This is Sara Colleton, the woman who discovered Dexter.
I sat down with Colleton, who’s been an executive producer on the show since day one, and she told me about how Dexter came to be. In 2004, she read a New York Times book review of Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay — the book that would go on to inspire the Showtime series as well as six other books by Lindsay.
“For the very first time ever in my life, I read a book and it appeared to me as a television series,” she told me. Colleton still has that torn-out book review saved in her home in New York City.
Now that the final season of Dexter is set to premiere on Sunday, June 30, I wanted to get Colleton’s take on the last seven years of working on the show. She gave me the inside scoop on the cast romances, Michael’s cancer diagnosis, and what’s to come in the final season.
1. How the Ice Truck Killer made Dexter a likable character:
“The Ice Truck Killer story was hugely important, because Rudy forced Dexter to remember … that he had a brother, and how his mother was killed,” Colleton said. “And for me, the thing that you really saw is the nature of Dexter for the first time. Even though he thinks he’s a monster, he has the capacity for humanity that he’s not aware of yet. Because his brother is so seductive: ‘Come with me, I know you, you can be yourself.’ I mean, these are things we all want to hear from someone — so seductive. And yet he makes the choice to kill his own blood brother, whom he could be himself with, to save his foster sister. Right away, you love this guy. That arc was tremendously important and helped establish the complexity of Dexter’s character.”
2. Even cast members don’t know if they’ll be killed off until the very end:
Colleton explained what it was like to kill off major cast members — like Erik King, who played Sergeant Doakes, Julie Benz, who played Rita, and most recently, Lauren Vélez, who played LaGuerta — and said, “It has been the most difficult thing I’ve ever been involved in. Because they’re professionals, and they know that this happens. But you can’t tell them at the beginning of the year, because it’s just too hard for them to spend a whole season knowing this, and it would somehow affect their performance. So, at a certain point, you have to bring them in and tell them, and it’s like announcing a death in the family. It is a very, very difficult thing. And you think long and hard before doing it.”
3. On why Rita had to die:
“He [Dexter] played fast and loose with Trinity, thinking that he would have it all. That he would be smarter than Trinity,” Colleton explained. “When you look back at the Trinity-Dexter kill scene, and when you see what Lithgow was really saying to him — ‘It’s too late’ — and Dexter’s not reading it. What is the worst punishment he could have? What is the one thing that could be taken away from him that would be a fitting punishment?” That one thing was Rita.
But, as Colleton revealed, it wasn’t a finished punishment until Season 5, when Dexter lost Lumen. “At the end, the thought that he has someone who knows who he is and could live with him is taken from him,” she said. “And it is a finished punishment, because with atonement you don’t get any treat at the end. So over the course of that season he thought, I’ve atoned. And perhaps there’s something new that can be a discovery for him, and yet…no. He doesn’t deserve that.”
4. Michael C. Hall was diagnosed with cancer while filming Season 4, but he didn’t tell anyone on set.
“The year he had cancer, he kept it from us until the very end, because he didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for him. He didn’t want us to stop production,” Colleton said, and explained that no one — not even she, an executive producer — knew. “He never wavered, particularly as the episodes progressed toward the end of the season, and it was physically grueling. I have such respect for him, but that was so hard. It was so traumatizing… He never gave into it.”
5. There’s a reason the crew on Dexter is so loyal.
“Michael’s one of the greatest actors of our time,” Colleton said. “I spent eight years looking at dailies, and editing his performance, and I have never once seen a false moment from him. I never once saw a moment where he wasn’t paying attention and thinking. He has led by example. I think that’s one of the reasons why our crew is so loyal: Nobody works harder and longer than Michael Hall.”
6. Colleton worried that Michael and Jennifer Carpenter’s real-life romance would affect their chemistry:
“I know them both so well, and they handled it in a great way — both the falling in love and deciding that perhaps this wasn’t the right thing for them,” Colleton said. “But they’ve been friends before, during, and after. It has never ever affected any chemistry on set. Any temper on set. And when they first got married, I thought, Oh, is it going to change their brother-sister chemistry? and not at all. They’re so tight as friends still, that sometimes it’s a shock when I remember that they were married. As I said, they’re very, very close. They were before, during, and after, and we’re just very lucky.”
7. Dexter’s voice-over was based off of the tone in the books:
“We wanted it [the voice-over] to be something that’s very intimate between the audience and Dexter,” Colleton said. “And to see, you know, how good he was at faking it. We tried to have it be very observational, and droll. The inner voice of this character in the book was so amusing, that from the beginning it organically was part of the development.”
8. The writers learned a valuable lesson after the Doomsday Killers.
“I think the Doomsday Killers, which became a bigger and bigger production kind of thing to service, is not our kind of storytelling,” Colleton said when asked if there were any low points in the series. “That was interesting for us to learn… To go back to a smaller way of telling stories, which is more character reflective.”
9. We’re all connected to Dexter’s Dark Passenger.
The Dark Passenger, as we learn, is what drives Dexter to do the things he does… kill people. It’s as much a beast he needs to feed as a mechanism he uses to control his urges. But, for the writers, it was also a way to show Dexter’s humanity.
“That’s always been a link between our show and the audience,” Colleton explained. “Because Dexter’s Dark Passenger is much more extreme, but we all have Dark Passengers. We all have a part of ourselves that we really, really, really aren’t comfortable with anyone seeing. We worry that if we ever showed our loved ones, that they might run in horror. But at the same time, you wish that you could. So that push-pull, I think, is something that has always been part of the unlikely bond that our audience has with Dexter.”
10. The final season of Dexter won’t leave any Saran-Wrapped loose ends.
“It is all going to come to a big head,” Colleton said. “We will not leave one dangling chad, and we have really given a lot, a lot of thought to what we want to say about Dexter. To really wrap things up in a way that we hope lands as a whole. That being said, no matter what we do, there are going to be people who don’t like this, or wish it had been that way, but we’ve really tried not to listen to any of the internet chatter. Because all we can do is try to be as true as possible to this character we’ve all lived with and loved, and seen his growth from year to year. And we hope that what we’ve chosen emotionally will land with the audience, but after that, that’s all we can do.”
11. What will be most unnerving to Dexter this season:
“Deb is in a bad place when we start,” Colleton said. “She is in a bad, bad place. And for Dexter, it’s horrible, because she wants nothing to do with him. So that’s completely unmooring for him, because even in Season 7 when they were having difficulties, she was still there for him. And now she’s just like, ‘Stay away,’ and he doesn’t really know how to handle that.”
12. What Colleton hopes the fans will take away from the Dexter series:
“I hope that as we have seen Dexter grapple with aspects of humanity, that it’s made them [the viewers] look at themselves,” Colleton said. “Just as we’ve forced Dexter to look at himself, it would be great if they felt that they had gotten something out of it other than just entertainment… What it means to be alive, what it means to be human.”
The final season of Dexter premieres this Sunday, June 30, on Showtime.
Get your kill rooms ready, folks.
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