'Dexter's' Jennifer Carpenter: Deb is 'Honoring What's True for Her'
From her character’s early days as a Vice cop to Sunday's marriage proposal and promotion, Carpenter tells THR her character is "always getting closer" to finding out Dexter's secret.
Sunday’s Dexter saw Jennifer Carpenter’s Debra Morgan step out from her brother – and father’s – shadow when she was promoted to lieutenant of Miami Metro, a position higher than anything her father, Harry, had achieved in his career.
While the promotion may have been out of spite – Matthews (Geoff Pierson) promotes Deb instead of Batista (David Zayas) to get back at LaGuerta (Lauren Velez) – it serves as a culmination for the character who first started as a gangly Vice cop still learning the ropes in Season 1.
As things are looking up for Deb’s career, Carpenter says Deb’s response to Sunday’s other proposal is an example of how much her character has grown and learned how to finally start making “healthy decisions.”
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Carpenter to discuss Deb’s evolution, Quinn (Desmond Harrington) and how her “f-bomb” ways will change now that she’s a lieutenant (hint, they won’t!).
The Hollywood Reporter: How has your approach to playing Deb changed since the early days of Season 1 when she was a rough-around-the-edges Vice cop?
Jennifer Carpenter: The first year was absolutely an education in how to work in television and I appreciate the learning curve the audience gave me. I feel like I’ve been able to mature as an actress alongside of Deb. I feel like every year she makes huge leaps – not as a cop but how she’s evolved as a woman. This year she’s fine-tuned her tools a bit; she’s a little better about masking her feelings so that she can charge through the work and also be a little more creative about how she tries to penetrate Dexter’s walls.
THR: She received two big proposals in Sunday’s episode. Which of the two scares her most?
Carpenter: The lieutenant proposal for sure because it means that she is sort of surpassing her father’s career, which is intimidating. She has no marker for what right and wrong look like beyond Harry, as far as being a cop. I think she knows exactly how to handle the proposal from Quinn; I think she’s pretty certain about where that should go.
THR: She ultimately doesn’t want anything to change with Quinn. Why does she decline his proposal?
Carpenter: I think they are a great fit. I think for once in her life she’s honoring what’s true for her and not concerned about whether it’s going to hurt other people or what other people will think of it. She’s really living her own life and has enough with trying to do right by everyone else; that hasn’t really worked out. So now she’s going to really operate from what she knows to be true inside.
THR: How will her promotion impact her relationship with Quinn?
Carpenter: It is incredibly difficult not only to negotiate her relationship with Quinn but Bautista – it should be his job. He’s earned it, he’s got seniority, he has been a mentor to her and it is just shady politics and spite that get her to that desk. While she was, I think, born to be a detective and be and be a public servant, I think there’s a lot of learning to do there. Look at how she uses her vocabulary: she throws f-bombs like weapons and you can’t really do that when you’re trying to lead. She has to find a new way.
THR: Will Deb have to change her “f-bomb” approach now that she’s a lieutenant? They’ve almost become her trademark.
Carpenter: That’s who she is. She’s trying to find a way to live her life in her own skin and still be successful. So will she find a way to make the f-bomb work? Absolutely. (Laughs.)
THR: How will her promotion impact her relationship with Dexter? Will she lean on him the way she did in those early days of Vice?
Carpenter: I think she leans on him less and less. She’s trying to be really present and accept the relationship for what it is and not try to manipulate it and let him hopefully come to her in his own time. What makes it really interesting is that now there’s nothing to slow Deb down. So when she gets a lead, she can chase it immediately and not have to run through the chain of command. So Dexter has to work that much faster, that much smarter, that much harder so that she doesn’t find out the thing he’s trying to keep a secret.
THR: Will Deb’s promotion help her get closer or further to finding out Dexter’s secret, especially since LaGuerta was typically a desk jockey.
Carpenter: I think she’s on his heels anyway as far as staying on top of everything that goes through the office. She’s always getting closer, every second of every day of every episode, every season. Definitely closer.
THR: What kind of fallout will there be with Quinn after she turns him down and becomes his boss?
Carpenter: She’s going to suit up and she’s going to do the job and act as if everything is all right and hope that he’ll fall in line. They both have their own ways of coping, which will be interesting for Quinn.
THR: What’s Deb’s way of coping?
Carpenter: I think her way of coping is to focus on the job. I think there’s a grieving period but I think because she honored what she knew to be true, there will be reward in that as well and she’ll be afforded some comfort and strength. It’ll jut add another sturdy building block for her to keep making the right choices – finally! Healthy choices!
THR: Is this the end of Deb and Quinn romantically?
Carpenter: I don’t know about that. I just know it’s not time for them to get married. (Laughs.)
THR: Deb also has her first press conference coming up. How will she handle the public spotlight?
Carpenter: She’s thrown in with the sharks by LaGuerta and she’s as green as I felt the first season, so she’ll do her best. With Deb it’s always about getting the bad guy; it’s always about protecting what’s right and wrong. So when she tries to do right thing and wear the right clothes and say right thing, inevitably she trips and falls. But when she stands in her own shoes and speaks from her gut, then things usually fall in line.
Dexter airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on Showtime.
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