‘Dexter’: John Lithgow Said Michael C. Hall’s Character Reminded Him of Tony Soprano

As television shows have gotten edgier and more willing to push the envelope in themes and explorations of the darker side of human nature, we’ve been presented with some truly fascinating leading characters. The rise of the antihero in television series has brought viewers into a complex gray area when it comes to morality, and we often find ourselves rooting for — or at least sympathizing with — some characters who have done some truly questionable things. 

John Lithgow, an actor who played one of TV’s most reviled villains on Dexter, opened up about similarities between two of these complex characters: Michael C. Hall’s portrayal of Dexter and James Gandolfini’s portrayal of Tony Soprano. 

Michael C. Hall played serial killer Dexter

RELATED: ‘Dexter’: Will the Revival Include the Alternate Ending?

The Showtime series Dexter made viewers squirm as they realized that they were often cheering on a serial killer. The show, which premiered in 2006, leaned heavily into the gray area of morality by bringing viewers a sweet, mild-mannered protagonist who spent his days examining blood spatter evidence to solve crimes. Then, by night, the same likable guy continued a long killing spree as he perfected his undetectable murder techniques. 

The title role was fulfilled by Michael C. Hall, who delighted fans by announcing that he would be returning for the show’s revival this year. Fans have long praised his pitch perfect ability to pull off the complex character, and Hall admitted to studying the psychology and habits of actual serial killers to prepare for the part.

Sitting in the uncomfortable parts of the series is what made it such a popular show, and it’s that same dynamic the creators hope to recapture in the new episodes. 

James Gandolfini played mob boss Tony Soprano 

RELATED: ‘The Sopranos’: James Gandolfini’s Secret for Nailing the Part of Tony

Much like DexterThe Sopranos had a deep and dedicated fan base that found themselves drawn in by the charisma of a morally questionable lead. Premiering in 1999, The Sopranos spent six seasons exploring the life of Tony Soprano, a New Jersey mob boss who turned to psychotherapy to try to address problems in his professional and personal life.

Without a doubt, Tony Soprano is a rough and ruthless individual who makes the lives of many people miserable, but fans also get to see his humanity and the struggles he faces, making things complicated. 

Tony Soprano was expertly played by James Gandolfini, who is largely heralded as the hook that the show’s considerable success hung upon. It takes talent to play such a nuanced character, and Gandolfini was able to pull off the part whether he was lovingly watching ducks in his pool or ordering a murder. 

John Lithgow drew comparisons between Tony Soprano and Dexter

Michael C. Hall on the red carpet
Michael C. Hall | Getty Images

The primary villain for Dexter‘s fourth season was the Trinity Killer, a suburbanite who managed to hide under the radar for decades while he committed a brutal and ritualistic cycle of murders that police couldn’t crack. This deadly antagonist was played by John Lithgow, and the actor got to see Michael C. Hall’s performance as Dexter up close and personal. 

As Mental Floss reports, Lithgow saw parallels between Dexter and Tony Soprano. Calling Tony Soprano “the great evil creation” of the era, Lithgow pointed out that “[y]ou can’t get enough of Tony Soprano: even when he was slapping a Russian prostitute on the butt or killing people in the most gruesome manner, you’re still with him all the way.” This, he alludes, is also a draw that Dexter has over viewers.

He credits this connection not just to the characters but also to the actors who brought them to life: “I think Michael C. Hall and James Gandolfini are both great, smart actors who really understood that duality, that’s what made it so hypnotic.”