Sam Underwood Talks Dexter Season 8, Zach Hamilton and More

Dexter Season 8 guest star Sam Underwood talks with Examiner about his role in the current season, and more. Beware of spoilers.

via “I’m always drawn to the character first. I really just follow, or try to chase, what is well-written and really interesting to me,” Underwood said when LA TV Insider Examiner sat down with him in Los Angeles.

“I just want to do good material. If I’m right for it, and it connects with me, and the material is good, I’m not going to say ‘I’m just going to do this’ or ‘I have to do one of everything.’ I’m not thinking like that… I find it fascinating [to] really delve into a personality that has so many different complexes.”

Underwood got the role of Zach Hamilton, Dexter Morgan’s prey-turned-protégé off of sides that “showed…a deeply disturbed kid that has a lust for [killing] but who also acknowledges the fact that he knows this isn’t right.” With this direction, Underwood immediately understood Zach not as a true sociopath but as a guy with an addiction who is putting on a front to hide his demons, and that informed just how closely the character should mirror Dexter's own. This helped Underwood tap into the minutia that made Zach tick from minute one. Skip the jump to read the rest.

“When I did the play Equus, how I tapped into that character Alan Strang’s kind of compulsion and identity was that it came from a place of passion and religiousness, and so I always use passion as a very proactive and positive thing to move towards. In a weird way, for Zach, you know the passion, lust, it’s kind of like the same thing. So once you’ve had a taste of something [and] you want more, [it’s easy to get swept up],” Underwood said.

“It came more from a drive, a lust, a ‘There’s something I need to fulfill. I don’t know quite what it is yet.’ It’s exactly what Dexter [went] through as a kid. He wants to be known as creepy [in the beginning]. I think that’s how he isolates himself [which] he does. Even when Dexter comes into his life, he wants to still kind of have that affect on people… Once all of the cards are on the table, and for the first time he found a connection with someone, Zach actually is a little bit awkward—well, a lot awkward—and he has very silly, quirky moments about him. [It’s much] more than just that creepiness; he’s actually waiting for someone to understand him…and as soon as Dexter does, he wants to show off and make a connection. And then when he fails or he thinks he fails, it’s a big deal for him. It’s such a roller coaster, which makes it interesting.”

But Zach Hamilton is only the tip of the iceberg. Immediately after Dexter ends, Underwood can be found on Showtime’s other acclaimed Sunday night drama, Homeland, as yet another young man with something potentially twisted lurking under his surface. It was a role for which Underwood was asked to “self-tape” while he was out in Los Angeles shooting Dexter, and it is one that he calls equally “very, very interesting and intriguing” on an internal level.

For many actors, the internal struggles are the hardest to portray because there is the fear of either emoting too much and tipping their hand too early to what is really going on with their character or the opposite: that their subtleties will be lost amongst the bigger, louder, flashier elements of the shows. Underwood never had any of those fears for either role, though, noting that he believes deeply in trusting not only his writers, directors, and co-stars to keep both himself and the characters grounded, but that he believes in trusting the audience as well.

Growing up in the world of theater, Underwood has relied on that audience to feed the energy of his performances in a much different way than television actors do. Calling the theater “where is heartbeat is,” Underwood has co-founded the Fundamental Theater Project to “help actors and international artists collaborate on work, literally connecting the world through art.”

“It’s real, live, human interaction; it’s organic. It’s going back to the roots,” Underwood, who used his days off from filming Homeland to read scripts and connect casts for a new play festival for his company, said.

“I think theater is a core need of a community. I think beautiful independent films are made, and I think they’re as close to what theater can be because they’re not loaded with all of the extra stuff. It’s human, and it’s more organic, but theater is very unique…It’s a different connection altogether.”

Now that Underwood is getting wider spread recognition from his work on Showtime, it would be “the best [he] could possibly hope for” if that audience was attracted to his theater projects, as well, but he noted that he doesn’t act in every production the Fundamental Theater Project puts on. Instead, he works behind-the-scenes to produce and direct at times, too. It is the perfect place for him to stretch all of his creative muscles and at times develop the perfect roles that are not being offered to him otherwise.

“I was told as a dancer by one of my dance teachers after a show we did together—he was like, ‘What are you doing next?’ And I said, ‘I’m doing a Shakespeare play.’ And he said, ‘Sam, you’re either a dancer or you do Shakespeare. You’ve got to like [pick].’ And I’ve never had that about me. I’ve always wanted to do a lot of things. I’m fascinated by the industry as a whole,” Underwood said.

Clearly the feeling is mutual.

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