From Hunter to Hunted: Michael C. Hall Switches Sides for Cold in July

From the stage to the screen to the injection mold, Michael C. Hall is one of the most recognizable actors working today. Known for playing complex characters—including Dexter Morgan, Dexter’s blood splatter analyst by day/serial killer by night—Michael’s role as Richard Dane in the new IFC Films movie, Cold in July, certainly follows suit. He recently spoke with DIRECTV about his upward trajectory and Richard Dane’s downward spiral.

What was it like for you to go from Dexter the hunter to Richard Dane the hunted in Cold in July? Did you find yourself having to turn off Dexter to play this role?

Any character requires different questions to be asked and answered. It was somewhat therapeutic to leave Dexter and immediately play a regular guy who is swept up into a world of chaos and violence. A regular guy who kills somebody without needing to, or meaning to—or wanting to, certainly—and has that immediate sense of bewilderment, and remorse, and confusion over it.

It sounds like Richard Dane was fun to play because he is in some ways the polar opposite of Dexter.

Yeah, I loved it. I really liked being the guy who was reaching to step up to the call. I think he’s someone who craves something of significance to happen in his life. He’s a guy who is not cool and is surrounded by a lot of people who are. I don’t think Richard is the kind of guy to become some sort of outlaw or vigilante or anything like that. But I think by the end of this movie, while he is going to be awakened periodically—by nightmares, I imagine—he’s going to be able to have a sense of ownership within the context of his own domestic life, that when we meet him in the beginning, he doesn’t have.

Speaking of the people who Richard Dane is surrounded by, it seemed like you personally were surrounded by some pretty good company in this movie—working with people like Sam Shepard and Don Johnson. What was that like for you?

It was amazing. Sam and Don in their ways are both icons of a lot of things. Icons of American masculinity, in a way. For Richard, who is maybe looking to these guys to model for him some sense of manhood, it was nice for me to literally sit in the back seat and want to go along for the ride because these are huge, larger-than-life people.

The work that Sam has done as a playwright is something that I think any actor of my generation—or a generation before or a generation after—has contended with and moved through as they’ve come to get a sense of themselves as actors. It was pretty incredible.

Cold in July is set in east Texas in the 1980s, which really seems to add a lot to the story? Would you agree?

I think so. The novel that Joe Lansdale wrote, that Jim [Mickle, writer/director] and Nick [Damici, writer]based their script on, was set in a small, east Texas town in the late 80s. I think Jim felt that he would be wise to keep that element there and I think that was certainly the right decision. It’s a world that was—even more than it would be now—defined by a certain rigid idea of masculinity or manhood. It’s beyond something I can articulate, to be honest.

Also, logistically, cell phones totally screw you up. If you want to make a thriller, [the main character has] gotta find a phone booth! So it’s fantastic.

On the topic of locations, you’ve been spending a lot of time in New York City recently. What’s it like for you to come back, especially now that your new play The Realistic Joneses is getting such amazing reviews?

It’s great. I am so thrilled that it emerged as an opportunity. I actually did the reading of this play right before going up to shoot Cold in July and I loved it immediately and was totally on board. My sense of what being an actor is has everything to do, at least initially, with being on stage and doing plays and musicals and that’s what I did exclusively before the television work started. I think I’ve gone over seven years without being on stage. It’s the longest I’ve gone, literally in my life, without doing something on stage. It’s been really great to get back at it.

Do you have a preference, the stage or the screen?

I would prefer to have the luxury to do both. That’s a difficult question to answer—I hope I never actually have to.

Then we won’t make you. One last question: Do you know that you’ve made it show business when you have your own action figure? We saw that the Dexter ones are available. What’s that like for you?

It’s surreal. It’s strange. It doesn’t really feel like it’s me. I mean, it isn’t me, it’s plastic. I feel sort of separate from it, but it’s incredible. Certainly, when I signed on to do Dexter, I just hoped that the pilot would get picked up—I really wasn’t thinking about action figures.

Cold in July is available now on DIRECTV CINEMA (Ch. 1100).