Ray Stevenson is a great actor. So, when I heard that he would be playing the villain on Season 7 of the Showtime drama series Dexter, I was very intrigued, and he definitely didn’t disappoint. As Isaak Sirko, the ruthless leader of the Koshka Brotherhood, Stevenson gave a complex and layered performance of a character where there was certainly more than meets the eye.
During this recent exclusive interview with Collider, actor Ray Stevenson talked about how he came to be a part of Dexter, how he wished his character could have gotten Dexter (Michael C. Hall) on a kill table, that he loved working with such a great cast and crew, what it was like to work on such a secretive show, and just how much more villainous a stone cold killer can get when you break his heart. He also talked about being a part of the Marvel universe as Volstagg in the Thor films and the challenges of wearing such an extensive fat suit, as well as what appealed to him about Divergent, in which he’s playing Marcus. Check out what he had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
RAY STEVENSON: Scott Buck, who’s the showrunner, had worked with Bruno Heller on the series Rome, that I did, and the call came out of the blue. I knew that it was a very privileged thing to get offered this nine episode lead baddie, as such. When he started telling me about it, and said he was this Ukrainian mob boss whose business associate friend gets killed and that he’s worst than any other hit man, I was like, “Yeah, okay.” But then, when he told me the reveal, I went, “Oh, god, Scott, I’m in!”
When you’ve got gangsters who are homosexual, it always has to be something deviant to them. This guy was a stone cold killer, but there always has to be some perverse deviance about a gay gangster guy. This guy didn’t have that. His heart was ripped out. His heart had been broken and that’s why he went after Dexter. So I said, “Okay, Scott, now you’ve got my attention. Yes, I want to do it!”
I was delighted at the chance. It was courageous of them to go for it, and I was very happy not to end up on Dexter’s table. At one point, I said, “What if I got Dexter on his table and put the knife across his lips, and then go, ‘You’re too pretty to kill’?” And then, you could just see me leave on my G4 and not know where he’s going. But, it was a beautiful ending. Working with Michael [C. Hall] was just brilliant. He’s the real deal. Everybody is. It’s an amazing crew and cast.
Was the unexpectedness of the character what ultimately appealed to you most?
STEVENSON: It was really lovely, the way they went for it and allowed Dexter’s character to find somebody, in the weirdest place, that he could actually talk to about the detachment of being a cold serial murderer, but who is really scared about being emotionless in other aspects of his life. They took some bold choices, which is a testament to the series itself.
Had you been aware of how important the villains are to each season of Dexter?
STEVENSON: I don’t get a chance to follow TV. I try to catch whatever series is out there, every now and then. So, they opened me up to this, and then I realized how important it was to have this nine episodic piece. The character played such a pivotal role in that season. He wasn’t just in for one episode, or two or three episodes, as a villain-of-the-week sort of thing. That’s when it dawned on me. It was a tremendous opportunity. I just loved it, and I loved working on it.
STEVENSON: Literally, from one episode to the next, I had no idea what was coming up. We wouldn’t until they would deliver the scripts for the table read. I had no idea. I think they allow themselves that leeway to start seeing the character and seeing their place on screen. It’s great confidence that they have in their process and the people involved. They allow that to grow and develop with a writing team, as it’s running, and don’t have that all completely locked in. There are unexpected relationships that happen on screen and, rather than just being left alone, they can allow it to grow itself. They probably have some overall arc. I haven’t asked them, but initially I probably would have ended up on Dexter’s table. I have no idea. I can’t second guess them. It was just wonderful. It was a great job. It’s Season 7, so I did have a little feeling going into it of, “Are they all going to be a bit overtired and jaded?” But, the opposite was true. This cast and crew, and the production team, have engendered a feeling of a collective ownership.
Everybody on that show makes Dexter happen, with such pride and responsibility. They’re such a real family. Scott has been there for eight years, and they were still thrilled to see where it was going. That was what broad-sided me. I thought, “Wow, this could have been Season 1.” To be a part of something that’s so established and so well loved, worldwide, and getting to work with this caliber of people, it’s one of those rare things that come along. It’s only in hindsight that you go, “Did that really just happen? That was so good.” You really get the feeling that everyone involved loves what they do and has a voice. Everyone can have a say and chip in, and they’re genuinely very happy at work. That’s rare.
Because the cat-and-mouse game with Dexter was so personal, do you think that’s what made your character such an unpredictable and formidable opponent for him?
STEVENSON: I think so. Dexter wasn’t just taking out the bad guys. He actually hurt somebody. He took somebody’s love. It could have been a wife, or anything. Victor was probably as much of a partner as any married couple. There was a real genuine, deep love that they had to shield from their world, as much as anything else. And then, Dexter had to deal with this stone cold killer who he knew was a formidable enemy that was more than capable of taking him out, but he had ripped this guy’s heart out. He’s not there out of vengeance. He’s there because his heart had been broken and he zeroed in on this. That gives a definite impetus. This was personal. And Isaak wouldn’t stop. There was no way that he was going to stop until this is resolved, in some way. Their partnering up was the strangest thing, but it gave access to Dexter to understand that he hurt this man. He’s as much of a stone cold killer as Isaak.
Just looking at your most recent handful of projects, including Dexter, GI Joe: Retaliation, Thor and Thor 2, and now Divergent, it seems like your career and characters are diverse enough to be any actor’s dream. Is that something you strive for?
STEVENSON: I love the chameleon nature of this business. I always have. Sometimes I’m not as recognizable as somebody else and I may not have gotten a role, but for me, acting is not a competition. I’ve just kept my head down and kept working, and had the great pleasure of working with some amazing people and playing some extraordinary and extreme characters. There’s a very small niche of character leading men, not known for playing themselves. There’s a small band that can really do that, and do it supremely well. For me, because I’ve had classical theater training, when people say, “Oh, my god, the play is amazing!,” I’ll never get to see it because I’m in it. I’m looking at it from inside the person, much more than, “How’s my profile? How’s my branding?” I’m a lifer, in this game. It’s as easy to slip into a piece of theater or a piece of television of this quality or movies or radio or voice-over because it’s the breadth and the interest of the work. If the project piques my interest and scares me a little bit, then it’s got me hooked.
Especially seeing how dominant Marvel is now at the box office, if you hadn’t signed on for that first Thor movie, would you just be kicking yourself?
STEVENSON: That was a weird process. I was in Sicily at a friend’s birthday party. In the middle of the night, I got a phone call from my agent who said, “I’ve got Ken Branagh on the phone.” And I had worked with Ken, many years ago, on a small film called The Theory of Flight, where I played this gigolo for Helena Bonham Carter. So, Ken got on the phone and said, “I’ve got this job and I was wondering if you’d be interested.” I said, “Are you directing, Ken?” He said, “Yes, I am.” And I said, “I’ll do it! I don’t care what it is, Ken. I’d love to work with you again.” And he said, “Well, we’re going to put you in a fat suit with big red hair and a big red beard.” I said, “Right.”
The weird thing is, in America, people were saying, “You’re not going to get recognized because all you’re going to see is basically your forehead and eyes.” Rather than hiring a large actor, what Ken wanted was the forehead and the eyes. It must have been a stretch for him to pitch me in the room because even Ken said, “I know you’re a big, strapping lad, Ray.” But, it was such exhausting, exhilarating fun. I felt so hammy in the rehearsals, but Ken said, “You can’t go too large with this. He’s got a heart the size of a planet and he wears it on his sleeve.” It was hilarious. I said, “Ken, if I dip my toes in the river of ham, then I’m relying on you.” And he said, “Darling, you’re speaking to one who’s swam in that river, many times.”
I’ve got two little boys – one is five and one is two – and when they get really excited, happy and over-joyed, every cell in their being shakes and quivers. As Volstagg, I got to wield my axe with gay abandon. I had this huge fat suit on, from the ankles to the wrist to the neck, and I had to have this special vest with small pipes that wrapped around my torso, and I could plug it in to a machine that pumped ice water onto my torso to bring my body temperature down. Even sitting still, your body temperature just went up and up. And I had this big red wig. But still, I got to be Volstagg! He’s a Viking in space! All these problems are such high class problems. It was such a delight to work on it, and I’ve done it twice now. Bring it on!
What was the appeal of Divergent?
STEVENSON: As an actor, I relish and delight in doing things that I’m not necessarily the demographic for. This is a demographic that is touching the psyche of a certain age group, facing the real internal questions of people who are going through rites of passage into adulthood. It’s earth-shaking stuff. So, I like bringing little subtle complexities to a character. It’s all about the subtext. No one can really describe or fully know another human being, even if they get a hook on them. It’s more about instinctively knowing whether you like somebody or not. You don’t have to then go and analyze and break it all down. We’re the sum of many, many, many disparate parts that all weave and change course. Also, I got to be involved with Lionsgate and Summit, and Neil Burger is directing. I read the script and I said, “Yeah, let’s dive into this!”
Dexter – Season 7 is now available on Blu-ray.