Posted by Kathy Lyford
Showtime's "Dexter" winds up its third season on Sunday.
Dexter's taken care of his little problem with his first real friend, Miguel Prado, who betrayed him. But he's left himself in a bit of jeopardy with Miguel's brother. How will he extricate himself from that? And will he go through with his pending nuptials with Rita, the mother of his unborn child? Meanwhile, will Dex and his colleagues at the Miami PD finally catch The Skinner? Tune in Sunday to Showtime and learn the answers to all these questions.
In the meantime, enjoy this chat with "Dexter" showrunner Clyde Phillips (left), who answers questions submitted by Season Pass readers. Clyde also created the '90s era comedies "Parker Lewis Can't Lose" and "Suddenly Susan" and worked as a writer and producer on one of the truly underappreciated series of recent years, "Boomtown."
I caught up with him via email while he was in Connecticut on hiatus from "Dexter," which recently earned a pickup for seasons 4 and 5. Also, this week, "Dexer" garnered nominations from both the Writers Guild of America and the Producers Guild of America for best drama series to go along with the Golden Globe noms it received Thursday for best drama series and for star Michael C. Hall. We'd like to congratulate Clyde and the entire cast and crew on that well deserved recognition.
Enjoy the Q&A. We start with the question Clyde and I liked the best, asked by Matthew. He will receive a DVD set of season 2. (I'll contact you via email, Matthew.)
Q. One of the most unique characteristics of “Dexter” is that it contains a delicate mixture of dramatic tension and wonderfully dark comedic timing, two successful components due mostly in part to the inclusion of Dexter’s internal dialogue. As a fellow writer myself, I find the art of internal monologue and voiceover to be incredibly difficult, especially in a “show it, don’t tell it” medium. What I would like to know is, do you find it difficult to develop Dexter’s character through the use of internal dialogue, seeing as how it is commonly regarded as a storytelling crutch? — Matthew
A. The whole issue of doing a “voiceover” show is interesting. Personally, I’ve done quite a few, but nothing like “Dexter.” Here’s the thing: Dexter, because of who he is, has no one to talk to, no one to share his truths… except you, the audience. We feel that one of the reasons the show connects with the viewers to the extent it does is because the audience has become his collective confidante. There’s a reaching across invisible lines, a peek into Dexter’s innermost process that only the audience is privy to. In other shows voiceover can certainly be a storytelling crutch. But we believe, when used judiciously, it can enhance a relationship between the audience and the character that otherwise would not be possible.
Q. How difficult is it as a writer to keep the audience rooting for a serial killer to NOT get caught? — Kat
A. It presents one of our greatest challenges. Sure Dexter is a sociopath. Sure he kills people. But we work very hard, very diligently, to make certain the audience sympathizes or at least understands what drives Dexter. We all have our shadow selves, our inner darkness, but we (for the most part) are moral human beings and don’t act upon our impulses. Dexter walks a fine morally ambiguous line and in the end — if the victim warrants it and fits his strict code — Dexter acts upon his darker urges.
Q. Throughout the series we have seen Dexter struggle with his alter ego referred to as the Dark Passenger, particularly in Season 2. However in the Jeff Lindsay novels the Dark Passenger plays a much more prominent, and external role. Was it your intention to minimize the concept of the Dark Passenger, and if so why was this decision made? — Marlon
A. It was less an overt decision to minimize the Dark Passenger, than it was a natural evolution in how we wanted to tell our stories. The whole Dark Passenger thing is a well we can only dip into so often. It still comes up occasionally, but we do our best to earn any mention of it and try to let the integrity of the story play out on its own. Just seems more satisfying that way.
Q. Jimmy Smits has been a great addition this season. How hard was it to decide on casting a key character such as his, with so much riding on that character to sustain the show’s momentum? Was he your first choice? — Bob
A. We knew we wanted a strong lead to play opposite Michael C Hall. It brings out the best in him as an actor, as a character and for all of us in storytelling. After the Ice Truck killer, Doakes, and Lundy; we needed a formidable foil for Dexter and the character of Miguel Prado evolved into just that.
Believe it or not, Jimmy Smits was the only actor we considered. I was tasked with “landing” him and when I met with him he was non-commital… until I told him about Miguel’s dark side — something Jimmy hadn’t really done before. And he came on board. Thank God, because he’s been a pleasure and a revelation to work with.
Q. “Go Your Own Way” is, by the far, the best episode I’ve seen on TV period! The “mano a mano” between Dexter and Miguel was flawless and poetic. When you came up with the concept of Dexter having a “partner” this season, was the fallout always part of the plan or did you switch gears midway? Some of us were worried Dexter would lose himself if he shared his “gift” with another. — Andre
A. In coming up with Jimmy Smits’ character as a “partner” for Dexter, we always knew it would get out of hand and that Dexter would have to do something about it. Dexter is so hungry for human connection that he made the mistake of trusting Miguel and ended up being used by him. Further, Miguel has no code and began killing innocent people — something Dexter just will not accept. Miguel left Dexter with no choice. The mano a mano scene on the rooftop is one of my favorite all year.
Q. What is your favorite character to write for besides Dexter? — Kathy
A. His sister Debra. She’s damaged in her own way: lonely, ambitious, fragile — all wrapped up in a cussing, ball-breaking, heartbreaking exterior. Plus, as I’ve come to know and grow fond of Jennifer Carpenter, I can hear her voice and her laugh when I write and that’s where the magic comes from. And then Jennifer just takes it and makes it better.
Q. I find the similarities between Dexter and his sister Debra’s disconnect with people interesting. She has no girlfriends, has trouble maintaing a relationship with a man and for a detective, can’t read her own brother — who she should have figured out long ago. She also had no clue and fell for Dexter’s brother, the Ice Truck Killer. Will Debra learn of Dexter’s proclivity for serial murder and when she does, will she follow “the code” to protect him or kill him? — Jim
A. A complex question. Once Deb learns of Dexter’s true identity, then the show’s over (or at least beginning to be over) as that is such a huge burden and responsibility to ask of anyone who isn’t a sociopath/psychopath. Deb’s messed up some and dented some; but, all in all, she’s still way on the normal side of the spectrum. So, yes, she does have a lot in common with Dexter. Or is it Dexter who has a lot in common with her… which we see as he evolves?
Q. Did you and your writing staff do much research on serial killers to inform Dexter’s storylines or those of the Ice Truck Killer or the Skinner? — KJ
A. We read several books on serial killers (pretty gruesome stuff) to get into their heads. Having done that, we then had the leeway and knowledge to make Dexter different enough so that we accept him. That said, a lot of what we come up with is just good storytelling by good storytellers.
Q. With a background in both comedy and drama, which do you find more challenging? — Jean
A. They’re both challenging and rewarding. I’ve recently been watching DVDs of “Parker Lewis Can’t Lose” (which I created) with my 11-year-old daughter and it’s been a blast. But the critical acclaim that’s been coming “Dexter’s” way (just got a WGA nom and a PGA nom, had an Emmy nom, won the Peabody) is really something special. Also, we have quite a lot of humor in Dexter and both sides of my brain contribute to that.
Q. What changes in the show have you consciously made with the aim to improve it from season to season? And is there an area of the show you would specifically like to see altered or changed to make “Dexter” even better than it is? (Very hard to do… but I imagine you are always looking to up the ante). — David
A. The changes we’ve consciously made really fall under the heading of character, character, character. It’s so easy, so tempting to let “Dexter” become a plot-driven, vengeance-filled, police show. And we’re always pulling back from that. There is an inherent dramatic tension built into the concept. But we strive to infuse the show and Dexter himself with something relatable, something that touches the audience’s imagination and experience. We have a certain vernacular about how we shoot our show: when to use slow motion, how fancy to get with certain shots; and it’s working. Each director brings his or her own ideas and style to the show, and as long as it works within our prescribed landscape, all new ideas are welcome.
Q. Dexter seemed to have real feelings for Camilla and he has at least some level of affection for Debra but does he have any feelings for Rita? — Katie
A. That’s something we're struggling with. He certainly has some feelings for his unborn child. And he will reach a place of understanding, if not affection, for his father. Is he getting married because he needs Rita and her kids for camouflage? Or does he believe he might someday have feelings for her? Or does some part of him have an ember of real feelings for her? Sorry to answer your good question with even more questions, but that’s pretty much where we, the writers, are right now too.
Q. Will another character on the show evidence resurfacing childhood trauma? If so, how will Dexter relate? — K. Anderson
A. At present that’s not in our plans. But we haven’t reconvened to talk about seasons 4 and 5 at any great length. We just had some meetings as we were wrapping up the third year. Who knows? Anything can happen. As long as it’s authentic and maybe a little audacious.
Q. I love the current season and the introduction of the Miguel character. However, I find it strange that after two seasons where Dex is obsessed with serial killers he does not seem in the least bit interested in the Skinner. Why is that and will Dexter tackle other big cases in future seasons? — Robert
A. Hadn't thought about it like that. Dexter has a lot on his plate: Rita; the baby; Miguel spinning out of control; Freebo; killing someone he hadn’t planned to; his own dark urges, etc. But, you’re right, the Skinner hasn’t really been on his radar as much as one would expect.
Q. Such an amazing show Is there a mythology behind the characters and their relationships? — Brian
A. A mythology emerges as we progress through our stories. Sometimes, but not often, we will have something in mind (like the Jungian idea that you have to destroy your father in order to become your own man). There’s also the whole Joseph Campbell hero thing that we as writers are all aware of and can’t help but allow it to seep into our work.
Q. While season 3’s a story of Dexter vs. Miguel Prado and the tangential Skinner saga have been aces, the C stories of Angel’s redemption, Masuka’s reports and kinky search for love, etc., are starting to feel like distractions. Does the writing staff feel obligated to give these characters something to do every season even at the expense of the show’s momentum and tension? Is there a writerly reason that these stories are necessary to the show? — B Stewart
A. Dexter lives in a very real world. He wants to and needs to. Therefore, we have to keep the people he associates with real (we hope) as well. Often in the cutting room, we’ll truncate the C stories in order to keep the show Dexter-centric. But we as writers need to know what’s going on in our secondary cast’s lives as it informs all we do in the world we’ve created for Dexter.
Q. How did your formative years at Van Nuys Junior High inform your creative decisions dealing with a sociopath? — Michael Tronick
A. The best question of all! Looks like I have my own personal stalker. Actually I feel as if I’m living my formative years right now… as a writer and producer and as a friend.
NOTE: This question is from an old friend of Clyde’s. Film and music editor Michael Tronick was the best man at Clyde’s wedding. Clyde said he got a real laugh out of this question.
Q. Did Clyde Phillips ever go to Ramapo High School in Franklin Lakes,N.J? I dated a guy by that unusual name around 1967 and he wanted to be an actor. Oh, by the way “Dexter” is one of my favorites. in fact my son Gabriel Dellavecchia was your payroll accountant for the pilot episode. So just thought I'd take a chance. If it is the same person it would be really weird. — Gerri
A. Hey Gerri. Nope I’m not that guy. I grew up in Boston and moved to California when I was a young teenager. Pretty cool that your son worked on the pilot. Take care, the other Clyde.