a way that he doesn’t create consciously.
Will he end up getting a lot more advice from Harry?
Michael: I think the relationship with Harry is definitely becoming more dynamic this season. They’re not quite adversarial. Or, if they are, they trade arguments. That relationship evolves every time James [Remar] and I do a scene, and that’s been the case, especially since the last time we saw Harry and Dexter in the jail cell, at the top of the finale from last season. There was a real spark there, and I think we’ve tried to build on that.
DEXTER returns for Season 5 on Showtime on September 26th