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Colin Hanks.

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Colin Hanks on Playing Dexter’s Doomsday Killer

There’s a lot to think about going into the season finale of Dexter: Incest! Intern Louis! Swords! But what has us especially thrilled is that the Doomsday Killer, played by self-professed “Ficus” personifier Colin Hanks, is going to kidnap Dexter’s son. If we learned anything this season — besides some unwanted Bible knowledge — it’s that Dexter really loves his son (as much as someone with a demanding Dark Passenger can, okay?). And that means: Insane Daddy Dexter Showdown. We spoke with Hanks ahead of the finale about shooting the show's climax with a toddler in tow, channeling a Columbine shooter (and the aforementioned Ficus plant) to play Travis Marshall, and glossing over the Book of Revelation.

How did you get the part?
It came through quasi-normal channels. The only thing that was sort of unusual was I got a phone call saying, “Hey, they want you; they wanna offer you this role,” which doesn’t happen very often. And so I had a phone conversation with [producers] Scott Buck and Sara Colleton. They told me a little bit about the character and said, “I hope you’d consider doing it.” And the whole time, I’m sitting there like, “I don’t really have to consider.” So normal channels, but different than any other sort of job that I’ve ever done before.

What was your reaction to the story line when they explained it to you?
Well, when they told it to me, it was incredibly vague. They just said, "You’ll be one of the two bad guys; you’ll work together as a team." And then they said — well, I can’t really say because we haven’t aired yet — but they told me a version of what is going to happen at the end, which was sort of like the caveat. Which ended up not happening, by the way.

The end changed from when you got the role?
Yeah, as with all things TV, it’s always fluid, it’s always morphing, it’s always changing, it’s always growing. And I think there was a lot of that throughout the course of the season. They didn’t tell me about the twist in — I think it was the “Get Gellar” episode — until right before they sent that episode out.

Oh, so you didn’t know from the start that Professor Geller was really dead?
I didn’t know. I didn’t know about the big reveal.

Then I guess you didn't tweak how you were acting against him —
No. No, no, no. They didn’t tell me, so I just played him as if he were a real person. Which is great.

Do you think you might’ve played it differently had you known?
I’m sure I would have in some way, so it was a luxury to just not worry about that. There’s always this sort of thing like, Oh, I wish I know what’s gonna happen so I can do my actor stuff and prepare and properly tell the story. But on the first day of shooting that we did, I remembered Eddie [James Olmos] having a conversation with [director] John Dahl. And Eddie knew about the reveal; John did not. And John said, “Look, it’s the great thing about life, you never know what’s gonna happen, so that makes for more realistic storytelling."

Eddie knew, and you didn’t get to know?
Yes.

Was he frustrated that you guys didn’t know?
No, he wasn’t frustrated. It’s just that actors in general have a tendency to be frustrated because they don’t know where the story’s going. And so, John’s words of wisdom were like, “Well, you don’t really know what’s gonna happen in life anyway, so it shouldn’t be any different.” And it was sort of a cool thing to hear, considering I had no idea what was in store.

Did you have any say in how your arc would develop or did you contribute at all?
Well, I contributed on the day. But I made a very concerted effort not to get in the way. I didn’t wanna muck anything up. I believed in the show and in the writers, and look: I’m a guy that’s coming in, the new guy on the show. And they’ve been doing it for five years. So I’m not gonna come in here and be like, “Oh, well I think he should do this." So I said, “I’m just gonna let them write whatever they’re gonna write, and what I’m gonna do is try and mold it in my way when we shoot it.” I have opinions on certain lines and then the way that things would be delivered, but, overall, I’d let them tell me what’s gonna happen to Travis.

What do you think of your character’s arc?
Well, it’s funny. I think of him as an incredibly tragic and flawed character. I think Travis is a guy that, yes, he’s insane in the way that a serial killer would be considered insane, but I see it as if he’s a tragic guy who’s been dealt some very horrible cards: He lost his parents, he developed this disease — I don’t know what you wanna call it — this horrible problem, he killed his own sister, he doesn’t realize it. I don’t necessarily equate Travis with being evil. I see him as incredibly sad, really, more than anything else. And the fact that people don’t get that I find really interesting.

Are you getting feedback to suggest that people don't agree?
Some people just go, “Man, he’s so evil. I can’t wait to see him die.” And I just go, “Wow, you’re not even really picking up on all the things that are really going on.” You know what I mean? I just find that kind of interesting that people would just gloss over that.

Maybe the religious angle is getting people especially fired up. He’s a religious zealot.
Yeah, but it comes from a place of not being right in the head to begin with. It’s not like the religion is there, and then he went crazy because of the religion; he was crazy before that and he was going through his personal issues before that, so as things sort of were progressing, and once we got to the stage where we were really sort of learning things about Travis, I became much more sympathetic to him. Then at the end he just goes all out evil and crazy.

Dexter's son Harrison gets involved in the finale when Travis kidnaps him. Was it hard to play insane killer scenes with a toddler?
It was incredibly hard. Without giving too much away, it’s incredibly dramatic and there’s yelling and it’s a culmination of the entire season. I mean, it’s the climax of the season. And I’ve got a sword, I’m holding a kid, he doesn’t know what’s going on. I’m supposed to put him in this thing and he doesn’t wanna go. And you know, I have a kid now [in real life], so my heart is just breaking for him because he’s crying. Again, John Dahl directed, he directed the final episode, and I said to him, “Of course it’s the climax of the season and we’ve gotta deal with this screaming 3-year-old kid for two days.” Not easy, but we did it.

Were the kill scenes uncomfortable for you?
The only thing that was uncomfortable was the sheer mechanics of it. Getting the blood knife to work was incredibly difficult.

What’s a blood knife? I mean, I can guess, but let’s hear your explanation.
Oh, it’s just a knife that has a blood syringe on it, so when you pretend like you’re cutting someone, blood comes out. So it’s just little technical filmmaking things that are more frustrating than anything else. Pretending to kill someone is surprisingly easy. It’s just make believe. “Make believe that you’re dying!” “All right.”

Who’s painting the tableaus in the show?
Someone from the art department, I imagine.

Honestly, I just wanted to say “tableaus.” It’s the word of the season.
[Laughs.] Eddie and I would go, “Oh, here’s a new one!” They’re pretty amazing pieces, and they got more and more detailed as the season progressed.

How did you avoid becoming a caricature of a religious zealot?
Well, I didn’t necessarily feel like I had to do a lot there, because he was already on the page. You add in the other elements of costume, and then you get my baby face in there, and, you know — it wasn’t necessarily fun to constantly have that tension that Travis had. I just always found him to be very tense all the time, very tormented, torn between what he was doing. Towards the end of the season, once he sheds Geller and sort of becomes who he is, then that’s when it really got be a lot of fun because it got to be a completely different character. That tension was no longer there, and he was a smooth, calm, calculated person who had no doubt of what he was doing and knew exactly what was going on. And that was nice to be able to get out the tormented Travis and into what I’ll call the “freewheeling Bob Dylan” Travis.

Did you research any people or groups to get into character?
No. I asked Scott Buck if there was any homework I should do. We had one conversation where he said that Travis is a "blink-and-you-miss-him"-type guy. I always imagined him as, like, a Ficus in the corner of the room — it doesn’t even have to be real because you don’t even acknowledge that he’s there. So there was that element to it. Scott also said to read the Book of Revelation, and I made it through about half of it. And I just went, “This is crazy. This makes no sense.” Actually, it's really horrible storytelling because I don’t know what’s going on, it just gets weirder and weirder and weirder, so I just went, “Okay, I’m not gonna get into that.”

Did you tell your boss that you didn’t finish your homework?
No. [Laughs.] I was like, “I get the gist of it. I understand: Bad stuff happens.” The one thing that I did do, I had seen this video of one of the Columbine kids, and it was a video that was taken weeks or maybe months before all of that had happened, and it was a classmate that was sort of goofing around, videotaping a bunch of kids kind of sitting around a table during their homeroom or something like that. And one of the kids — I can’t remember which of the guys [meaning the shooters] it was — he was sitting at the table with all these kids, and he was present but completely distant. And he was doing this thing where he was rubbing the palm of his hand with his thumb. And he would laugh whenever anyone would laugh, but he rarely looked anyone in the eye. And he was sort of, again, present but distant. And the thing he was doing with his hand I found interesting. And so one of the things that Travis does is he, in an effort to think about the sacrifices that Jesus would have made during the crucifixion, having a nail hammered through his hand, Travis always reaches at his palm whenever he’s thinking or contemplating. I found it to be such an interesting sort of tell, like a poker tell. But otherwise, I didn’t get into any specific kind of thing. Because again, it is all pretty evident. And I’ll leave that for the cops to talk about.

Photo: Splash News