It was a Tuesday morning at Los Angeles International Airport, and Michael C Hall was getting some odd looks.
They weren’t the “Oh my God, that’s a television star!” looks that his peers are used to, and that Hall earned with a five-year run starring in Six Feet Under (2001-2005). They were more like “Oh my God, that’s a serial killer!” looks.
Hall is used to that though, after eight seasons as vigilante serial killer Dexter Morgan on Dexter (2006-2013).
“Some people just slowly back away,” the actor says. “I’m always asked, half-jokingly, if I would mind pretending to strangle the other person for a photo op.”
Most of the time Hall passes on the simulated murder.
“I’m happy to take a photo, but I don’t like to pretend to kill someone,” he explains. “And only special people get faux strangulation.”
After 13 seasons of non-stop success on television, 43-year-old Hall is branching out onto the big screen. In Cold in July, releasing soon, he plays Richard Dane, a protective father who shoots an intruder in his home. The local police clear him of any wrongdoing, but soon, a murderous ex-con (Sam Shepard) appears looking for revenge. A private detective (Don Johnson) joins the fray, suspecting that the entire situation may be an elaborate set-up.
It was the script, adapted from a novel by Joe R Lansdale and co-written by director Jim Mickle and Nick Damici, that first caught Hall’s eye in the waning days of Dexter.
He was particularly interested in the flawed nature of his character, Richard Dane.
“With Dexter coming to a close,” he explains, “I was really interested in finding a part that had me playing someone who wasn’t super-capable. In this film, I play just a regular guy who has all these crazy things happening all around him.”
When Johnson and Shepard came aboard, the actor adds, he was thrilled. Shepard, who is considered one of America’s greatest 20th-century playwrights, enjoys a towering reputation within the acting community, far beyond his public renown as a movie star.
“I was able to incorporate any sense of awe or intimidation into the dynamics that existed in the plot,” he says with a laugh. “It turned out that Sam, Don and I had some really great times.”
He adds that there was no room for star temperament on the bare-bones set of Cold in July.
“It’s not that Sam and Don had tiny trailers,” Hall says. “There were no trailers. This movie was like joining a carnival with two icons.”
A North Carolina native, Hall attended Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, with the idea of becoming a lawyer. That plan quickly faded and he went on to study acting at New York University. He began his career on the New York stage and, in fact, never entirely left: He’s currently on Broadway in The Realistic Joneses, which also stars Toni Collette, Tracy Letts and Marisa Tomei. It revolves around two suburban couples whose lives and imperfect realities intertwine.
Hall is still best known for his television work, of course, first as the closeted David Fisher on Six Feet Under and then as the brilliant-but-heartless title character on Dexter. Few stars have scored hits as two different characters on two different shows, let alone back to back.
“People ask how I could find roles in two iconic TV shows,” he says. “I think a lot of it is luck. There is also a guy in The Guinness Book of World Records who was struck by lightning seven times. I’m that guy when it comes to TV.
“I was also lucky that the Six Feet Under people championed me to play Dexter,” he adds.
In the wake of Dexter, Hall adds, he received a slew of scripts in the black-comedy vein. “I certainly have offers to do things,” Hall says, “but it really has to appeal to me. It has to be a story that clicks. I like a movie that’s difficult to categorise.”
In 2010, Hall revealed that he was battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of cancer. His disease is now in remission, however, and — though clearly reluctant to speak about it — he regards it as a learning experience.
“I don’t think I was someone in a state of denial about my mortality, but the treatments really fostered in me a greater appreciation that I am mortal,” he says.
To his surprise, he has found himself an inspiration for others living with cancer.
“I had been inclined to keep my health secret,” Hall says, “but then I started going through the treatments. I was invited to some awards shows and had no eyebrows and no hair. I decided that I should probably explain why that was the case. Now I’m so glad that I was forced to do that, because it has been so gratifying to me to realise that my story has helped other people find inspiration that cancer can and does go into remission.”
As to the future, the one question that Hall hears the most is, will we ever see more of Dexter?
“You know, I suppose it’s a possibility, given that he’s still out there,” the actor says, laughing. “If I was presented with something compelling, I’d consider playing Dexter again, although I do want to take some time away from that world. I can tell fans that, at this moment, there are certainly no plans, even vague ones, to bring him back.”
Of course, that’s what Kiefer Sutherland said about Jack Bauer.
“You got me there,” he says with a laugh.