The evidence is pretty overwhelming that we should stop being so mystified by the sight of an actor taking on a project that, based on their past work, feels out of character. One half of Key & Peele (Jordan Peele) just wrote and directed his second straight instant classic horror smash (Us). Artists stretch, is what I’m saying (again). Yet despite all that, it’s a little jarring to see Michael C. Hall, TV’s murderous Dexter Morgan, playing an affable bowling master in tonight’s season 3 finale of Documentary Now! (10pm EST on IFC) opposite Tim Robinson (Detroiters) and Bobby Moynihan (Saturday Night Live). But maybe that’s why Hall was the perfect fit for a character that, like Dexter, seems a little too nice. Is it possible that “dead-eyed” Billy May Dempsey has a collection of blood slides hidden somewhere in his wife’s ALF-centric lady cave? Probably not, but we can’t be certain.
We spoke with Hall about his recent penchant for comedies and whether it’s part of a big plan to rebrand himself. The conversation also touches on how he respects his character’s vocal resentment of ALF, Tim Robinson’s not great bowling form, Six Feet Under, and whether people take TV finales too seriously.
What was it about this part that appealed to you? Do you have bowling experience? Are you a bowling fan?
I think it was that he expressed his opinion that he doesn’t like the way ALF treats his host family. I think it’s what really stood out to me in the script.
Are you strongly anti-ALF?
I’m not. I’m not. But I was interested in the fact that he made a point to say that. It said a lot about him. I bowled a little bit when I was a kid, maybe the average amount. I don’t know. I was never on a bowling team or anything, but I did it with some regularity over the course of my childhood and college. I do remember the time that the movie focuses on — Saturday and Sunday afternoons when bowling was sort of the featured thing on ABC Sports or whatever. [I remember] being… maybe sometimes bummed out, like, “Oh, it’s bowling.” But then I’d find myself watching it. It’s sort of mesmerizing and hypnotic. I guess it’s the sounds, you know? It’s my favorite thing about bowling.
I remember that too. It’s good background noise for a lazy Saturday afternoon.
Yeah. I would maybe try it out if it was a setting on my white noise machine.
Not that I’m an expert bowler, but your form is really good. Maybe he did it for comedic effect, but Tim Robinson’s form is terrible.
I think his was sort of just comically… the way he ends up with that, sort of, Statue Of Liberty, kind of thing. But, thank you. I appreciate it. I thought it was maybe more important that mine was relatively legit given that I was supposed to be the best bowler in the world [laughs].
Did you watch The League Of Ordinary Gentlemen, the documentary that this is sort of based on?
Yeah, I watched it. I thought it was really helpful. I mean, you know, it’s not too far afield from what we’re ultimately doing. I think these things are simultaneously like, satires or parodies, but they’re also, kind of an homage to the source material at the same time.
The attention to detail is amazing. It’s impossible to not watch the source documentaries [afterward]. It’s just such an undertaking that they do from top to bottom.
It’s amazing what they’re able to execute in such a small amount of time. Watching it, I was really taken with the authenticity of the way the bowling sequences were shot and were lit. The way the spectators were lit, it just all felt so authentic.
Obviously, this is a comedy and Game Night was obviously a comedy. The Skittles commercial [and one-off Broadway show]. Is that a purposeful turn for you? Are you trying to do more comedies to, kind of, open that up?
I guess. I mean, yeah, I think I gravitate toward opportunities to do things that maybe are more comic or even silly over the past couple of years. And I enjoy it. I never really had any kind of grand plan in terms of the kind of material that I would or wouldn’t do… at the end of the two TV shows where I managed to be somewhat surrounded in one way or another by dead bodies. So, doing things that are more comic is definitely appealing, and I really enjoy it. I really have such respect for people who make that stuff. The guys who produce, and perform Documentary Now!. The people who made Game Night. I’m fans of that stuff, so it’s fun to find myself on their sets, for sure.
You’ve also played a lot of real people. And this is kind of that.
With this, it’s fun because, on the one hand, it’s a comic tone and you don’t want to shy away from things that are maybe somewhat broad in terms of characterizations. But it’s also presenting a documentary, which needs to sort of seem like you’re seeing real people behave in an authentic way. So it’s an interesting assignment as a performer to manage to walk that line.
With other roles, like when you played JFK on The Crown, how much study do you put into getting that character’s mannerisms down if it’s someone who’s well-known?
He’s a tricky one, because it’s so recognizable and so idiosyncratic in the way that he talks. I mean, it’s almost an accent that’s unique to that family. You can’t not honor that, but you also don’t want to sound like Mayor Quimby [on The Simpsons]. It’s tricky. I mean, I think in that case, I spent time listening to and reading books about his life, his story. I mean, it was a sketch. It wasn’t like a sort of deep delving into that character. But, it was helpful, I think as much as anything, to learn about the less shiny side of his life. Just in terms of his, sort of compounding dependence on drugs, initially to treat autoimmune disease, which led to deterring back pain which required pain killers, and those sedated him in such a way that he needed to have some sort of amphetamine. And next thing you know, if you have an irresponsible doctor, you’re going to be kind of strung out, and I don’t think I ever realized the extent of all that.
With Six Feet Under, it’s ending was so definitive. Do you ever wish that that was a little more open-ended so that you could actually go back and revisit that character?
Not really. I think that because of the way it ended… because we simulated, most of us, our character’s final moments, that there was a sense of closure that went along with that. I mean, had it not ended that way, or if we were called upon to reconvene and revisit whatever life might have been like however many years later it is… That might be, or might have been, interesting but it’s not something that I’m hung up on or craving. I definitely felt — due in large part to the way it resolved — like I kind of put him… to bed [laughs].
As someone who was in a finale like that and then you’re in the Dexter finale and there has been such a wide range of reactions to those… do you think people put too much import on series finales?
I mean, you know, I think people probably put too much import on series’ period [laughs].
It’s like, I mean, people talk about watching Netflix like it’s their job.
[Laughs] It’s true, it’s true.
Like, “I’ve gotta get home and get to work.” [Laughs] But, yeah. I think so. And I think that has to do with certain bars that certain shows have set. And maybe Six Feet Under is one of those. I mean, I definitely have had the sort of, broad spectrum experience in terms of people’s reactions to finales [laughs].
The season finale of ‘Documentary Now!’ airs tonight on IFC at 10pm EST.