When Jennifer Carpenter spoke to the Television Critics Association about this season of “Dexter,” she had to be vague for spoilers. Now that we’ve seen the majority of the season, we can see some of the things to which she was reacting.
For the entire season, Debra has been trapped between her duty as a lieutenant of Miami Metro PD and her desire to protect her serial killer brother, Dexter (Michael C. Hall). We spoke with Carpenter about the show’s long history and how Debra has adapted to it all.
CraveOnline: Since so much of the series was building up to the moment where Debra learns the truth or Dexter gets exposed to his colleagues, does that make you feel more free moving forward?
Jennifer Carpenter: I think it’s the first season where I felt like I [needed] a voiceover. I need the writers to tell me where I am because I have no map for it, which in a way I guess is fitting for the character, but I don't know what I’m building towards. I think that makes for exciting TV. I think the harder my job is, the more fun it is to watch. That’s my hope. It certainly doesn’t back us into a corner at all. If anything, it opens up all kinds of amazing doors.
CraveOnline: But if Dexter’s caught, Deb would be screwed up too.
Jennifer Carpenter: Yeah, as would Harrison. Harrison is this perfect web that keeps me trapped. Then the origin story perpetuates. Dexter was left alone, no parents. Harrison, same. I’m alone.
CraveOnline: What would you think of a special episode where you did the narrating?
Jennifer Carpenter: Oh, wouldn’t that be cool? I suggested that I wish they would take Michael’s voiceover away once so audiences are left in the dark.
CraveOnline: Is this intense, complex performance draining on you personally?
Jennifer Carpenter: I have learned that keeping my personal life outside of work is a much easier, richer way to work. I truly go to work and disappear in her skin. When I check back into my life, a life I know I’m very lucky to have and take very good care of, it’s easy.
I’ve somehow scored three days off this week and I’ve booked it to New York and just disappeared with friends. On the weekends you can really just hole up and do nothing and then your whole life is about work, so I’m trying to get out of my house. I run, I started taking some new classes, I joined LACMA, I’m going to take a painting class. I’m trying to stay busy.
CraveOnline: Did “Dexter” get a little claustrophobic for you at one point when you had to decide there’s a world outside your show?
Jennifer Carpenter: Claustrophobic, no, because the work is still so hard and so good. He calls it his dark passenger. I call acting my addiction. I just can’t get enough of it so it never feels like it’s closing me in. I just feel like I need to keep a good balance.
CraveOnline: Have you heard from any people in a similar situation to Deb where she’s forced into a leadership role before she really wants to?
Jennifer Carpenter: The way I thought about it when it was happening was: I know that when there’s a presidential race and I feel like my candidate doesn’t have a strong lead, I try to remember the last time the presidency changed hands, the world didn’t crumble in a day.
Now every day that I go to work and our department is still closing cases, I realize it’s all going to be okay and all I need to do is give work to my team. The more work they have, the less they can pay attention to what’s going on with my brother or me at this point.
CraveOnline: Had you been looking forward to Debra finding out Dexter’s secret for a long time, or were you dreading it?
Jennifer Carpenter: I have been looking forward to it. I've been very curious about how they would write it, and also testified about it. It's sort of perfect. I think all of the anxiety and stuff that I'm feeling as an actor is exactly where Debra is supposed to be. I'm just so happy with where they were taking it.
I didn't want Debra to lose any sort of credibility with the audience. I wanted the things that we've claimed to be true about her remain so, and I think Scott Buck and the team of writers and the producers did a great job where I don't have to lie or shape shift anything to make it fit for the sake of the show.
CraveOnline: We always love Debra’s profanity. When did you know that would be her thing?
Jennifer Carpenter: I remember in the audition having an enormous amount of pages for the audition. In the middle of it, I dropped them, and I dropped an F‑bomb as well, and I think that might have gotten me the part.
CraveOnline: There’s been a lot of fan commentary on which seasons were stronger than others. What to you makes a good season of “Dexter?”
Jennifer Carpenter: Well, I had never done television before, and I really felt like I came to the show as a freshman, and after we're in our seventh year, and every day, I guess, on average spending 12 and 13 hours a day in front of a camera, I feel like each season I've become almost a better athlete. I feel like now that we're in season 7, we're at the Olympics, and I feel strong, like a show that started with great legs is now really full‑bodied and well‑manned and womaned.
CraveOnline: Which aspect of Deb do you like the most, the badass cop or the good sister?
Jennifer Carpenter: Well, I think that's a difficult question because as a whole person you encompass all kinds of emotions, so even though I'm feeling like I'm focused in my bad cop mode, it's doesn't mean that I'm also not the good sister too. I don't know. I'll think about it. Good sister. I like to be the good sister more than the bad cop.
CraveOnline: What do you admire about Michael C. Hall’s performance?
Jennifer Carpenter: My answer remains the same. I know that this does not happen like this often, and I know that everything sort of starts at the top, and Michael sets the tone for how this entire show operates. And it happens in very big ways in the way that he sort of cradles the story and makes sure that, from an actor standpoint, he really relates to the writers what we're feeling about it and keeps everyone in communication.
Then in the smallest ways, he takes such good care of the details that you remember when you come to work and you think you know what you're doing, you're reminded that you're not just swimming in a baby pool, that that's an abyss to be had, like there's always more work to do. He just sets such a strong example that you need only show up when you're in a scene with him, and it happens.
CraveOnline: Is there an example you can give?
Jennifer Carpenter: Sure. I'm never there for the kill scenes. Well, only one. I know what's written on the page and so when I watch those scenes and I see what he's done, what he's added to it, and as an actor, when I'm watching gestures that he's had from Season 1, like when he swipes his watch and taps it a few times, like, that's something that only superfans and actors who are looking to thieve from the best pay attention to.
Those are always big moments. Moments when we're having really intimate conversations about things that matter to us, and I will channel the tiniest change, what I feel is a small change, and I'll watch it register in his brain, and his response is different. It's a presence that is so rare, but it's why we've been on the air as long as we have.