Emmys 2011: 'Dexter's' Julia Stiles Says Murder Scenes Were Surprisingly Enjoyable (Q&A)
Showtime's Dexter is 3-for-4 when it comes to scoring Emmy nominations for guest star in a drama series. Jimmy Smits picked up a nom for his portrayal of Assistant District Attorney Miguel Prado in season three, and John Lithgow took home the statuette last year for his portrayal of the chilling Trinity Killer. This season, Julia Stiles boarded the series about a Miami serial killer-with-a-cause as Lumen, a damaged rape victim freed from abduction by Dexter (Michael C. Hall). Stiles says she read a lot of literature to effectively play the victim, whom Dexter ultimately transforms into a revenge killer.
The Hollywood Reporter: How much did you know about Lumen or her story arc when you took the role?
Julia Stiles: I actually knew very little. I met with producer John Goldwyn, and he gave me the broad strokes about what the arc of the character would be. I did ask if I would end up killing anyone, and he said yes. At that point, I decided to do it. He told me that when you meet her for the first time, she's been victimized. I was more interested in how she would become more active. The revenge part of it is what intrigued me.
THR: The fact that Lumen ultimately got to kill someone is what sealed the deal for you to take the part?
Stiles: Yes, the idea that she wasn't just the victim. I was really excited by the idea that she would be involved in Dexter's secret life, as opposed to on the outside of it like a lot of the other characters.
THR: How familiar were you with the series ahead of your audition?
Stiles: I was a big fan. I'd seen season four with John Lithgow, and that's what got me hooked. Then I went back and watched from the beginning.
THR: Following Lithgow's Emmy-winning turn two seasons ago, did you feel particular pressure to deliver another award-winning guest arc?
Stiles: Absolutely! My one hesitation was that his shoes are big ones to fill. My saving grace is that I'm a girl and that my character was very different from his. I at least comforted myself with that idea. If I thought too much about how great he was and how much the fan base really responded to his work, I would have been paralyzed. I tried to focus on the differences.
THR: What was the most challenging aspect of playing a victim-turned-revenge killer like Lumen?
Stiles: I never think of myself as an actor who takes work home with them, but I was surprised, especially toward the end of the season -- around episode 10 -- when some of the details of what Lumen had experienced became really harrowing, and I started to realize that it was affecting me outside of work. One scene in particular, in episode 10, when the detectives have found DVDs showing what has happened to the victims -- it was really dark. It made it more difficult for me to sleep.
THR: What did you learn about yourself playing Lumen?
Stiles: I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the kill scenes and the sacredness of them. As a fan of the show, I felt very privileged to be a part of them.
THR: How did you prepare for the role?
Stiles: On one hand, it was difficult to prepare because I couldn't see much of where it was going when we first started the season. The details of what she had experienced were really important to me; everything that she had experienced before the attack and abduction was irrelevant because she became a different person. I met with the writers a lot and grilled them for details about what she had experienced -- the sensory experience of her trauma -- because that would affect her behavior when you first meet her. I read a lot about trauma victims and rape victims, but for me, that was very intellectual, and I wanted it to be more visceral and emotional. I had to use my imagination a lot, and that was pretty harrowing. I wanted to do the character justice, in terms of the reality of how she was affected and to justify her revenge later.
THR: Was there anything you brought in that the writers incorporated into the script?
Stiles: There was a lot of discussion later as the relationship between Dexter and Lumen became more intimate. The biggest question was whether Lumen was ready for any sort of closeness with a man.
THR: Were you surprised that Lumen survived?
Stiles: Not only was I really surprised that she survived, but I was surprised that she ended up distancing herself from Dexter. The tradition on the show is once you get too close to Dexter, he's got to kill you.
THR: Could Lumen ever return?
Stiles: I have no idea, only because I don't know if it makes sense for the show. It's out of my hands. So we'll see.
THR: Is there a scene that stands out most when you think about your Dexter experience?
Stiles: In the kill room, when she first gets to put the knife in. That was really special. There was also a nice moment of collaboration where the set designers had put up pictures of all the other victims on the wall, and I remember saying to the director that I felt like it was important that Lumen acknowledge the other girls and say that it was for them, too. We did a separate shot of that, and it ended up in the final edit, which I was really pleased about. It's a great example of how collaborative the show is and what a nice environment it is to work in.