Actor Michael C. Hall says he might be ready to give death a break.
After 13 years of being consumed by it — first playing repressed mortician David Fisher on HBO’s “Six Feet Under” and recently as Showtime’s adored serial killer on “Dexter” — Hall stars in the upcoming film “Kill Your Darlings,” in which his character is murdered. He also just completed filming “Cold in July” in New York, in which he plays someone who kills an intruder.
That’s a lot of blood.
“I can’t seem to get away from dead bodies, even if it’s my own,” Hall told TODAY during a recent interview.
If “Six Feet Under” was the role that made the entertainment industry take notice of Hall, “Dexter” is the part that turned him into a bona fide star and gave Showtime a competitive edge in original programming. Although the 42-year-old actor officially said goodbye in July to “Dexter,” which gave him five leading actor Emmy nominations (he also earned one for “Six Feet Under”), the end hasn’t quite hit him.
“I’m relieved and sad and have a sense of pride in what we’ve done,” Hall said. “It was definitely daunting in a good way in terms of doing those last few episodes. I think everyone will be surprised when they see David Fisher wake up in a cold sweat and realize that Dexter was all his dream.”
Insert “Dexter's” ironic voiceover here. He was joking.
In the same way that Dexter kept blood slides as souvenirs of each of his kills, Hall took keepsakes home from the Hollywood set. He kept Dexter’s watch, his Miami Metro police lanyard, and a series of blood spatter images from Dexter’s lab, though Hall has no idea what he will do with those.
In keeping with his own nostalgic trip down memory lane, TODAY asked Hall to share his favorite moments playing the serial killer everyone wants to hug.
Splish splash (Season 1, 'Seeing Red')
“It was a really pivotal episode in the history of the show in as much as it’s the one where Dexter comes to conscious realization of how he came to be who he is — that he was born in his mother’s blood, at least, that second time in a pool of her blood. It’s really just a sort of deep advance game of pretend that we all play as actors and filmmakers. This one really felt like playing in as much as it required me to make a big mess and fall and slide across a floor of a room filled with fake blood. It did remind me of doing slip and slide in the backyard when I was a little kid.”
Head-butt/body slam (Season 2, 'That Night, A Forest Grew')
“It’s fun to play a character who is as physically assured and capable and decisive as Dexter is. Maybe I had fantasies in my life where I wanted to head-butt someone who was standing in front of me but I never actually went through with it. So that was fun. It was just a perfect example of how Dexter, when he’s most on top of things, is several chess moves ahead of his opponents. He had the satisfaction of head-butting him but also the satisfaction of knowing that Doakes would retaliate in a way that would implicate him.
"It’s fun to be charged with playing someone who remains as calm and cool in the midst of situations as Dexter does. I think we’d all like to be able to do that. I don’t know that I can. When we rehearsed it, I remember the first time [Erik King] came from behind me and grabbed me, it was like getting hit by a truck. I was like, ‘You gotta ease up on the accelerator there.’ He’s a strong guy. My cousin actually used to always make fun of me. Once Dexter and Doakes faced off and Dexter won, he was like, ‘Well, I know this show is totally fiction because that guy would totally kick your ass in real life.’”
Dexter loses it (Season 3, 'About Last Night')
“It’s another example of twisted wish fulfillment on my part. We’ve all been in some sort of circumstance where we wanted to fly off the handle and trash the room. I guess it was a fantasy for the character as well because it didn’t really happen. It was all a representation of his boiling brain. It’s nice to be able to make a mess and know someone else is going to clean it up and know you’re not even going to get in trouble.”
Like the scene in which Dexter slips and slides on the bloody floor, this one was choreographed and shot in one take, with many cameras rolling at once.
“There might have been more takes of that final moment when I added the yelling, ‘Miguel!’ because it seemed like I needed to yell something. I felt like the moment needed some sort of punctuation. So we’d just take it from there. But as far as the actual throwing the chair through the window and smashing the glass etc. etc. that was a one shot deal.”
The world’s best jig (Season 4, 'Road Kill')
“I could point to so many moments in [John Lithgow’s] performance. But that was one that was so simultaneously creepy and hilarious and absurd, and somehow in his hands, plausible — that this sinister serial killer he was playing, it seemed perfectly plausible that he would dance a little jig like that. For me, it was just the challenge of keeping a straight face while he did it take after take.”
A time for thanks (Season 4, 'Hungry Man')
“We were giddy and gleeful while we were shooting it. Everything was so deliciously awkward and painful. When he says to his wife, ‘Shut up, [expletive].’ And it’s like whoa, Arthur. I think that’s actually what Dexter says, “Whoa, Arthur! Ok!” We just had the feeling, John and I would laugh, at the insanity of the relationship we were portraying. We really did feel like we were committing to film one of the worst holiday dinners ever.”
Bonus: Because fans loved the first time Arthur aka "Trinity" (Lithgow) greeted Dexter by his real name, TODAY asked Hall about filming that scene.
“It’s funny the first time we shot ‘Hello Dexter Morgan’ — you know, Dexter’s fake name was Kyle Butler. So he’d been calling me that the whole time. And during the first take of that scene, we took our marks and he looked up and he said, “Hello Kyle Butler.” We both burst out laughing. He accidentally called me by my fake name when he finally gets to say the real one.”
Directing his first episode of TV (Season 8, 'Every Silver Lining')
“It’s something that I’ve been encouraged to do by various cast mates, crew members, representatives for some time. I always had misgivings about it because I’d never done it before and because I was worried that I’d be neither here nor there. Neither be able to do fully the directing job or give the focus to acting job that I would otherwise be able to give. But one kind of led to the other. The story is told subjectively and through Dexter’s point of view so if it made sense for any of us to direct, I guess, it made sense for me to. And I certainly was, while a novice to directing, I have a real good sense of how the show works and who our crew is and how to use them to find the moments I felt needed to be found.
I would say that I actually enjoyed it a lot more than I feared I wouldn’t. It was really gratifying also in scenes that I didn’t appear to work with my cast mates because we know each other really well and trust each other. It was nice to just have a more expansive energy on set—to be there to answer people’s questions and be in a position where I had to be decisive in order for them to do their jobs well. I felt more open and available than I do when I’m just off staring in the corner thinking about that serial killer all the time."
Dexter’s iconic title sequence: it’s all about the ham!
"I ate so much ham! They had a little spit bucket so I could chew up the ham and spit it out. But, inevitably, I still swallowed more than I should have. It’s hard for me to put food in my mouth and spit it back out. I want to swallow it. Maybe I won’t get to eat again. You never know. You ever go to a wine tasting? You’re supposed to spit it out. It’s hard for me.
"While we were shooting on the stage next door, we were shooting stuff at the police precinct, and I would just run over there whenever there was a break, and do the little pieces. Whether it was putting on a shirt or tying my shoes or eating ham. And it’s funny because it all felt so hurried and haphazard and an afterthought but it obviously turned into one of the iconic images of the show. It lived on more perpetually than anything I ever did anywhere else. I just think it was eerie, creepy, weirdly beautiful and simultaneously mundane and heightened. It was just a perfect introduction to the character and the world of the show ... the way the little ding at the end of the song coincides with that half smile and look up as Dexter walks out of his apartment — that really sets him up in a great way."