Michael C. Hall is nearing the end of a more-than-a-decade-long journey through quality premium cable dramas. After starring in both HBO's "Six Feet Under" and Showtime's "Dexter," he's had a front-row seat for TV's latest "Golden Age."
With "Dexter" a third of the way through its final season, Hall talked to HuffPost TV about the serial killer thriller's latest shocking twist, what it's like to play such a dark character for so long and ending a TV series in a satisfying way.
Note: This Q & A has been edited and condensed.
First of all, we have to discuss the ending of that last episode. That sure was a crazy move by Deb.
Well, you know, Dr. Vogel’s alluded to the idea of Deb’s rock bottom. God, I hope that was it. I think something, beyond where she is consciously, takes over. Just as Dexter has, on a few occasions, chosen her, just as she in that shipping container with LaGuerta, in spite of whatever’s going on with her in the moment, she chooses him.
And I think there’s definitely a lesson for her to learn in that moving forward. I don’t think the two of them are hunky dory ... Nothing’s ever gonna be smooth sailing [between them], but it does seem like her making the choice she makes at the end of the fourth episode will teach some sort of lesson that hasn’t been taught up to this point, and allow her to move forward in a less ambivalent way.
What do you say to the backlash against the damaged Deb storyline -- the criticism that she can't make up her mind?
It’s a testament to just how subjectively the story is told and how much people identity with Dexter that people would take issue with Deb taking issue with the fact that her brother is a serial killer, and arguably forced her into this situation where she shot LaGuerta ... Like, "Why can’t you just get over it?"
What about the potential Deb spinoff that Showtime boss David Nevins has talked about? Would you watch that? Do you think it'd be a good idea?
I mean, I'd watch her do anything, but I'm reluctant to come down definitively about that, because whatever I say will maybe lead to speculation that I don't want to invite.
Charlotte Rampling has made quite an impact as Dr. Vogel this season. She's become the Bob Benson of this "Dexter" season.
I was just thankful that ... I mean, it's such a shot in the arm that she agreed to do it. Apparently, she'd never seen the show, but she lived in France and had some friends who watched the show and really encouraged her to consider it. And I'm glad she did it. I mean I can't imagine anyone else who could have plausibly played that character. She has such an inherent magnetism, it was nice for me. I mean Dexter has to be somewhat caught in the tractor beam of her intellect, and what she's telling him, it's nice when that's your assignment as an actor, to be facing someone who's so mesmerizing ... apparently.
A couple of episodes ago, people were actually wondering if she might be the Brain Surgeon killer.
Yeah, I know. I know. It's still not ... I'm not gonna say definitively either way, but I like that the character is presented in a way, and she certainly plays it in a way, that that seems like a justifiable thing to speculate about.
With "Dexter" and "Breaking Bad" ending this summer and James Gandolfini's death, could we be coming to the end of the TV's age of the antihero?
I certainly was really saddened and rocked to hear that James Gandolfini had died. That show meant such a great deal to me, and it really did signify what some people are calling the Golden Age of serialized cable programming. Maybe we are coming to the end of a period where antiheroes are the dominant characters that populate these shows ... I just feel really grateful to have been a part of these two shows ["Dexter"] and ["Six Feet Under"], and to have started out my television career at a time when such exciting things were happening in that medium.
Did you know Gandolfini well from your time at HBO?
I met him and said hello to him on a couple of occasions. I certainly didn't have anything other than a passing acquaintance as sort of loosely connected colleagues who worked for the same network. I felt like "The Sopranos" was like the big firstborn high achieving child, and "Six Feet Under" felt like we were sort of the artistic black sheep. But I certainly admired him, and part of the thrill of working on "Six Feet Under" was that I was going to work on the network that produced "The Sopranos," because I was a huge fan of that show.
Looking back at "The Sopranos" finale, would you like the ending of "Dexter" to provide a more definitive resolution?
Yes, to a degree. I think the other side of the spectrum as far as definitive endings go, would maybe be the "Six Feet Under" finale, in which you flash-forward and see all the characters you've spent time with actually die. That's pretty definitive. I think the "Dexter" finale will probably land somewhere in between. There will definitely be some grey areas, the show has always operated in that way. I don't think it will be neat and tidy and wrapped up in a bow, but at the same time, there are some pretty decisive and bold storytelling choices that have been made, and hopefully will give people a dynamic experience. Whether all questions will be answered, I don't know if this is a show that ever intended to do that.
I'm sure you've been asked the, "Does Dexter have to die?" question a thousand times. Do you think that narrative has become so pervasive because it allows the audience to feel better about ourselves after rooting for a serial killer for eight seasons?
Yeah, maybe. That's a valid theory, I think. As a viewer of the show, because of the way it's structured and because it's told subjectively -- there's the voiceover element; you're in on the secret when no one else in Dexter's world is -- you're sort of implicated. When the show began, what he was doing was much more controlled, and pristine, and no one but Dexter's victims were getting hurt. But as we've moved on, and he has continued to indulge his compulsions, and his emerging appetite for human connection, his compartmentalized world has crumbled somewhat, and more and more people are being affected, and implicated, and indicted for what he's done.
The real tragedy of it is it's really his appetite for humanity, or to be a "real boy," that's gotten the people around him in trouble. It's not the fact that he's a killer. He's wanted to have his cake and kill it, too.
There have been a few times this season when Harrison's been put in danger.
He's doing things that he never would have done before, because he's in situations that he never anticipated. It's a real mess. And I think if you're along for the ride as an audience member, it's probably a messier experience to identify with the character. I mean, I've always been an advocate for, after the audience's affection for the character has been established, to challenge that affection. That's a part of the forward momentum of the story. And I think that affection is definitely being challenged at this point.
Has the darkness of playing this character weighed heavily on you over the years?
Probably. Part of the tricky thing about playing a character for this long is that Dexter's probably had an influence on me and I've probably had an influence on Dexter -- it's a two-way street. I think I'd be lying to myself if I tried to believe that I completely leave my work at home. I mean, no one does. This work is pretty intense. There's probably some part of ourselves that doesn't distinguish between simulation and reality, or ritual and real life. I'm sure it's had its effect. Part of what's exciting about letting the character go at this point is finding out what that's about. I think I can only start to answer that question now when I'm not obliged to spend time with this guy who initially tells us he's a monster ... I don't know, I could go on and on. It's hard for me to say definitively how it's affected me, but I would be fooling myself if I said it hasn't.
It sounds like you're feeling a sense of relief that this journey is coming to an end.
Yeah, I feel a sense of relief, and a sense of sadness. But in a way, the relief is because of the sadness. It's nice at the end of an eight year run to feel -- I've been reminding people of this at work -- it's good that we feel sad. It's good that we're not just feeling primarily a sense of "Thank God that's over." There's a real sense of pride that we had increasing viewership all along, and that we finished strong, and there's a real gratitude too. But yeah, there's some relief there, in the soup of feelings.
It seemed like Showtime may have wanted "Dexter" to go on longer than the show's creative team was comfortable with. Why did you think now was the right time to end it?
I think we enjoy the fact that we've experienced ratings increases every year and that the enthusiasm about the show has only continued to grow. But eight seasons is a long time. Certainly with Deb making the discovery she's made, the world of Dexter as we've come to know it, is not something that can live on forever in any way that's ... plausible. It needs to come to some sort of conclusion. I think there was a collective sense creatively that it was time to do that -- conversations between me, our writers, Scott Buck and Sara Colleton, and other producing entities. The show continues to do really great things for the network, but we didn't want to be completely beholden to that in terms of our creative impulses.
With "Dexter" ending, and your new movie "Kill Your Darlings" coming out in October, are you trying to take a break from from TV for awhile?
I learned after "Six Feet Under" to never say never, and I certainly don't want to forsake the relationship I have to television generally -- there are amazing things happening on television all the time, and I wouldn't rule out the possibility of doing another series. But I don't anticipate doing one right away. I'm interested in committing to acting projects that have a definitive beginning, middle and end when I start them. These open-ended commitments to characters are a fascinating thing, and an opportunity that's totally unique to television as it nows exists, that you get to play characters that develop and evolve over the course of several seasons. I'm gonna take a break from that for now, but I wouldn't rule anything out.
"Dexter" airs at 9 p.m. ET on Showtime.