Michael C. Hall on Long-Term TV Roles: “You evolve with someone over time in a way that you can’t if you’re doing a stage play or a film”
“Inevitably, if you spend that much time playing the same character, you’re going to get into ruts where you feel like you’re tilling dead soil” – Michael C. Hall
For the first time since the Dexter finale, Michael C. Hall is starring in a TV series again. In Netflix’s Safe, Hall plays a character unraveling a mystery when one of his daughters goes missing. Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, Hall talks about returning to a series after spending so much time playing characters on a long-term basis and also talks about what he learned from working with David Bowie on the late musician’s musical Lazarus.
Hall spent a combined 13 years on Six Feet Under and Dexter, but he made sure to pursue other roles to keep his creative juices flowing. He explains, “I did other things during that time. Things either onstage or independent films that obviously didn’t make as broad an impact. I didn’t feel like I was completely relegated to those two parts. That said, it goes both ways. Artistically speaking, I think it’s a unique opportunity, at least with certain things that exist in the current television landscape, to really go deep with a character. You evolve with someone over time in a way that you can’t if you’re doing a stage play or a film. There are ways in which doing something like that presents artistic opportunities that you can’t find elsewhere. But inevitably, if you spend that much time playing the same character, you’re going to get into ruts where you feel like you’re tilling dead soil, as it were. I wouldn’t wish any of it away, but having had that experience certainly kept me from wanting to jump right back in to something else that was long-term.”
In particular, Hall points at how playing a dark character like Dexter long-term can affect one’s mentality and the importance of an actor to separate oneself from a role like that. He explains, “I think that if you spend that much time preoccupied with whatever you were simulating, that a part of you is affected, and a part of you is recording the simulated experience in a way that is more than just fluff, you know? A part of you is absorbing it and marinating in it. It takes some time to get it out of your system and to unlearn whatever increasingly ingrained reflexive behavior results from doing something for that long. It’s hard to sort of point to specific things. But I certainly know now that I feel a lot farther from the character than I did two months after it ended.”
Hall has the distinction of playing the lead in David Bowie’s final project, the musical Lazarus. Of his time working with the iconic Bowie, Hall recalls, “It definitely changed things or steered me toward music in a way that I might not have otherwise been. As far as change goes, it reinforced my better instincts. Those being instincts to challenge myself, to take chances, to do things that were at least 49 percent scary, you know? While I did play those two characters for a long time — I don’t mean to liken myself to David Bowie — he’s someone who’s certainly associated with certain personas he adopted and then put behind him. As far as the Thin White Duke, or Ziggy Stardust. So that’s a part of why he held particular fascination to me as a fan of music but also as an actor. That’s probably true for lots of actors who are particularly compelled by what he did as an artist.”