Dexter's Dad, James Remar, speaks on the end of TV's ultimate antihero
It takes a bit of prodding, but eventually James Remar reveals a Dexter plot twist he just didn’t like.
Remar, 59, is a character actor extraordinaire, with standout roles in The Cotton Club, 48 Hours, Sex and the City and two roles in Quentin Tarantino’s recent hit, Django Unchained (he swears the two different hired guns he plays in the film – one gets killed at the beginning and one at the end – are not related).
But Dexter fans know him as Harry Morgan, the late, adopted father of pathological serial killer/forensic blood technician Dexter Morgan; the voice of cold reason who Dexter still sees, many years after his real adopted dad committed suicide. Remar's scenes act to shake sense into this murderer of murderers, giving a flesh-and-blood reality to Dexter's inner dialogues.
And there was just one twist in the story of the late Harry Morgan – a cop who scooped a youthful Dexter up at a bloody crime scene and later taught him a “code” for only killing those who killed others – that Remar will admit rankled him.
When the writers revealed Harry had an adulterous relationship with Dexter’s biological mother.
“I never liked it; to be really honest, I didn’t see him as that kind of guy,” said the actor, who can come across as intense, even over a phone line from thousands of miles away. “I’ve tried to play Harry as a character who maintained an integrity throughout…I had to go with it as much as I could and just accept the fact that he was flawed human being.”
As Dexter begins its eighth and final season today, Remar continues what may be the most unusual supporting role in television. Not only does he play a ghostly sounding board for his homicidal son, it turns out Harry videotaped therapy sessions with a neuropsychologist where the subject of Dexter’s code and status as a covert serial killer were explored.
“I’ve always liked the idea of seeing some videotapes of Harry from the past, that a father could leave for his son,” Remar said of the scenes, which pair him with standout English actress Charlotte Rampling, playing serial killer expert Dr. Evelyn Vogel.
Still, he admits the notion that someone else may have helped Harry develop his code for Dexter “was a bit of a surprise,” despite giving him a chance to play a new kind of scene, in which Harry agonizes over whether his son can ever fit into normal society during sessions Dexter views long after his adopted father’s suicide.
As the season begins, much of the story centers on Dexter’s sister Deb (played by Jennifer Carpenter, ex-wife of star Michael C. Hall). She’s now crumbling under the guilt of having killed her superior in the Miami police force, Lauren Velez’s Capt. Maria LaGuerta, after she guessed Dexter’s true nature.
But the “b” story, as they say in the TV universe, is Dexter meeting Vogel and discovering her work with his father. Once again, Dexter gets a fresh look at his long-dead adopted father through the videotapes, lending more understanding to hi own origins and his father’s actions.
Ask Remar why we love such characters – serial killers, drug dealers and serial philanderers now star in shows considered among the best on television – and he points to the way people idolized brutal leaders such as Hitler in their prime.
“Human nature can fixate on pretty much anything, provided it satisfies some need,” he said. “”Michael’s embodiment of Dexter, because he’s so nice to watch, he’s very watchable and likable. The genius of Dexter, is he was assigned a code of conduct where he killed people who won’t be missed. People get to see these killers wiped out without the state sanctioned murder of capital punishment.”
But don’t dare suggest that Deb’s anger at Dexter – she tells him “I shot the wrong person” the night she killed LaGuerta instead of him – is justified.
“Debra made her own choices,” Remar said, sounding like the Harry Morgan who Deb always felt favored Dexter in childhood, misreading her father’s efforts to hide his homicidal tendencies. “You gotta look at these things as social commentary. Debra represents social conscience, law and order. Had she held to her oath, she should have called the police and reported him right away.”
Which begs the question hanging over this final season: Will she eventually turn him in, anyway?
Remar can’t say. But he does reveal another disagreement with the show’s powers that be, admitting the not-so-surprising truth that he wishes the series wasn’t ending this year.
“I’d like it to go on forever,” he said, laughing. “But this way, I wind up in TV heaven.”
Dexter returns for its eighth and final season at 9 tonight on Showtime.