After shooting seven grueling seasons on “Dexter,” Jennifer Carpenter makes her first foray into romantic comedy territory with the New York-set indie “Ex-Girlfriends,” from first-time writer-director Alexander Poe. Carpenter couldn’t be happier. She is, in fact, so enamored with the project, and at the chance to tackle a role in a genre she’s not accustomed to finding herself in, that she came on board to serve as an executive producer for the film — her first time ever doing so.
Carpenter called in to Indiewire to discuss how she came onto the project, stepping outside of her comfort zone, and why the seventh season of “Dexter” was the toughest one yet. [“Ex-Girlfriends” comes out iTunes and on demand November 27 and at New York’s Cinema Village the following day. “Dexter” airs Sundays at 9pm ET/PT on Showtime.]
It was refreshing seeing you in something lighthearted for a change! I’m used to seeing you investigate grisly homicides in “Dexter,” or fight for you life in horrors like “Quarantine” and your breakout, “The Exorcism of Emily Rose.”
I’m trying to change that up a little bit. I’m trying to steer away from Deb and darkness.
Did this actually feel like a walk in the park for you, compared to what you normally do?
Honestly, yeah. It’s a lot of fun. I feel like my life has been confined a little bit by playing things in genre films and in this “Dexter” series. It’s fun to branch out a bit. I feel like I’ve held a lot of tricks up my sleeve for a lot of years, and “Ex-Girlfriends” is a good way to show another side of me.
Mind you, your character is the one that goes through the worst breakup over the course of the film.
[Laughs] With the least amount of empathy.
How did you come across this project? It’s a pretty small film.
I usually spend the hiatus of “Dexter” in New York in a way to balance things. I have friends here; I used to have a life here. So I stuck around in New York planning to run the marathon. I ran it and my manager sent me a script saying, “You want to jump on it.” I knew nothing about the budget or the cast that Alexander had invited onto the project, but I read the script and really responded to it. I thought it was smart, the structure was interesting and the dialogue left a lot of room for actors to play. I made it very clear that I was available, and five days later we were on a set together. It just took off.
My need to be further involved just grew. I took on the executive producer role when I realized I wanted to have a hand in making sure it was getting plenty of publicity, and eventually distribution. And because of Alex — given that he was split between being an actor, writer and producer, I wanted to make sure we were hitting on the scenes that really counted and that the ones that fell on the wayside (we were on a 14-day shoot), we could let go.
I have some equity in television right now, and if I can exploit that a bit to get his work some attention and maybe also get to try a new game in comedy, I want to take full advantage of it and make sure the film’s got a shot.
What’s the learning curve been like for with your new role?
Well, I think it just of solidified an idea: you are only as good as the people you work with. If you can create an environment where people are invited to do their best work and the best ideas always win, then the project itself will win. There has been so little ego in this film from top to bottom.
I guess the learning curve is still coming because we don’t really know how it’s going to do. We chose to put it out on iTunes instead of trying to spend more money to get it countrywide distribution. We want people to see it, so we want it to be at the ready for people on their computers, on demand. We’ll see how it plays out. Alex and I are already trying to figure out what to do on my hiatus here now — we’re trying to get something off the ground right away. It’s a bit of an addiction, I guess.
Going back to Kate, the character you play in “Ex-Girlfriends” — was it a struggle to relate to her at this point in your own life? You’ve already gone through a marriage, whereas Kate just seems to be finding her feet in the dating pool.
Part of what I love about “Ex-Girlfriends,” I think Alex is trying to put a spotlight on a hurdle that anyone on the quest for love has to encounter. I think we can look at this and laugh and go, “You’ve got a long way to go, my friend.” But it’s important that you understand this experience for what it is.
I feel she’s a little swifter in her discovery as far as recognizing situations for what they are, not letting them scar her and moving forward. That’s something that I aligned with, and I hope to know better. Five days before I started production, I felt the part was opening up to me.
Moving onto “Dexter”; Deb was dealt with quite the blow at the end of season six when she learned of Dexter’s extracurricular activities. From an actor’s perspective, what’s it been like playing with the realization that your brother is a mass murderer?
It’s been the most complicated, challenging, frustrating, emotionally expensive season of the entire series. After we shoot an episode I don’t remember anything. I think we were very careful. I guess I was very careful about not making heady proclamations or declarations about now Deb did this one thing where she agrees or she aligns herself with Dexter, or now Deb does not agree with anything he’s done. It’s about excavating ideas and information — and processing.
That’s part of the reason I begged for a scene in the elevator where I cuss like a maniac. I felt like the audience needed a moment of privacy with Deb to see that she’s not a machine, that she struggles. I guess that explosion in the elevator is kind of what I felt like as an actor — I’m on the verge all the time. Which is why projects like “Ex-Girlfriends” feel like a vacation, really. It doesn’t get any harder than “Dexter.”
Where do you see the chracter going in the eight and final season?
Here’s what I know, and I don’t think it’s up for debate. I know that she’s living her life as her own. She’s no longer living her life for Dexter, because she was in love with an idea of who he was. Her life is her own. So now, if she’s ever going to have success, in her career or in her personal life, it will come now. If she’s going to have failure, it will be at her own hands.
In a weird way, it’s the most dangerous place she can be. But it’s also the most authentic place for her to be in. From now on it’s about “what do I want my life to be,” not “where has my life been.”
Listening to you right now, it’s clear you’re extremely attached to Deb. Is she going to be hard to shake off once the series ends?
It depends on how the writers choose to close it down. I think if they don’t write her a happy ending I’m going to grieve for her. I’ve been living this life beside my own for seven years — what will be eight, technically nine because we took a year during the pilot and the first season. Like you said, I have a lot of cords plugged into this person. She matters to me. I don’t have split personality disorder, but I do go deep for her. I want to honor the people that have supporter her, our fans. I want everyone to leave happy, or be satisfied.