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Dexter’s Julia Stiles on Playing Lumen, and This Season’s ‘Harrowing’ Finale

When we first saw her face, soot-covered and peering out like a Bedlam inmate from a tiny window of a locked door in the house of Dexter’s latest kill, Julia Stiles was almost unrecognizable. Is this deranged creature, Lumen Pierce, the same girl who handled Jason Bourne (the Bourne triology), updated Ophelia and Desdemona (Hamlet and O), and taught Heath Ledger about feminist punk rock (Ten Things I Hate About You)? As we move toward Dexter's season finale, we caught up with Stiles to discuss Lumen Pierce in all her injured, demented, calculating glory.

You’ve just finished shooting the season finale, right? What was it like to say good-bye to this character?
It was bittersweet. It was nice to complete the thing, but it was sad to say good-bye to everybody. And the last couple of scenes were kind of harrowing.

Do you find those kinds of scenes draining?
I’m not sure if this makes me a masochist or something but I think, as draining as the emotionally and physically demanding scenes can be, they’re also very rewarding. There was one scene in particular where I was surprised by how difficult it was for me to shake the emotional stuff. Yet when a day or two goes by and I can step away from it, I have no regrets. It’s very exciting to know I can go to those places and be surprised by work.

Is there anything you can tell us about those disturbing scenes without giving the story away?
It’s in episode ten, a few episodes away from the finale. The implications of the scene in terms of what Dexter tells me is pretty shattering.

I love the scene, in an early episode, in which you and Dexter meet in the coffee shop and you’re pulling apart all the sugar packets. Where did that impulse come from?
We needed something to physically show how she’s dealing with all this. I thought about what she had experienced before we meet her, about how she would have gotten through all of that. I did a lot of reading about trauma victims, abduction victims, torture victims, and physically, in order to survive, they have to focus on something that helps them detach from their bodies. I needed something that she would keep to help her get through every day of her life after she escaped. The writers had written she was pouring the sugar in piles, and I just changed it to crumpling the paper.

You mentioned reading about trauma — did you do much research for this character?
I read about torture victims and people who were abducted and rape victims, but that all felt very intellectual to me. I needed something that would make me connect emotionally, so the most helpful thing was details, specific memories, or smells or sounds. I would elaborate on those in my imagination, almost like meditating, I would sit and imagine those horrible experiences and eventually your muscles connect to your brain and it settles in. In a certain way, characters become people and you don’t want to do a disservice to them. I wanted to be as dark as I could about what the reality of that experience would be. I felt like I had to do that to do justice to anybody who had an experience even close to that.

Did you have any misgivings about spending all that time in the head of someone really damaged?
No. The thing that really got me is that she wasn’t going to be a victim the whole time.

Lumen is an exception for Dexter: He has rules about how to handle people who are innocent and rules about how to handle people who are a threat to him, but Lumen is both. What do you think really bonds them?
That is so interesting that you say that. The true nature of their bond is something we deal with throughout the season, even up until the finale. What Dexter sees in her is the kind of rage and darkness that has been unleashed in her because of what she’s experienced. They’re connecting about how to channel that hateful, destructive energy.

Okay, bottom line: Why should we keep watching? What does Lumen have in store for us?
She will surprise you. That feral animal quality we saw when she is first introduced shows that she is not going to take things lying down.

Photo: Patrick McMullan