Dexter Morgan has sliced his way into a bloody niche on TV. As it begins its sixth season tonight, Showtime's Dexter can boast both critical acclaim and an audience that's enraptured by the life of Miami's most loved serial killer. Dexter's biggest supporter - and also the largest threat to his lethal secret - is his sister, homicide detective Debra Morgan.
The show might be called Dexter, but Deb has been my favorite character on the series. She might have a smart mouth, but beyond that, she has an earnestness to bust the bad guys that I find admirable. She also displays a remarkable resiliency - her life has seemed to derail time and time again, but she always finds a way to come back, even when her boyfriend's a serial killer or shot dead by the daughter of a serial killer. And her partner is pretty awesome, too.
I chalk my appreciation for Deb up to Jennifer Carpenter, who's impressed me with every performance, and become one of my favorite actresses in the process. She's one of those people that I don't just enjoy watching as a fan, but that as a writer, I've aspired to write for - as we've seen her take the character of Deb on a real journey through the last five seasons.
What's in store for Deb in season six? I sat down with Jennifer to find out.
When we left Deb last, she seemed like she might actually have a chance at a functional romantic life with Quinn (Desmond Harrington). What's ahead for that relationship in season six?
I don't think it's gonna last. I think Quinn is a great fit for Deb. They're good partners, whether it's on the job or off. I was shocked when they paired us up [romantically] and it worked. She got to see what it's like to be on the inside of a healthy relationship, which is a rarity for her, but I think she's in a place where she's defining and refining who she is. When Quinn decides he wants more, she has to risk hurting him for the sake of protecting what she knows to be true about herself.
She also came very, very close to revealing Dexter's (Michael C. Hall) killer secret. How long do you think Deb can go without catching on to what her brother's up to?
I don't think there's a fear of her looking stupid because she's had a hand in solving every major case that's gone through that department. I do feel like there is some undercurrent of not suspicion, but there are some rooms that she's never been allowed access to with Dexter. I don't think she realizes how dark those rooms are. She's getting closer every minute of every day. Especially this year, in terms of catching the big bad, Dexter has to stay on his toes to even keep up with Deb. He's always in the line of fire with her.
You have a new showrunner for season six (Scott Buck). Fans read about these behind-the-scenes changes all the time - but how much does it really impact the actors on a day-to-day basis?
Hugely. This is one of the most exciting seasons for me as Scott has been a writer for many years now and he's created a writer's room where the best story wins. Everyone has to check their ego at the door. It's the first year where the story has been so strong and so good and coming in on time, and we've had writers on set with us, which is such a luxury.
This last season had some great guest stars - Julia Stiles, Jonny Lee Miller, and Scott Grimes among them. What's it been like working with this season's guest cast?
It's fantastic. I don't have a ton of scenes with Colin Hanks, but he's so much fun to have on set. I don't have any idea how he's sculpting it on his own but I have a blast with him. He makes me laugh a lot. Mos Def - I would show up just to watch him work because he was so fantastic. He was just so natural and honest.
Is there a moment in the sixth season so far that you're particularly proud of?
There are a lot that I'm proud of but mostly because the writers offered me an opportunity to be a part of it. I have a lot of scenes with a therapist this year; Deb is finally going to counseling to process all the things that have happened in her life. Those scenes are a lot of fun. Everyone knows what Deb's like when she's charging through her life; it's a moment for her to be still.
You've played Deb for six years now. As an actress, how is it to stick with one character for that long? What keeps her interesting for you?
I love her. I'm so curious about her still. Six years in, to be going to work and have questions to ask, and things that are as challenging as they are, it's great. There's an attachment that forms. I said to one of the writers, "I hope when the series is over, that you'll kill her. I'd hate to think that there's some unfinished life out there." She's such a living, breathing thing to me - it would be hard to just sort of abandon her at the end.
If you had creative control, what's one thing that you'd love to do with Deb?
What a great question. I would like to have one episode where I don't cuss. She's so much more than that and I think that's something people see at first glance and can't get past. It would do crazy things to her mind. People would be so confused.
I'd also like to find out that my brother is a serial killer! I am terrified to have to play it. It's such a scary proposition, and exciting, too. I'm glad I don't have to write it.
How has playing the role of Deb for six seasons changed you personally?
In infinite ways, really. In every way. When you agree to the life of an actor, you go where the work is, and the fact that it's afforded me some stability, to have a somewhat normal life, has been amazing. I get to go home and see my niece and nephew four to five times a year because of the schedule.
Do you look at things any differently having played a cop?
Whenever I've been pulled over by a cop or a cop has come to my aid, there is a certain stare that they all inhabit, and I've never understood it. I don't know if it's about being on guard or having control, but I feel like I'm always practicing it.
For people who've seen you on Dexter and want to check out more of your work, what else would you suggest that they watch?
I'll always be proud of The Exorcism of Emily Rose. I wanted that part more than I wanted anything. I didn't see it as a horror film, more as a drama where horrific things happen. It felt like a play. I had a lot of great tools; I set up a room at the studios and had mirrors around and was just really playing and rehearsing, so every take felt full. It was so creatively satisfying.
I always thought that I'd be cast as a clown, so I just executive produced a movie this winter called Ex-Girlfriend, and it's funny and smart and fun. We're trying to get it into the festival circuit now and I hope that will lead to more comedies. I think once people hear you scream it sticks with them, so hopefully I can make them laugh and they'll start to see that.
Give a recommendation to our readers.
Right now, I'm reading a really excellent book that I actually picked up because I thought it would be great research. It's Goddesses In Everywoman: Powerful Archetypes In Women's Lives. It's about the four or five different archetypes that women embody. I'm learning a lot about myself and a lot about Deb. I'm also reading Lincoln's Greatest Speech.
My thanks to Jennifer Carpenter for this interview! Catch her when Dexter returns tonight at 9 PM ET/PT on Showtime.