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January 2022

Screened | Julia Jones

Getting Into Character With Julia Jones

Photos Randall Slavin  | Words Tamara Rappa

One-time model and Columbia University graduate Julia Jones's star is shining bright playing Angela Bishop, opposite Michael C. Hall's Dexter, in Showtime's beloved series that has years of fans ablaze with excitement for the ten-episode season, and finale on January 9th. On Dexter: New Blood, Jones plays a savvy and driven Native American chief of police in the small town of Iron Lake, New York, where Hall's character-with-a-cult-following has reinvented himself ten years later as 'Jim' after going missing in Hurricane Laura. Julia's breakout performance was of course, in the Twilight series franchise as character Leah Clearwater. She's made her mark in films Jonah Hex opposite Josh Brolin, Cold Pursuit alongside Liam Neeson and Laura Dern, in Quentin Tarantino's Hell Ride, and on series like Longmire, and ER. Most recently, Julia appears on Peacock's Rutherford Falls, Disney+'s smash The Mandalorian, Amazon Studios' Goliath, and HBO's critically acclaimed Westworld. We caught up with Julia to hear all about Angela, and how she prepped for her big role on the much anticipated series with big history.

What's the backstory for how your character, Angela Bishop, chief of police in Iron Lake, meets Dexter, who has come to town and reinvented himself as Jim?
It's a super small town, population of around 2000, and everybody knows everybody---especially the chief of police. Angela's daughter Audrey and Jim's son Harrison find one another, too. Everyone knows everyone's business. It's like summer camp; it's part of the fabric of the community. Jim Lindsay comes to town and starts working at the fish and game store. And my character is someone who goes through men. There's a new person in town that she sees, so it was pretty natural for them to get together. When you meet the two of them, they're kind of in this routine. It's comfortable, and it's working.

Your character is the chief of police. She's intuitive, and she's sharp. To what do you attribute her blind spot in not being able to see Jim/Dexter for who he really is? What do you imagine it is that prevents her from picking up clues sooner?

I think she's preoccupied. I think she is overwhelmed. She's obviously experienced some trauma. She's obsessed with this case that she's been working on, which gives her blinders. I also think that she's especially distracted by some of the challenges of raising a teenage daughter. I think she's hyper-vigilant. I think she's just trying to keep it all together. And Jim sees what people need, and he gives it to them. He makes himself quite useful. She ends up depending on him. For Angela, he's very stabilizing. He is just so normal. He doesn't cause any waves, brings her tea, is there all the time. It's nice and soft and warm to her in the beginning.

Did you choose to watch the previous Dexter series, or did you want to come into this fresh?
I did not. I watched the pilot before I started reading the scripts, during the process before signing on. I had a really strong instinct after watching it, realizing it was so long ago. Not only had so much time passed, but New Blood is set in a different location. So much has happened to him, and the previous world has nothing to do with my character. So I had a very strong instinct to not have anything to do with watching the original series. Also, because so much of Angela's arc has to do with discovery, with not knowing things, with finding them out, and putting it all together. I wanted to set myself up so that process could happen as naturally and organically as possible. I didn't want to undo anything I knew from watching it all. There were pros and cons to doing it that way, for sure. But I think in terms of what happened when we were filming and when she was in this process of discovery, it all felt really organic and legitimately shocking to me. I don't know if that would've worked out the same way had I known and watched all of these eight seasons of Dexter being the Bay Harbor Butcher. 

When did Angela actually realize Jim is Dexter?
There's a very quick scene that was in the script to appear at the beginning of episode nine, but it got moved to the end of episode eight, and it's the thing that's making fans go crazy right now. Towards the end of episode eight, I'm in my living room on the floor, and I have all this research out because I'm digging into him after learning more from Miles, the drug dealer. I'm trying to put the pieces together. In the scene on the page, there was really not much to it. I'm on the floor and I have all my stuff everywhere. I'm in this deep hole of research. Marcos Siega, our director, said, "All right, now look at this police report of this person who had died with the injection in his neck. Now go to your computer type in 'ketamine Miami metro.'" I did that and he said, "Look back at Dexter's obituary." I'm getting chills right now. And that was when Angela knew. She was looking at what she was dealing with now, googling 'ketamine' and the 'Miami metro.' There was a moment of looking at Dexter's face in his obituary, it was disbelief, and it was very, very powerful. Angela was clear. She was like, "I know now in my gut."

Angela forms a relationship with a blogger who comes into town, Molly, who is snooping around for stories for her true crime podcast. It's a bit of a reluctant relationship along the way, but a relationship, nonetheless. At one point, Angela and Molly actually take a trip to Manhattan together. Why do you think Angela chooses to let Molly in, to join forces with her? It's a tricky relationship she must be apprehensive about.
They have such a good arc. This is one of my favorite arcs of the show for Angela. From the first time she sees Molly, she's this foreign entity. What are you wearing? Who are you? What are you doing? There's definitely a lack of trust, and to some extent, a real skepticism. Like, "What do you want? You have an ulterior motive and it is not in line with what I'm trying to accomplish." Angela, after she gives Molly a little bit of time, likes her. I think they connect on a deeper level. Molly is smart. Maybe they see something in one another. Maybe Angela sees something in Molly that resonates, that she can identify with, even though they present really differently. At the end of the day, Molly is smart, she's tenacious, and she's a go-getter. And she has all of these resources that Angela doesn't. Angela, to her credit, can see that. So rather than continue to be snotty to Molly and push her away and not trust her, she takes this somewhat of a leap of faith and decides that she's going to try and benefit from what Molly has to offer because those are things that she doesn't have. Angela is desperate to solve her missing women case. Molly genuinely seems like she wants to help her. And she does.

Dexter's teenage son, Harrison, comes to town, looking for his father and looking for answers. He begins to live with and develop a relationship with him. He gets close to Angela's daughter. He goes to the local school and he makes a splash in this small town for a number of reasons. Angela seems to have an affinity for Harrison. Why do you think that is, in the beginning?
That was a conscious decision. Angela has a thing for lost kids.

She sees him much like she sees the women that have gone missing over the years.
Particularly Iris. A big thing that I felt, and was playing with, and was conscious of when we were filming, was that I didn't want to give the ending away. I'll just say that there's a real parallel with Angela and Iris, and with her and Harrison. Her affinity for him and her sympathy for him, in some ways, assuages some of the guilt she feels about what happened with Iris. Also remember, Angela adopted a child. We don't hear much about Angela's parents. I think I make a reference to her grandmother at one point. This is a theme of the season. The theme of outsiders, of home and family, is something that the creators felt strongly about and that we kept going back to. It's what Jim/Dexter is searching for, and what he thinks he's found. Those are the stakes.

Your character is Native American and the Seneca Nation is a big part of the show. You, yourself, are part Native American. As chief of police, Angela is in such a unique position. She's working in a government-based role that has her straddling two worlds, in a way. How does Angela feel as a Native American chief of police in this town? This town that has overlooked her best friend, who is also Native American, and her mysterious disappearance. And after her friend Iris's disappearance, Angela begins to also take stock and develop a personal crusade to find justice for a series of local young women who have disappeared over the years. When you were conceiving of this character, how did you see her straddling that line between being this local town chief of police, but also having these ties to and being a part of the Seneca Nation?
That was one of the most interesting, complex elements of Angela for me. And I wanted there to be an arc there and to see, by the end, especially with what happens with Iris, her be more comfortable in her skin and come home in a way. I think part of why she became chief of police of a border town, as opposed to going back to the Seneca Nation and trying to solve Iris's murder, is because she believes she might have more power working for the local government. Then, all of these other women begin to go missing. It becomes a much bigger thing. Her heart and her drive for all of this stems from Iris having gone missing, something that is so devastatingly prevalent in Native communities, and wanting to find some justice, some peace, some kind of end to the relentless pain. It was of the utmost importance to me to show that side of the story: the grief, the pain, and the reality because it is something that isn't spoken about. People don't really know, and it is atrocious. To me, the storyline of Iris was also an opportunity to humanize a really overlooked, devastating situation in the United States and Canada.

As Angela investigates a crime in the town, she discovers Iris's body in a cave, twenty-five years after her disappearance. By this time, she's discovered that Jim has lied to her. He's not Jim. He's Dexter. He provides this very flimsy story for why he's living under a new identity. Angela is this long-time chief of police, after all. His attempt to come clean isn't necessarily up to her standards, yet she overlooks it when she enlists his help in gaining the details about Iris's death. Somehow, she accepts him as this former forensics expert who should help her. Why do you think that is?
In that moment, I don't think she's thinking about that. I think she's been trying to crack this for twenty-five years, and it's just something that she has to do. I don't think it's a conscious choice. I think it is the first thing that comes to her mind after she gathers herself. And I don't think it's an easy call to make. It's easy because it's compulsive, but I think there is a lot of conflict.

Is there small-town mentality at play here? The characters are so deeply rooted into this very, very small town, where people rely on the notion that things can be taken at face value. There's a very methodical way in which the people in the town of Iron Lake work. For as astute and as forward thinking and sharp Angela is, is there the small-town mentality, too?
Absolutely. It's incomprehensible. Even to me, it's pretty incomprehensible to be dating someone for a period of time and being told they were someone else, or I found out they were. I think at this point in the story, Angela doesn't process it yet. She literally is so mad at him, and she's also in crisis. And at the end of the day, he has been her rock. I think that she compartmentalized. She didn't finish processing it all and was just desperate.

How do you think Angela prepares herself to have Dexter and his son in her home for a gift exchange after she discovers who he truly is? Is she confident in her physical abilities? What do you think is keeping her grounded, and able to go through the motions during this very traditional Christmas moment between both families?
I don't think she's okay. When we were filming it, this just started happening naturally, I just started to zone out a lot. Dissociating, you know? When you're just so preoccupied that you can't be present.  Her brain is exploding, she's really jumpy, and she's just trying to get through it so she can figure out what the next move is.

Dexter has such loyal, long-time fans, and has such history. When you stepped into the role, was there anything else besides making it your own by not going back and watching episodes, that you thought you wanted to bring to your role and in taking part in a series that has such history?
My thinking, always, is that this is such an incredible opportunity. It doesn't happen very often that you get to work with the kind of resources that we had, and the kind of talent that we had, with an audience that is so invested. It's weirdly humbling. Sometimes it's like live theater. It's like the audience is in the room! When I'm in a scene, conceiving of an arc, or conceiving of how something is going to work, I had to give space for the audience in the room, in a way. Certain producers were the representatives of that audience. I was trying to figure out how to make it my own while also conforming, which is technically the word I want to use, but staying within this structure that would really please the most amount of people. That's an extra challenge, and I enjoy it. The one downside, I think, to not having seen the original series is that I think it would've been much easier for me to understand some of those constrictions. It was made very clear to me at the premiere, where they brought in a lot of fans. Maybe a third of the audience were Dexter fans, and they have a relationship with this guy that goes way back before Angela. And that's the story we're telling here. Seeing it with an audience and after we finished, I went back and watched the original series.

Oh, you did! That's interesting. What were your thoughts, viewing at that point not as pre-research, but as post-learnings? Was there anything surprising about what you discovered?
Oh yeah, I binged it. I binged it. My biggest takeaway or the biggest surprise was just how much more human Dexter feels in our series than in the original. He's evolved so much, that's even a tagline, he's an 'evolving monster.' Literally, that's what happened during those 10 years. When we meet him on New Blood, he has spent his time abstaining and building a life. People can be many things. To me, that sums up everything. And it's true in life, whether you're a serial killer or a loving father. People are full of contradictions. It's that simple.

"I was given a very basic and amazing Olympus Stylus film camera the first week I got to Massachusetts to film Dexter. I took so many pictures while we were filming. I'm still doing it on occasion, and I love the pictures so much. It's sort of changed my life a little, actually."

"I saw a play called The Lehman Trilogy a couple of months ago in New York that I loved so much and am telling everyone, obsessively, they have to see it. It's about the Lehman brother and starts when they come over from Germany a very long time ago and ends with the phone ringing in 2008."

"I grew up playing piano when I was little and then stopped for a long time, dabbling in it over the years. I have an upright piano in Los Angeles and started to play again during the pandemic. The very last person who came over before the shutdown was the piano tuner."

"I've discovered I really like books that are compilations of essays or interviews with different people. My all-time favorite is a book called Free For All, which is the history of the public theater." 

"I've been craving spontaneity, like just deciding within 48 hours to get on a plane or get in a car and just do something. I went to Italy 48 hours after we wrapped Dexter. I had a day to find clothes to wear, and then just got on a plane." 

"I just learned how to make a margarita and have a real affinity for cocktail shakers. I think they're pretty, fun, and the engineering is cool. And I like what comes out of them!"