‘Dexter is not a bad person,” said James Manos Jr. of the title character in the Showtime series he created, which is coming to the end of its last, and very suspenseful season. The final episode of the eighth season will air on September 22 in the US and a few days later on YES Oh in Israel.
“I always thought of him as a likable guy.”
Manos was interviewed while he was in Israel as a guest of the International Student Film Festival in Tel Aviv earlier this summer, where he taught a master class to Israeli film students. While he wouldn’t reveal any details about the show’s finale, he did talk candidly about creating one of the most infamous – and best liked – antiheroes in television history.
“He just has to kill bad people,” said Manos of Dexter, the blood-splatter pattern specialist for the Miami police department who makes a sideline of killing off bad guys who have gotten away with their crimes. “If you accept the premise that certain people should be punished for their bad behavior, then you can see why Dexter needs to kill.... It’s a black comedy about an emotionally charged situation.”
In order to make Dexter a success, the Brooklyn-born Manos, who described himself as “100 percent Greek Orthodox,” knew he had to find the right actor to portray his sensitive serial killer, and Michael C. Hall fit the bill.
“He’s a brilliant actor. He does his work with such grace. He brings out the humanity in Dexter and finds ways to make him likable. I got the rest of the cast that I wanted, too. I used a lot of theater-trained New York actors.”
Manos got to Hollywood by what he calls “a pretty circuitous route. I directed plays for about 10 years in New York. And then I got the rights to a story, a very classic story, a very American story, which HBO bought” and which became the TV movie, The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader- Murdering Mom. The story of a mother (Holly Hunter), who tried to hire a hitman to kill her daughter’s cheerleading rival, was a hugely successful black comedy and won three Emmys, including a Best Actress trophy for Hunter. “I had been a theater director and I knew how to tell a story,” Manos said.
After that, David Chase, the creator of The Sopranos, another series that featured a very murderous central character, “read one of my scripts and asked me to work on The Sopranos.”
Manos started on the series early on in its run, and wrote one of the most famous episodes, “College,” in which Tony takes his daughter to look at colleges and ends up spotting and killing an informant. Manos won an Emmy for the episode, and produced another several episodes that season.
“Nobody knew that The Sopranos was going to be iconic,” said Manos. He learned a lot from working with David Chase. “He is just brilliant. I’ve never in my life seen anybody break a story faster. I helped with the episodes in the first year, but all the credit has to go to Dave. He chose all the right beats, he deserves everything.”
Manos also had kind words for the late James Gandolfini, the actor who created the character of Tony Soprano so brilliantly, and who died in June of this year.
“He was a gentle, gentle empathic guy.
People don’t know how sweet, gentle and good-natured he was. He was a brilliant actor, a brilliant artist and a really good man,” said Manos.
While the public may be clamoring to find out how Dexter ends, Manos has tried to ignore the furor. Social media may be abuzz with predictions for the show’s ending, but Manos said, “I don’t read about it, I don’t tweet about it, I could care less. I don’t mean that in arrogant way, it’s just, it is what it is.
If there’s a public, there’s always gonna be naysayers and there are always fans. And everyone will have an opinion.”
Dexter was delicious fun, but Manos is looking for a new challenge. He is working with Lauren Vélez, who played the character of Lt.
Maria LaGuerta on Dexter, to make a biopic of 1960s Cuban singer and exile Guadalupe “La Lupe” Victoria Yolí Raymond.
“It’s almost funded. She was so passionate about craft and art. Castro persecuted her, kicked her out and prevented her from seeing her home again.”
The world of the Latin Soul may seem light years away from the secret life of a serial killer, but maybe it’s not so different after all. “It’s a truly tragic story,” said Manos.