Q. John, what was your reaction when you were approached to portray a madman who kills in multiples of three?
MR. LITHGOW I felt like, “Oh, yeah. I know how to play this.” The fascination — which is the fascination of the whole series — is: How can a person outwardly so ordinary, almost bland, have such a baroque and bizarre secret life? I’m usually hired for my blandness. [He laughs.] I love the idea of shocking people. I thought it was high time I did that again.
Q. Here’s your essay question: Compare and contrast your individual serial killer characters.
MR. HALL Well, they’re obviously both saddled with a compulsion. They’re different seeds from very different trees. For Dexter’s part, I think it’s an awareness that Trinity does what he does, and it makes him compelling the way no one has ever been to him — other than perhaps his brother.
MR. LITHGOW [Long pause.] This would be so much more fun if we could talk about this.
Q. How far does the production go to keep the story lines of “Dexter” secret?
MR. LITHGOW We’ve had some very good directors who, ironically enough, don’t know the story. We have to sort of take them aside and tell them, “You know what’s happening here, don’t you?”
Q. The directors are kept in the dark?
MR. HALL Yeah, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. [Both he and Mr. Lithgow laugh.]
Q. Dexter is now married, living in suburbia and a new father. Michael, could you have predicted this domestic turn of events for your character after Season 1 ended with him bumping off his long-lost, older, also serial-killer brother?
MR. HALL We finished the first season, and I thought: “We should probably just stop. I mean, really? What are we going to do now?” But they always start each new season right at the edge of the cliff. There’s no punch pulling. What I’m thankful for is that there’s always something new he’s discovering. With each person he tracks and kills he learns something new about himself — sometimes unconsciously, sometimes consciously.
Q. Is Trinity the most disturbing character to be put in Dexter’s path?
MR. HALL It seems that the people he attracts get progressively darker. It’s been a very clever thing the writers have done to draw the character out. While he might not consciously be aware of it, I believe he has a genuine appetite for connection.
MR. LITHGOW I don’t think I’ve ever played a villain who revealed himself so slowly. In the first couple of episodes he’s a certain kind of villain — it’s like all of his blood has been drained from his body. He’s a person with no human affect. But that’s only one side to him. Bit by bit other sides get revealed. I would say that bloodless villain is pretty much what I’ve played in movies like “Blow Out,” “Ricochet,” “Cliffhanger.” This is a person who gradually reveals more and more about himself and the motivations for what he does. His murders are extremely strange, inexplicable and unrelated to each other. And the 12 episodes gradually explain what motivates them all.
Q. John, can you put Trinity in a context outside of your other villains?
MR. LITHGOW I know this will sound really crazy, but I can’t help but keep comparing this to my other big television experience which was “3rd Rock From the Sun.”
Q. What’s the intersection between a serial killer and an extraterrestrial telling jokes on a situation comedy?
MR. LITHGOW “3rd Rock” was about an outsider, an alien in another person’s body, and nobody knew his secret, and it was the source of insane comedy. Well this is also about an outsider who is pretending to be a conventional person, and it’s the source of horror. I think both things have the same taproot. The tension is about how you present yourself and what you really are. It’s the difference between the super-ego and the id. Half the time you see the Trinity Killer, and he’s pure uncontrollable impulse — which is exactly like Dick Solomon on “3rd Rock.” I think I’m using the same tools in a sense. It’s delicious to me.
Q. Recently Showtime sent out a news release stating that Trinity’s real name was changed from Walter Simmons to Arthur Mitchell. What prompted the switch?
MR. LITHGOW Who knows how they come up with these things? I was startled to see it. If you know anything about ballet, you’d say: “Why? Why did they decide to honor the first great African-American ballet dancer?” [He laughs.] Arthur Mitchell is the creator of the Dance Theater of Harlem. I’m counting on very few people making the connection.