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Jennifer Carpenter.

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Dexter’s Jennifer Carpenter: ‘It’s Harder and Harder to Justify’ Deb Not Realizing Her Brother Is a Killer

As Dexter's Debra Morgan, Jennifer Carpenter has a way with foul words and overlooking the obvious: her brother's Dark Passenger. When we left her last week, she had just been promoted to lieutenant over the more seasoned Batista (the squeaky fucker gets the grease), leaving us to consider: Does her ascension to the top mean she's that much closer to finding Dexter out? Or are we just that much closer to our televisions next time we yell, "Ask him why he's always the first person to arrive at a crime scene!" (Please, God, don't let Dexter get caught.) We spoke with the Kentucky-born actress about her character's blind spots, why they drive her crazy, too, and the dirty Debism she's saving for next season.

Congratulations on the show's best season-premiere ratings yet.
Oh, wow, thanks. I don't really pay attention to that, but I'm glad it's doing well. I sort of enjoy the fact that we're in a bubble when we're shooting it. I feel like if I were imagining people really watching it, or the pressure of numbers, that maybe I wouldn't work as well [laughs].

What was your reaction to learning that Deb was going to be promoted?
It's pretty unbelievable. I mean, only on TV would I skip so many levels and shoot straight up to lieutenant. But my insecurities about the fictitious promotion were exactly where I needed to be with the character. So it all sort of worked. It's odd to be Batista's boss, when I feel like he really did earn it and has been a mentor; it's awkward. But she's really taken the lead on every major case that's come through the office.

Although she's missing the one obvious thing, which is that her brother's a serial killer.
Exactly. That is a very good point [laughs].

How is she missing all the clues?
Yeah, it's harder and harder to justify, actually. Because she is so smart, there are so many holes. Why wouldn't she for once find out where he's disappearing to? Especially now that he has Harrison, too, you'd think she'd be more in touch with his schedule. I'm sorry, I'm kind of rambling. But you'd think Harrison would be on her radar and she would see how little he's there and how much he leans on the nanny.

So do you follow the rule of, "It's TV, you have to be willing to suspend disbelief"?
This year I've been so busy — Deb having the promotion means more time on set — I almost forget that it's supposed to be a show about a serial killer [laughs].

Does the inevitability of Deb finding out about Dexter, if you consider it that, haunt you? I imagine it will be difficult to shoot.
Well, I think the audience is ready for it. I'm certainly ready for it. I feel like having skipped ahead a year, all of the characters are a little more settled. We're not on the heels of Rita's death, it's been some time since Lundy's passing. So it would be a good time to find out. And I think audiences are craving it. So I want to give it to them. Now, the scene in the parking lot where Lundy passed [in Season 4] was one of the most difficult days of work that I've ever had, because it was incredibly emotional. And there is a part of me that has a reflex about going back to a place like that. But I've been doing this since I was eight. I think I've found a healthy way of processing it all.

I didn't realize you've been acting that long. You went to Juilliard, right? How did you wind up there?
Well, I made an announcement to my family at 8 that I wanted to be an actor, and I focused like a laser beam on it. I never had a fallback plan. My family was great in that they never said no to me, they just asked, “How?” Which meant you had to get a game plan together. And so I just found out which schools were the best and applied.

Is your family okay with Deb's cursing? Have they come to terms with it?
After the first year I went home and I had a mouth on me and I can't remember who it was, but someone made me aware of it. I don't know if it was a face or a comment, but I put it in check right away. It is so unattractive. But it feels quite natural as Deb. It's like, there is only one real four-letter F-word, but you can deliver it 50 different ways. So while it sounds like she has a very narrow vocabulary, in her mind, they all mean something different. I'm kind of numb to them at this point. And I often find myself either extracting them, because I don't feel like that's where she'd cuss, or calling the writers in the middle of the night saying, “I have a new cuss word.”

That's amazing. What's one you've made up?
I had one for Episode 12, but the episode had already been written. Hopefully they'll use it for next season. There's one that I love when Quinn tries to touch me in Season 5; he opens the door and I'm coming to spend the night and I tell him not to put his “sausage fingers” on me. That's not a cuss word, but … Next year, I want there to be a comment that Deb's life is “double-dip fucked.” Hopefully. Because she's been fucked again and fucked again and fucked again [laughs]. Maybe they won't use it now that I've given it to you.

Are you interested in doing comedy?
I am. It's where I've always felt more comfortable. In school I was always being cast as the clown. And then I did The Exorcism of Emily Rose, and once people hear you scream, they can't un-hear it. But I don't mean to say that I've been typecast, either. I just feel like, you know, comedy is a lot of fun. So maybe it's just getting people to see me that way and getting invited into the club, you know?

One last silly question: Dexter says "dark passenger" a lot. Is there anybody on set who's counted how many times?
Not that I know of! I agree with you, but what's funny is I don't hear it as much because I'm not in those scenes. But there have been a couple of times when I've had a few lines like, “There's gonna be another kill.” And I was like, “That's Dexter speak." We're police. We would say killing. I think everyone's so into the voice of Dexter that sometimes you have to pull them back and be like, “We're not all serial killers.”

Photo: Kevin Winter / Getty Images