In the second interview for our Dexter 10th anniversary special, which was lifted from the site I used to edit (TV Scoop, now defunct), here’s Jennifer Carpenter, who played Dexter’s long-suffering sister, Debs. She was excellent in the role, a perfect fit, and to sit down with her back in 2009 was a real treat – I remember her being warm and huge amounts of fun, often erupting into fits of laughter. Her interview is after the jump.
Paul Hirons: You once described Dexter as some kind of superhero…
Jennifer Carpenter: Superhero?
PH: Yeah, superhero. Do you still think that way after two series (three in the US)?
PH: Did you ever think that?
JC: Probably not. [laugh loudly]
PH: Oookaaay then…
JC: I don’t think that. I mean, I don’t think what he’s doing is heroic in any way.
PH: I think it’s an interesting thing, because it does raise ideas of vigilantism. He’s getting rid of the bad guys, right?
JC: I think that’s the fun of the show. I think people see how far their moral centre will bend. It’s really not fair to call him a superhero. I don’t think it gives anyone permission to get behind him or agree with what he’s doing. It’s just entertainment.
PH: You say it’s half the fun of the show, but do you think that it’s the ambiguity of the character that makes people watch?
JC: I think it’s… I’m not sure he’s that ambiguous. I think he’s one thing, and then another thing, and then another thing, but always somehow the same thing.
PH: He’s like a big TV onion isn’t he? Lots of layers… makes you cry sometimes.
JC: Yeah, for sure. But he’s always an onion. He’s never trying to lie to you about who he is. The fun of it is to experience how you react to him. One minute you’re chanting, “Kill, kill, kill!”, and then the next you’re chanting, “You should be punished!”
PH: He’s like Tony Soprano in that way – one minute you like him and then he does something that makes you not like him so much. It’s always forward back, forward back..
JC: Right. For sure.
PH: Dexter and Debs are two very different characters, but do you think there’s something similar between them?
JC: Yeah. They both anchor each other, and they’re both out of balance without the other. As far as Deborah is concerned – and I’m closer to her, naturally, than to Dexter – Dexter is her only tie to her family and without him that idea dies. At first I think Debs sort of began as a disguise for Dexter, but now they’re sewn together. Dexter said that, in the first episode, if he could love anyone it would be her. I think he does in fact love her. The show is as much about a serial killer as it is about child abuse. Harry nurtured this darkness in him and led him to believe that he wasn’t capable of true feelings. He’s not a robot.
PH: You’re character and Rita are showing him that love and emotion is actually quite a good thing. Deborah is amazing, but I do worry about her. She’s had terrible luck with men – the Ice Truck Killer… not good… the gym guy… Agent Lundy… I found myself asking the question, is it because of Dexter that she has such bad luck with men? Can no other guy take the place of Dexter?
JC: I think that’s true. She’s living in the shadow of Harry, and she idolises him and can’t get his attention because he’s not around anymore. Dexter refuses to pay any attention to her, or at least any sort of attention that she wants. She’s desperate. She’s desperate to be accepted by her colleagues, mostly made up of men, and this idea that she’s alone without Dexter. She needs to grow a family, and she really needs to keep trying. In a weird way it’s some kind of addiction, but in an another way it’s the perfect remedy for what she needs.
PH: She has got hurt terribly. Maybe the Lundy relationship was a father figure thing. A cry for help…
JC: Maybe. Maybe he’s the one that got away too. Maybe the show should have ended with her running away with him.
PH: How do you approach Deborah with all the baggage that she has?
JC: The great thing about her is that she starts at zero every time, you know what I mean? She cleans the slate every time and starts afresh brand new.
PH: You talked about the whole woman in a man’s world scenario, and Debs has always had to fight for recognition. But it hasn’t just been with the guys, it has been with Laguerta too. Where do you think Debs sits in that office dynamic?
JC: I think it’s ever-changing. To be begin with she was full of raw energy, just bouncing off the walls with no focus. Now she’s focused like a laser beam on getting her badge, and that means taking the temperature of the room – when to be quiet, when to release information, when to hold back. She’s learning how to read a room and also how to read her brother, which could be dangerous for him. She’s also learning how to read the men in her life. And the things that looked like a mistake might not be… she’s growing up.
PH: I think some of the best scenes in series two, the last we saw in the UK, were between Lila and Debs.
JC: [laughs] Oh yeah.
PH: Just some of the best, cattiest dialogue I’ve ever heard. Describe to us why she was so pissed off with Lila…
JC: She could just read Lila right from the off. It was just a knowing. Just like there’s a knowing between her and Dexter. The scenes were so fun to play because Jaime Murray is just the nicest woman on Earth. [laughs] We’d have it out and then ask each other: “Are you ok?”, “Are you ok?” [laughs]
PH: There was some really fruity language, which I’ll ask you about in a bit, but there just some hilarious lines…
JC: I had a good time! It was so nice to have that sparky relationship with another woman because there’s so many guys on the show. It’s especially nice with Rita. She’s just so soft. Julie [Benz] is a firecracker, but Rita is just so lovely. There aren’t too many scenes with us both in, but we make sure we see each other on set.
PH: The scene that stood out for me with Lila was when she was topless in the kitchen…
JC: [laughs and adopts British accent] Pardon my tits…
PH: Yeah! There was also that scene after the fire where you’re issuing an APB or something and you’re asked to describe what she looks like…
JC: Yeah, like a ghost or a vampire or something! [laughs]
PH: Yeah, it was great. Debs’ relationship with Laguerta is amazing too… JC: First of all I think that Lauren [Vélez] who plays Laguerta is an amazing actress. Whenever anybody shouts action she’s just ready to go. I think that they both have in common is that they’re both women in the office, and they have to fight that much harder to make any sort of head way. I think Debs is earning Laguerta’s respect slowly. It’s actually an interesting dynamic and it gets even more interesting in the third season.
PH: That leads me neatly on… where does Debs go in the third series?
JC: Her personal life and her professional life come head to head, and they inevitably explode. But they also leave all these piece that sort of move her forward. But I’m being very vague… it’s for your own good. [laughs]
PH: But will she be a bit happier this year?
JC: I think so. I really do. I’m really excited because I think she’ll come with all of her strength.
PH: I hope so too, because I think that even though Dexter is one of the most interesting characters on TV, I love the way the other characters are so rounded too. But… swearing. Your potty, filthy mouth…
JC: Yeah! [laughs]
PH: You see, if I got paid to go in and unleash the kind of combinations you unleash, I’d be a happy man. How much fun is it to let loose like that?
JC: It’s nice to be understood. Period. When I say those words people know what I mean. And that’s all Debs wants, to be understood. There’s a line that one of the characters says in the third series… “Debs, you have a lot of tools in your toolbox, but the only one you use is the hammer.” I think she really goes at it with that hammer when she’s cussing. I think it’s also think it’s a really quick way to let everyone know what you’re thinking! She really is free with it and she’s almost making up her own language sometimes. I have ideas of words, pairing a couple of words together, and I’ll call one of the writers and ask them whether they can work it in. [laughs]
PH: Are you a cusser in real life?
JC: More and more so since I’ve been playing this part. It’s ridiculous – when we’re shooting I really go at it.
PH: Do your friends back home in Kentucky say to you that used to be this nice, sweet girl and ask what has happened to you?
JC: [laughs] No, but I fantasise about when my parents are watching the show and saying, “Oh Jennifer, my God! What have you doing?”
PH: How long can Dexter carry on for do you think?
JC: I don’t mind getting tired, we certainly get tired when we’re working, but in the way the show will get tired… no, we don’t want that. So far we’ve been to Spain and now here to London, and the fans have been so excited and enthusiastic. So we have a responsibility to them not to overstay our welcome. Even in the US, when we get on the plane to come to Europe, people notice you. But we’re greeted so much more often and enthusiastically here.
PH: Does that freak you out?
JC: A little bit. It freaks me out when people just stare. I prefer it if people just come and say hi, otherwise I feel like I’m in high school and someone is just looking at me to see what I’m wearing!