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How Did Michael C. Hall Go From Evil 'Dexter' to Ill-Fated Everyman in Mickle's 'Cold in July'?

Interviews
by Ryan Lattanzio
May 20, 2014 3:12 PM
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'Cold In July'

Writer/director Jim Mickle rocked the indie genre film world last year with a horror movie about domesticated cannibals called "We Are What We Are." Now, he has gone and done it again with his tightly crafted, southern-fried thriller "Cold in July," starring an unlikely, but perfectly melded trio: Michael C. Hall, Don Johnson and Sam Shepard. It his theaters and VOD May 23rd via IFC Films. (Q&A with Hall below.)

It's East Texas, 1989. Richard Dane (Hall) is a small-town family man who becomes a hero after he, in a tensely choreographed and gruesome opening sequence, accidentally shoots and kills a wanted man who's burgling his house. But his so-called act of bravery yields a dangerous fallout when the dead crook's father (Sam Shepard) rolls into town lusting for blood, and with some seriously bleak baggage of his own in tow. Is the man whom Richard killed truly the man we thought he was? 

What follows is a many-layered mystery that takes time to smell the roses, as Mickle is as interested in painting local color as he is in creating a dizzying conspiracy. He and scribe Nick Damici (who cowrote "We Are What We Are") adapted the film from Joe R. Lansdale's grizzly 1989 pulp page-turner.

Unlike Michael C. Hall's coldblooded serial killer in Showtime's "Dexter," or his self-loathing, closet queen of an undertaker in HBO's "Six Feet Under," here he plays an innocent everyman who's just trying to do his best, keep a roof over his family, and stay out of trouble. Oh how wrong Richard Dane turns out to be. With "Cold in July," he turns from TV to film, brilliantly portraying a morally confounded everyman at war with himself. It's a fascinating performance. I spoke with Hall, who's very smart and thinks carefully before he speaks, on the phone. I particularly like this analogy (after the jump): Playing "a television character is like a marriage," where playing "a film character is like a love affair."

Ryan Lattanzio: In the first scene, you're shown as someone who has never fired a gun, much less killed someone -- obviously this quite different from "Dexter," the character you finished up last year. Was this an uncomfortable transition?

Michael C. Hall: It was no more odd a transition than any transition. I was certainly aware and thankful, to be honest, to be playing someone after "Dexter" who was killing someone without meaning to, wanting to, needing to, and is, after having done it, bewildered horrified, panicked. He has a very human response to him. It was somewhat therapeutic. I finished "Dexter" and considered deactivated whatever it was I needed to play that guy who would chop people up and then go eat a sandwich. Afterwards, one of my thoughts was, what have I done? [In "Cold in July"], it was nice to visit the murder scene from a more everyday, average, human perspective.

RL: I'm sorry to keep talking about "Dexter." It's inevitable. But did any aspects of that character bleed into this one?

MCH: It didn't. He's on a very different journey. If anything, in watching the film, I look at the scene with Sam [Shepard] where we're digging up the body of the guy I shot ... I never once thought about the parallels. I think there were things that contextualize this movie that were very "Dexter"-ish in their way; I didn't really have to shake him out of my head while we were doing it, which is a testament to how compelling the world Jim created was.

RL: The film is set in 1989, East Texas, and your character possesses a certain swagger that feels very much of the period. I can't explain it, but I really bought you as this person. How did you accomplish this? Did the mullet help?

MCH: He's a guy with somewhat of a cultivated swagger and as much as he has some nagging insecurity about his rights to his own manhood, I think the clothes sort of informed how he moved; and the fact that he lives in a small Southern town, where you're more free to take up more space, and to move through more space. I grew up in the South, in the 80s, where there were plenty of people -- myself included -- who had some version of that haircut. Some of the decisions are more instinctual and less intellectually considered but there was something about the way he moved that felt right.

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