March 28, 2014 in Features

Hall at home on Broadway stage

‘Dexter’ actor returns to first love with murder-free production
Mark Kennedy Associated Press
Associated Press photo

Marisa Tomei and Michael C. Hall during a scene from “The Realistic Joneses,” at the Lyceum Theatre in New York.
(Full-size photo)

NEW YORK – Michael C. Hall has turned a page, broken with the past, made a break.

No more sawed-off limbs, gruesome murder, headless bodies or infants sitting in puddles of blood. His serial killer Dexter is no more, giving way to a Broadway play about two suburban couples.

“There’s really no room for so much of what ‘Dexter’ called on me to do in this. Including killing people, thankfully,” Hall said in his freshly painted Broadway dressing room.

So the body count is low? “Just a squirrel,” he said.

Hall is one of an impressive quartet of actors starring in Will Eno’s play “The Realistic Joneses.” The former Showtime sociopath joins Toni Collette, Marisa Tomei and Tracy Letts.

A dark comedy, the play is about two couples who have more in common than their identical homes and shared last names. It’s an off-kilter work about the thirst for human connection and understanding.

It was the perfect antidote to Hall’s post-“Dexter” blues. Few may know that before he picked up the scalpel, Hall was a thespian and a song-and-dance man. He even did an early workshop for the Broadway-bound “Big Fish,” but his schedule didn’t work out with “Dexter.”

“I experienced an increasingly intense itch to come back to the stage, and when I talked to my representatives about it, I said, ‘My ideal thing would be to do a new American play by a living playwright on Broadway,’ which is somewhat of a rare thing.”

He got it all in Eno’s play, which first premiered at the Yale Repertory Theatre in 2012. Hall was invited to a reading before it came to New York and wolfed down the script in one sitting before getting on a flight to New York.

“I think Will’s work is just phenomenal,” Hall said. “There’s something mysterious about the cumulative power of his words. He’s the real deal.”

Eno exchanges the compliment: “It was uncanny and almost eerie how instantly he just plugged himself into the role and the play. He is absolutely terrific, and he is really funny in an easy way.”

The play marks Hall’s return to Broadway since he took over from Alan Cumming as the white-faced emcee in the last revival of “Cabaret,” a part he played almost 500 times and credits as “a real gift.”

“When I was told that I got that part, everything that has happened beyond then has been beyond anything I ever really imagined. That was really the moment of, ‘Wow. Maybe I’m really going to get away with this,’ ” he said.

He fully intended on a stage career after graduating from New York University and threw himself into Shakespearian roles and even the musical “Chicago.” “It’s where I came from. It’s what initially drew me to acting,” he said.

His first Broadway show he was an understudy in David Hare’s “Skylight” in 1996. He never made it onstage, but he was paid. “It was the most money I’d ever made. I’d call in at 7:30, they didn’t need me, and I’d watch ‘The Simpsons.’ It was great.”

His break-out roles – David Fisher, the funeral director Hall played in the early 2000s on HBO’s “Six Feet Under,” and then “Dexter” – took him away. Both earned him Emmy nominations.

“The roles that I’ve done of those two shows are parts that I really didn’t know existed when I was training to be an actor. The idea that you could do this long-form, open-ended, ever-evolving, rich complex character on a television show was not really an option until it became one,” he says. “I feel fortunate to have been out there in the ocean when that wave came.”

Hall will return to those waters soon when Showtime airs its new series on climate change next month, “Years of Living Dangerously.” Hall was one of several celebrities – including Jessica Alba, Harrison Ford, Olivia Munn and Matt Damon – sent over the globe to report. Hall spent two weeks in Bangladesh.

“It’s not an idea for them. It’s not a lifestyle for them. It’s not about changing their light bulbs,” he says. “It’s a life and death issue for them. I was so, among other things, just amazed by the spirit and resiliency of those people.”

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