Eye on Emmy: How Jennifer Carpenter Used Her Dexter Past to Deal with Deb's Greatest Drama

The fact that Jennifer Carpenter has yet to garner any Emmy attention for her turn as dirty-mouthed, heart-of-gold, unlucky-in-love detective Debra Morgan on Showtime’s accolade-adorned Dexter is a crime far worse than any committed by the series’ titular character. Will this be the year that the actress’ often arresting performance cops some recognition? One can hope, though Carpenter calls the role itself the best award she could possibly ask for.

TVLINE | Season 5 of Dexter seemed to lift the veil from Deb’s eyes a bit, almost enlightening her about what’s been going on around her for years. On your end, was that a purposeful approach?
It wasn’t a conscious decision. I feel like I’ve requested to know less and less about what’s going to happen during the season so that I don’t start prematurely playing into something instead of letting it unfold naturally. John Lithgow’s year was the season of grieving, and it was really heavy to play and to come home with, so I felt a little release because [Season 5] was a new chapter in a new book. The audience might have gotten a sense of that lightness about Deb. Deb is incredibly insecure — as am I — about her work, but she happens to be very good at it and people are giving her more responsibility. And she’s really adapting well to it.

TVLINE | What did you think about the direction Deb chose to go in the finale? Letting a killer go free, even if it might be her brother, is such a far cry from the cop we’ve gotten to know.
The writers and producers were kind enough to come to me before I’d actually seen the script to discuss it, and I was grateful for it because my initial reaction was, “Absolutely not!” It went against everything I believed to be true about Debra and how she functions in her life and her work, where things are either right or wrong. The way I was able to get behind it was by going back and revisiting the first season. I really tried to draw out the feelings Deb had about being engaged to a serial killer. It was about redemption, taking things into her own hands, finding closure finally for what happened there. I actually got to do that [season finale confrontation] scene multiple times, so there were times when I knew who I was releasing and there were times when I didn’t, and don’t know how they cut and pasted it all together [in the end], but it must all be there because every take was different. In a strange way, it’s like a gateway to when she actually does find out [Dexter’s secret.] That moment, that scene, will become a piece of how she digests it.

TVLINE | What did the producers say to convince you that Deb’s actions were in fact true to her character?
I was able to express all of my fears about it and discuss everything that made me resistant to playing it. And then the writers and executive producer Sara Colleton did everything they could to reassure me about it. At the end of the day I was told it was going to play [effectively], and that’s all I needed to know. That’s my job, to find a way to make it work. It had been so long since I’d lived Season 1, so to go back to that by watching those women being raped in Season 5, connecting with what it felt like to be taken…. I bent my thinking to allow justice to be served. It may haunt Deb later, but it was selfish and selfless in the same moment. That’s really the best thing you can ask for as an actor, something complex and contradictory.

TVLINE | Did you guys shoot the final scene of the season, Harrison’s birthday party, in sequence? And if so, did that inform your performance at all, having known what Deb just did behind that plastic curtain?
Yeah, we did, and that was a really interesting and incredibly emotional day, actually. I guess the aftermath of [the curtain scene] was cooking there. I really didn’t say much except  when I ask Dexter if he’s glad that it’s over, and he says that he is — so much echoes in that line. So, I guess [the confrontation] was present in that scene, even though I didn’t consciously pack it up and bring it there.

TVLINE | Do you ever think about what it would be like for Deb to finally learn Dexter’s secret? Or how as an actress you might approach playing that discovery?
I don’t even consider it, because Deb doesn’t know, so what kind of real estate is there in trying to figure out what that would look like? Whatever decisions I’ve already made about it would ultimately be wrong, so it won’t fire. And I don’t have an opinion [on Deb finding out], believe it or not. I don’t champion her supporting Dexter, and I don’t champion her taking him to prison. I can see reasons for both. I agree [with Showtime president David Nevins] that it doesn’t have to be the end of the show if Deb finds out — though it might be the end of Deb. [Laughs] The show has a thousand other ways that it remains fascinating, and it will be just as fascinating when this happens. It’s going to happen, I think, and I’ll just be patient. Hopefully the audiences will be, too.

TVLINE | Another interesting arc for Deb last season was finding some joy with Quinn. Were you relieved to play her as, you know, happy?
Absolutely! [Laughs] It was great. Her love came in a totally unexpected package. I don’t think Deb ever saw herself dating Quinn, but he’s solid. He is exactly who he says he is and never deviates wildly outside of his character. I feel like Deb deserves that.

TVLINE | Do you have one standout moment from the past season?
It’s probably pretty obvious, but it is that curtain scene. I felt like a mathematician trying to do bad math, putting that thing together. To finally find a formula that made it connect to something real for me, as Debra, felt like a winning moment.

TVLINE | Let’s talk a little about the Emmys. Is garnering that form of much-deserved recognition something you think about?
To be honest, I don’t even think about it. I feel like the structure of Dexter highlights Michael [C. Hall], obviously, and whatever guest stars we attract. It would be incredibly exciting [to get personal recognition], but it doesn’t hurt when I don’t get a nomination. As long as the show is nominated and we all get to celebrate the year’s work, that’s fun. It would be nice to see Michael get [an Emmy], finally. But I feel like we’ve shared in a lot of accolades and been celebrated, and that’s a real luxury for any show.

TVLINE | It’s true that Dexter has been shown a lot of love over the years, but the fact that you haven’t, for playing Deb, is a “crime” in and of itself.
I’m winning every day that I’m at work — and learning. What better award could you ask for, really? This has been such an education. My first year of Dexter was really like going to school. And everyone that I need to thank, I do thank them constantly.

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. Dav says:

    I love her so much. She is awesome on the show and truly deserves an award.

    • Linda says:

      Deb is awesome and well deserved of an Emmy. Michael is the main Man and he shouldn’t get ignored for his role of Dexter. Think of it, without Michael, there would be no DEXTER and no one else could play that role. As far as the divorce…life happens…….

  2. Mikos says:

    Along with the writers she has made Deb such a great character to carry the non-Dexter parts of the show. And when they’re in scenes together it’s delicious.

    Also sounds like she has a great grasp of how the show fits into award-land. I love her “bad math” metaphor. She’s awesome.

  3. John says:

    I thought she was leaving Dexter….

  4. Jason says:

    Carpenter rocks.

  5. DL says:

    She’s fantastic on the show. Definitely deserves some awards love.

  6. JR says:

    she deserves some recognition for her work. Deb and Dexter are the real reason I continue watching the show.

  7. Geoff says:

    Best actress on TV, in my opinion. I’ve thought so since Dexter premiered. Hope she does get some award love some day.

  8. Cat says:

    I’m really hoping she will get nominated. It was really a stand out year for her.

  9. Bob says:

    I like her character, but she surely has a foul mouth. Seems every other word is vilgar. In real life, as a male, I would not date or enjoy being around someone who talks like this–every other word vulgar, etc. I realize this is all part of her character–guess she plays the role so well that she “disturbs” me–that’s real acting.
    Speaking of acting, now that Jennifer Carpenter divorced Michael C Hall in real life–do they have difficulty playing their scenes together? Seems it would prove somewhat challenging .

  10. Loser says:

    Did not like her at first but now i can`t imagine the show without her. I recently saw Dexter from beginning to end again and Fell in love with her character. She always gives me heartache.

  11. Dwayne says:

    It would be nioe for Michael to get a damn Emmy already!! The fact that voters continue to hate on him is ludicrous!

  12. Ryan says:

    She is incredibly talented, but best actress on TV might be a stretch. Personally I think the best actress on TV is Mary-Louise Parker from Weeds. I’d group Carpenter high though with Yvonne Strahovski from Chuck and Allyson Hannigan from HIMYM.

  13. annie says:

    It’s nice that she can still wish Michael C. Hall the best even after their marriage ended so quickly.

  14. Jenny says:

    She’s awesome!!! I’d really love to see her get a nomination! She’s just so good! And I would also love to see Debra find out about Dexter! I think Deb is probably the only one on the show now that could find out and not completely ruin the show! I hope it happens! I love to see that!!!

  15. Michael says:

    Jennifer (Deb) has put the bullet in the gun, (so to speak). She is always ON and ready to take on the hunt for the next bad guy. She has a difficult time relating to anyone other then Dexter. The question is, now that she is divorced from Michael (Dexter), how will she be able to play scenes that has her turning to Dexter for moral support? They have each other to cling to due to Harry’s way of raising both of them. There was not much love shown to Debra since Harry spent most of his time trying to teach Dexter how to avoid getting caught when he had to take a life.

    Without Jennifer (Deb), the show would not survive.

  16. Doug-H says:

    I would bet the personal stuff with MCH was off limits in this interview…. They are pros but you gotta wonder… Possibly she discovered that MCH was really like David Fisher after all… who knows in Hollywood?????

    In any event, looking forward to next season of Dexter… In the midst of rewatching the entire run online… thanks to online Showtime on XFINITY…

    • RV says:

      That’s what I thought too at first, but I don’t think I’d like that reality if it were true. Maybe he and Jennifer thought it was love because they work so well together on-screen. I just think that Michael’s such a really great actor that we can’t help but to believe that he might David Fisher tendencies in real life. The only thing I wonder is how he got so comfortable kissing guys, but I guess if you’re an actor that’s just what you do!! More power to him, I couldn’t do it!

  17. Maggie says:

    Show would not be the same w/out J. Carpenter, although her “potty mouth” could be tamed a great deal. That much cursing seems unreal. Love the show and the “Dexter” books.

  18. Tanya says:

    Glad to read some Jennifer Carpenter comments that are positive…some other websites I’ve visited attract so much negativity. I also think she is doing a wonderfully expressive, many-layered and thoughtful performance. On the swearing: personally I find it hilarious and endearing and can’t wait to hear the latest “Deb-ism” that the writers come up with. But I know people who find it irritating too. And I have to ask those people “how do you understand that you’re watching a show with a serial killer protaganist that you care about and root for but the thing that really gets you is a woman swearing???” Hmmmm. But I have to validate the writers’ choice…not just because Jeff Lindsay wrote her that way in the novels, but because I was watching an episode of “Clean House”, the reality show where they go into someone’s messy house and help them clean it up, and this episode featured the home of a female detective. Well, this woman had such a foul mouth that they had to bleep every other word she said! The hosts were beside themselves because nearly everything she said was a swear word, a double-entendre or a dirty joke. She made Deb look like Emily Post! So perhaps not all female dectectives are like that, but evidently some are! I think the character is written that way to show us what some women who are insecure, (as Deb clearly is) will do in order to “fit in” in a very tough, male dominated culture. The idea being that not only do you have to work twice as hard to prove yourself, you also have to be twice as crude, shocking, tough as the next guy. It certainly does throw the male characters off guard in the show. It works for her. Personally, I think the reason people are bothered by Deb’s swearing is because she (the actress) is so beautiful. I bet if she was portrayed by a homely, masculine looking cop stereotype people wouldn’t find it as dissonant. Compare to Sipowicz on NYPD Blue…another wonderful detective role where off color remarks were being pushed to the limit. I don’t remember fans objecting very much to that character at all.

    • Suzanne says:

      I hear what you’re saying, Tanya, & I agree to a certain extent. But the thing with Deb is that she doesn’t leave her dirty mouth at work! She uses it constantly, (unless she’s around kid, then she controls it…which shows that she CAN, but she chooses not to) and even tho I really do love Deb… I have to say that the *constant* filthy language she spews is a big turn off to me. It also *distracts* from her great acting, in some cases. (IMO)
      I just think that the writers could make a compromise that would keep/make everyone happy.
      Just a thought: when I said that I think it sometimes distracts from her acting? Maybe the Emmy Judges feel the same way?


      • I have to say your choice of words “turns me off” I find a little disturbing. Female characters aren’t their with the sole purpose of pleasing male fans or “turning them on.” Batista and Matsuka don’t turn me on but they’re still good characters.

  19. Emily says:

    She is an amazing actress and really should be recognized by the Emmy awards.
    Her attitude toward not being recognized makes me love her even more, I respect her attitude. Just being a part of such an amazing show, getting paid to be an actress, etc.
    Hearing how she worked out in her mind why her character would release the murderer during the curtain scene was great it shows a lot about the character I didn’t realize and about how she goes about portraying the charcter how much thought she puts into it.
    Jennifer in the Dexter fans eyes you are amazing! Never think otherwise!!!

  20. Sissy says:

    I agree that her foul mouth is distracting. It would be nice if the writers could tone it down some. Of course, the author, Jeff Lindsay, portrays her character as being a real “potty” mouth. But, the Emmy really belongs to MCH. Jennifer is a great actress, but MCH deserves the Emmy first. He played a great homosexual guy in “Six Feet Under” , as well. Why is he not in any big movies?