For eight seasons Michael C. Hall has killed well over 100 people on Showtime’s “Dexter.” In a nice change of pace John Krokidas’ acclaimed debut “Kill Your Darlings” has Hall playing the victim at the other end of the blade.
The drama, which screened this week in Toronto and opens October 17, tells the story of how the Beat Generation movement came to be by centering on Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) and his tenuous relationship to fellow Columbia student Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), who would go on to murder gay elder sophisticate David Kammerer (Hall). Ben Foster co-stars in the film as William S. Burroughs, while Jack Huston embodies Jack Kerouac.
Indiewire sat down with Hall in Toronto the day of its Canadian premiere to discuss his role in the drama, saying goodbye to “Dexter,” and playing his first gay character since his run on HBO’s “Six Feet Under.”
Both David Kammerer and Dexter have predatory tendencies. David begins to stalk Lucien when he ignores his advances, and Dexter hunts down bad guys as a side job. Did you draw any parallels between the two?
No, I didn’t really. I think I would liken the characters more in terms of having very different but equally consuming compulsions. I think Dexter subconsciously thinks of himself as a predator. I think David Kammerer has been characterized as a predator, though I think the film aspires to present someone who is not that sort of black and white. He’s a predator but maybe it’s an emotion that’s requited and is arguably inappropriate, but is as pure as any exhibited in the film. Certainly, in Ginsberg’s more poetic recounting of the murder, kind of gives himself over to his beloved and essentially says, “I’d rather die by your hand than live without it.” There’s something totally twisted about it, but there’s some weird nobility about it too. But I definitely saw more differences than similarities, though there is a degree of obsession and a moral gray area that the areas are living and presented, that does run between them.
The film’s remarkably ambitious for a directorial debut. What gave you the confidence John, who also penned the screenplay, could bring his vision to the screen?
Well, John is so inherently passionate about whatever he’s doing, I think. And he co-wrote the screenplay and had been living with the material for so long and was able to speak so passionately and intelligently about the subject matter that I had confidence that he had the doggedness and tenacity and clarity and the strength of vision that it would require. And I was right.
Did you read any poetry growing up?
Yeah. I mean, maybe not quite growing up, but in my early twenties I familiarized myself with Kerouac, Ginsberg, Borroughs, Gregory Corso, Herbert Huncke. And I was aware of this particular story and always amazed that it hadn’t been widely told, so when it made its way into my hands I was really excited that that was happening, and how beautifully the story had been rendered. It was exciting.
Did you feel the need to brush up on your Beat poetry before embarking on this project?
Yeah, I mean, I don’t know that Kammerer himself was a poet. I knew he did some writing, and that a lot of his creative energy was dedicated to doing Lucien’s schoolwork. I spent some time with the Beats, and spent some time reading Allen Ginsberg’s journals from the time, to get a sense of the atmosphere and to get real-time accounts of meeting Kammerer. But I also read some Yates; I think that’s what inspired Kammerer, and what he used to in turn inspire Lucien, who in turn inspired Ginsberg and Kerouac and Burroughs. I mean, there are some Beat scholars who consider Kammerer the godfather of Beats. I talked to someone who worked intimately with Burroughs and asked if he ever talked about Kammerer. All he really had to tell me is that he just couldn’t let it go. I think he’s someone who creatively and intellectually brought as much to the table as these other guys, but he was consumed by the passion.
When preparing for roles, do you have a routine you follow?
No, I think part of what I like about acting is that, certainly you accumulate more tools over the years and you have more tools in your toolbox. But hopefully different roles and different worlds in which those roles exist call upon you to fashion new tools. This was unique in that it was a world populated by characters who were all future icons, and this footnote in Beat history that was sort of off in the shadows. But I was able to find enough information about him to make informed decisions as I filled in the blanks, and that was a unique position to be in.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is the first time you’ve played a gay character since “Six Feet Under,” right?
[He thinks for a second.] Yes.
Now you’re straight. How do you get into a gay man’s mindset?
I don’t know, I mean I can appreciate that Dane DeHaan is beautiful, and I can appreciate and give over to the power of his persona and magnetism. I mean, I was thankful that he was someone who was so inherently magnetic, given that I had to be so magnetized by him. And you know, I don’t know that it’s was a relationship that in any physical intimate way was consummated, I don’t if that kind of expression came to past between these two. You do whatever kind of internal alchemy you need to do to to make something connect to your own inherent sense of truth. I can certainly relate to my associations with self-destructive obsession, or unrequited love, or forbidden passions, or envy, or projection of vitality that you yourself long to possess.
I first became familiar with your work via “Six Feet Under.” You were no doubt thrust into the LGBT spotlight thanks to that show. What was that experience like of having to be a spokesperson?
Yeah, I think whatever kind of spokesman-ship I did was just in playing the part. I wasn’t interested in standing behind any podiums, but I did recognize when I read the pilot script of “Six Feet Under” and got the part that I was called upon to play a character that was up to that point unique to TV, and maybe even to film, in as much as he was a fundamental part of a human fabric. He was not incidentally gay, he was not comic relief. He was a very complex character who had a very complex connection to his sexuality, and I definitely felt charged with a sense of responsibility to do my part to get it right. So yeah, I felt a sense of responsibility.
I remember being surprised you signed onto another series (“Dexter”) as soon as “Six Feet Under” wrapped. Were you wary about getting involved in another TV series so soon after ending your run on one?
I was, I mean I think I announced in interviews like this when “Six Feet Under” was ending, “I will never do another television series.” I’ve learned to never say never. Yeah, I moved back to New York and was hoping to pursue opportunities on stage and hopefully in film. But I was coming to appreciate that while people loved “Six Feet Under,” in the industry their imaginations began and ended with David Fisher when it came to me. I was very proud of the work, but I felt somewhat bound by that. When the “Dexter” script came along, it fell into my lap because Bob Greenblatt had been a producer on “Six Feet Under” and was the new head of original programming and Michael Cuesta was directing the pilot and he’d done several “Six Feet Under” episodes.
It took a while for me to come around and actually watch you as Dexter. I didn’t initially want to accept you as anyone other than David Fisher.
I had a lot of people tell me that they didn’t. And you know, I probably will deal with that from “Dexter” fans now. Occupational hazard, I guess. But I realized it was, like David Fisher, a character unlike I had ever encountered, and an opportunity to stretch my own muscles and broadened the spectrum in terms of people’s perception. So I took the leap, and I did it for eight seasons. I felt like if we got the tone right we would develop some sort of cult audience and do it four three or four seasons. The fact that we did it for eight, and it became this sort of worldwide thing, was beyond my wildest expectations or dreams.
What’s it like to find yourself back at that stage in your career with “Dexter” coming to a close?
Yeah, it’s interesting. I definitely feel like I have a bit more substantial footing at this point after eight seasons of “Dexter” that I did after five seasons of “Six Feet Under.” But once again, it’s time to reboot the system, and I try to think of it as a new beginning as much as an ending. It definitely is, and I’ll never say never, but I’m excited about the opportunity to have jobs that have a definite beginning, middle and end when I go into them rather than an open-ended commitment to a character that could be taken in places I can’t even imagine. But it’s funny, be careful what you wish for, be careful for what you avoid. You’ll find yourself right back there.