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Cold in July

Michael C Hall interview: ‘I don’t think “Dexter” advocated serial murder’

The man known for leaving a trail of body parts playing TV’s most charming psychopath talks ‘Dexter’-haters and a very dodgy tache

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Hollywood is littered with TV actors made good. But for every George Clooney, there’s a Matt LeBlanc; for every Michelle Williams, there’s a Sarah Michelle Gellar. This week, Michael C Hall, star of long-running serial killer drama ‘Dexter’, takes a quantum leap from planet TV with his first big-screen lead. And while ‘Cold in July’ might not be in the Clooney big league, it’s a twisty, nerve-shredding indie thriller with a superb cast of old-time American icons. Hall, 43, plays a mild-mannered family man whose life spins out of control after he shoots and kills an intruder in his living room.

After making eight series of ‘Dexter’, this feels like a pivotal role. Did you want to do something different?
‘I was taken with the script generally, but it wasn’t lost on me that I was being given the opportunity to revisit ideas of murder and violence from a much more human perspective. It felt cleansing to do that.’

In the movie, you sport the lamest moustache ever witnessed on screen…
‘Ha! We shot so soon on the heels of “Dexter”, that was all I’d had time to grow. But it was perfect for the character. There’s something incomplete about the moustache, and there’s something incomplete about my character Richard as a father, a husband and a man. Though by the end of the movie, maybe the moustache starts to feel justified. He’s put to the test so he can rightfully wear his moustache!’

Were you nervous acting with strapping screen legends Sam Shepard and Don Johnson?
‘Yes, but that was the job! These are two characters who come along and represent different throwback ideals of what it means to be a man. Richard wants to own himself like they do. Instead of an angel and a devil on each shoulder, he has these two icons of masculinity. And it’s perfect that they’re represented by two real American icons. It was easy to sit in the back seat and learn from them.’

Are you interested in the old-school macho-ness that actors like Shepard and Johnson embody?
‘I’m certainly drawn to the romance of that older definition of what being a man is about. But I also recognise that we live in a world where that doesn’t realistically work; and if I’m honest, it wouldn’t actually appeal to me.’

With yet another school shooting in the news, do you think the film has something to say about American gun culture?
‘Not really. I think that the fact the movie is set in the ’80s makes a difference. If it had been set in 2014, it would feel like a comment on the prevalence of gun ownership and people taking the law into their own hands. But because it’s 1989, it feels like a relic. I don’t think [director] Jim Mickle was interested in making a political comment, I think he was interested in telling a story.’

How did you feel when people, including ‘The Wire’ creator David Simon, took offence at the way ‘Dexter’ depicted violence? There was a sense that the show trivialised a serious subject.
‘I’m drawn to subversive, morally ambiguous roles. And if an element of making those kinds of choices is that people take issue, that goes with the territory. But of course I didn’t agree. I saw the violence and the darkness as metaphors. I don’t think “Dexter” advocated serial murder or vigilante justice. Saying that, there undeniably was a swathe of the audience who loved it because they could vicariously enact their own self-righteous fantasies.’

Your character in ‘Cold in July’ might be the first you’ve played who isn’t hiding a big secret. Was that part of the appeal?

‘Sure. I wanted to play an unremarkable character. It was another part of the cleansing regimen that I’m undertaking!’

Cold in July’ opens in UK cinemas on Fri Jun 27.

Watch the ‘Cold in July’ trailer

Read more about ‘Cold in July’

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Film
  • Drama

‘Cold in July’ is a proud throwback to the early ‘90s indie-crime boom: think ‘The Last Seduction’, ‘One False Move’ and ‘Fargo’. It’s rolling in great, punchy scenes, meaty performances (Don Johnson’s stetsoned shitkicker PD is a hoot) and bold, unexpected twists, while also finding time for those quiet, heartfelt character moments that bring a story to life.

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