Michael C. Hall
Credit: Vera Anderson / Getty Images

Michael C. Hall has starred in some of the most serious shows on television (Six Feet Under, Dexter), suspense thrillers (Paycheck, Gamer) and last year's murder mystery Kill Your Darlings. His projects are invariably macabre, and his new film Cold in July is no different. A retro crime thriller meets grisly action flick, it follows an innocent Texas man (played by Hall) who kills a home intruder in self-defense only to find that he was set up by a gang of corrupt cops. It's dark and twisted, and unsurprisingly, Hall shines. We caught up with Hall in New York to talk about what it felt like to portray an innocent man, for once, and why Sam Shepard is the ultimate badass.  

As you transitioned out of eight seasons of Dexter,  were you looking for more human roles? 
Definitely. I wanted to play more of an Average Joe, or an everyman to whom crazy things seem to happen. And they certainly do in this film. It's a surprising story. It creates expectations and then defies them. It feels like three movies in one.

There are a few purely circumstantial similarities between this film and Dexter – violence, suspense, grit. Did you find yourself accidentally switching back into your old character?
The fact that there are common external events helped me concentrate. I had a deeper understanding of the character. Like, Dexter doesn't kill people with guns and if he did, his hand wouldn't shake. And he wouldn't accidentally pull the trigger. And he'd kill somebody because he planned to. Meanwhile, this guy had an immediate sense of horror and remorse. And that grit that you see, he's swept up in it. It scares him, but deep down, it's also kind of seductive to him.

It's a fantasy and a nightmare.
Exactly. At one point, he's trying to come up with a lie to tell his wife for why he has to go to Houston and he says, 'I've been waiting for something big like this.' It's a complete revelation. He is a guy whose life has happened to him, and he's waking up to it. He also has some misgivings about his right to own himself as a man. The other two male characters that surround him (played by Sam Shepard and Don Johnson) are iconic models of what it means to be a man, albeit in different ways. And he just wants to be along for the ride.

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The idea of earning your manhood is a relatable concept. Otherwise you just feel like a poser.
Absolutely. And the movie isn't suggesting that in order to become a man you have to kill bad guys, but you have to step into the ring. My character just feels like a patsy. He feels like he hasn't chosen the life he's living, and he doesn't have everything figured out, but he's sure he doesn't want to be a fucking patsy. 

You just filmed an episode of Years of Living Dangerously, in which you go to Bangladesh to see the effects of climate change. What sparked your interest in that project? 
I heard about that right after wrapping Dexter and Cold in July, and the immediate appeal was that it was based in real life. It was a totally new field. Bangladesh blew my mind. It was overwhelming to be there and know that in a matter of years all of that land and all of those people will be displaced. It put a very human face on climate change and an appreciation of the scale and immediacy of the issue. It was a heavy thrust back into reality. 

Are you interested in being a leading man?
No, not in a way that is confining or reductive. I don't want to be a leading man if that means that the spectrum of what I'm invited or allowed to do is narrowed.

Were you excited to work with Sam Shepard?
Oh, completely. I mean, he's Sam Shepherd. He's the man. Let's just say I had some mind-bending conversations with him while filming. He's a deep dude.