Clyde Phillips Talks Dexter's Return - Reveals That Michael C. Hall's Involved In Editing And Adding The Music In The New Episodes

An amazing new interview with showrunner Clyde Phillips, for DQ.


In a brand new (and must-read) interview for website Drama Quarterly, showrunner Clyde Phillips talks about returning to Showtime, the 2013 series finale, working with Michael C. Hall and why Dexter Morgan comeback was inevitable. 

Read the full interview below!

“It’s amazing. Dexter changed my life and is changing my life again,” Phillips tells DQ ahead of his masterclass session at French television festival Series Mania, where he is also a guest of honour. 

“And I’m so happy to be back with my old team, to be back with Michael. We’ve just finished shooting 119 days in a row during Covid, chasing the weather. We would shoot a scene in February and then the next scene in late July, and the actors, directors and all of us had to keep in mind where we’re coming out of and what we’re going into because it was all about trying to find the snow. And when we couldn’t find it, we had to make our own.”

“It was the toughest shoot that any of us has done. We shot in 50 locations under Covid restrictions. We were like a professional soccer team – we were tested every day. We were our own bubble, so we were able to stay safe.”

“Dexter was born in blood, when he was a young baby, he watched his mother get murdered and he suffers from inherited trauma. He was rescued by a police officer who adopted him and realised that because of this inherited trauma, Dexter could never be normal. He taught him to use the inevitable ‘Dark Passenger’ that haunted him, his demons, for good, meaning he kills bad people. He’s a serial killer. We don’t condone that by any means, but it makes for good drama.”

“It ran for eight seasons and, at the end of the eighth season, he was lost in a hurricane. At the very end, we see that he survived the hurricane and ended up – controversially I must say – in a logging camp in Oregon. When we meet him, he is living a very calm and abstinent monastic life in upstate New York in a fictional town called Iron Lake.”

“He works at the fish and game store, surrounded by weapons of minor destruction and by the trophies of what other people have killed – deer heads and stuffed trout on the wall. We also learn he’s got a new girlfriend who is the chief of police. He can use that accessibility to the police station to his advantage, because even though he’s had a monastic, abstinent life, this is Dexter and Dexter is going to kill people.”

“I think the ending was unsuccessful in almost every regard, it broke the code and the trust of the audience.”

“People were just flabbergasted and exasperated by how it ended,” he continues. “I don’t blame anybody. There are a lot of voices that come into play on something like this. However, Dexter’s also Showtime’s most popular show ever. Gary also called it the ‘jewel in the crown of Showtime,’ and I think bringing it back was inevitable.”

The show’s return was only confirmed, however, once Hall was ready to “don that skin and – no pun intended – take a stab at playing this role again,” the showrunner says. When that time came, Showtime sought out Phillips at his home in Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the coast of Massachusetts. He then flew to New York to meet Hall and pitch him the idea that would become New Blood.

“He stood up, gave me a hug and said, ‘I’m in,’” Phillips reveals. “I called Gary from the car on the way back to the airport and said, ‘Michael’s in.’ Gary said, ‘Go hire a writing staff,’ and then we were off to the races.”

In New Blood, Phillips and his writing team have sought to reestablish that bond with viewers and “honesty in storytelling.”

“Dexter came from one of the largest cities in the world, Miami, Florida, to fictional Iron Lake, population 2,760, so there’s a lot less temptation there,” he adds. “But this is Dexter and people are going to tune in to watch him be his best self, and we deliver on that.”

Phillips says Michael was involved in New Blood “every step of the way,” from signing off on the show’s theme – fathers and sons – and the series bible to reading and giving notes on episode outlines and draft scripts.

“Because he so knows the character, and as an actor it’s a masterclass watching him work, he will often say to me, ‘You know, Clyde, about this little section right here, how about if I don’t say it? How about if I just do it with my face,’ and he’s always right when he has that instinct,” Phillips says.

“He was a leader on the set. We had a rather large cast that we had to move around, and things changed when weather changed, but Michael was always steady as a rock and helped the younger actors. He’s just a joy to work with. He’s involved in editing and adding the music with me right now. We all do it virtually but I talk to him probably every other day and email with him several times each day.”

Of his own role, Phillips says he’s the person “who holds 250 soft-boiled egos in his hands every day,” dealing with all manner of issues facing his cast and crew. “Everything’s going on. There are 250 people working on the show and this one’s getting divorced, this one’s getting married, this one’s having a baby, this one’s father died and this one got offered a movie or whatever it is, and we have to deal with that all the time. You wake up and you say, ‘What fresh new hell will greet me today?’”

But as far as running the writers room is concerned, he is an advocate for delegation. The showrunner says he will often turn up in the morning with notes on little scraps of paper and let his staff run with the ideas he has come up with.

“We then make decisions from there,” he explains, “and say, ‘Great idea…’ – but never say ‘But…’ It’s like saying, ‘I love you, but…’ Instead I’ll say, ‘Great idea, let’s take it one step further,’ or, ‘I’ve got this image. Let’s see if we can keep this image, make it organic to the story and move forward.’ Most often we can, and sometimes we spend two days spinning in circles because I had this little piece of paper from the night before and then we realise it’s a stupid idea and we move on from it.

“But my writing staff, which is rather large, generally end up loving me! This writing staff gave me a guitar as a gift and took out an ad in the local Martha’s Vineyard paper extolling the pleasure of working with me. Local people on the island saw this and thought I was dead, that it was an obituary. I’m not dead. I’m not dead yet.”

“It’s pine trees and actual snow because that was filmed in the beginning of February,” Phillips notes. “Later on, when ‘Mr Climate Change’ came and melted all our snow prematurely, we had to create snow. But there is nothing about the show that looks like it looked before. In fact, the aspect ratio of it is like a feature. It’s like we shot a 10-hour feature.”

While he is now in talks with Showtime about future projects, Phillips will continue to work on the 10-part New Blood until the end of the year, with editing and mixing likely to extend beyond the show’s premiere on November 7.

As for what viewers can expect, Phillips says his obligation to the audience as a storyteller has changed, as viewers themselves have changed since Dexter was last on screen.

“This is not Dexter season nine,” he says. “We are acknowledging that 10 years have passed and Dexter is more mature. The storytelling has had to change but with some touchstones, in story, in character, in guest characters and in music, that are there as breadcrumbs for the audience to feel comfortable as we make them more and more uncomfortable watching the new show.”

Source: Drama Quarterly

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