The Transformation Of Jennifer Carpenter From Childhood To Dexter
BY BROOKE MONDOR/AUG. 6, 2021 9:26 AM EDT
The end of a good TV series is always hard to deal with, especially for fans who stick around for a show’s entirety. Thankfully — or not, depending on who you are — revivals and reboots exist to give popular franchises another swing at success. Multiple revivals of popular series have already debuted this year, with “Gossip Girl” and “iCarly” proving to live up to their predecessors.
Another controversial revival on the horizon is Showtime’s “Dexter,” based on the titular serial killer. Though the show ended in 2013, a ninth season is slated to premiere this Fall, and fans are pretty much split. “Dexter” is known for its moments that went too far, including when Dexter’s (Michael C. Hall) foster sister Debra (Jennifer Carpenter) confesses her love for him. Carpenter’s casting in the revival has also caused fans some concern since Deb died at the end of the last season, so it looks like we’ll have to wait and see how they bring her back.
For now, let’s take a look back in time at Carpenter’s transformation, from childhood up until her starring role in “Dexter.”
Jennifer Carpenter had a humble start
According to The Toronto Star, Carpenter was born in Louisville, Kentucky, and went to Catholic schools before joining the Walden Theater Conservatory. Her parents never pressured her into the arts — instead, she found her love of acting on her own. She told Richard Ouzounian of the Toronto Star, “I committed at a very young age to live an extraordinary life. To be aware of my choices, and my trajectory. And the folks in my home town all hoped and believed in me.” She went on to describe Jon Jory, the founder of the Actor’s Theatre of Louisville, as “a friend and one of the very first directors I ever worked with,” which helped cement her life goals.
Carpenter went on to study theatre at Juilliard, the prestigious performing arts university. In an interview with Broadway Buzz, Carpenter discussed her time in the program, saying, “My first day at Juilliard, they said, ‘If you have a backup plan, you should go execute it now,’ and I didn’t have one. When I got into Juilliard, my Dad said, ‘Well if it doesn’t work out, I can always get you on at Ford,’ and that was actually really nice, a strange but comforting safety net. But I still don’t have a plan B!”
Thankfully it doesn’t look like she needed a backup plan as she’s continued to be a working actor since the early 2000s.
She was in a Broadway show with big stars
Franco Origlia/Getty Images
Before she graduated from Juilliard, Carpenter landed a role in the 2002 Broadway revival of “The Crucible.” Not only is it impressive to have a Broadway show on your résumé while still a student, but Carpenter got to rub shoulders with two of the biggest stars in Hollywood — Liam Neeson and Laura Linney. Carpenter played the role of Mary Warren, a servant to the Proctor family (whose matriarch and patriarch were played by Linney and Neeson, respectively).
“I loved working on that show so much I would show up every day for rehearsals, whether I was called or not,” Carpenter confessed to The Toronto Star. “And on opening night, I stood there during the bows, holding Laura’s hand on one side and Arthur [Miller]’s on the other. I really didn’t think it could get any better than that.”
Carpenter’s early success is a perfect example of her natural talent, though it’s clear she’s also worked hard to hone her skills. After graduating from college, she took her talents to Los Angeles to try her hand at film and television and found success there as well.
She was in several early 2000s movies
Carpenter started her career in Hollywood with several small film roles. She was in the 2002 drama “People Are Dead” alongside Angela Bettis and Kristen Bell as well as another 9/11-centered drama entitled “Ash Tuesday.” In 2004, Carpenter was in “D.E.B.S.,” an action-comedy about college-aged women who are training to be spies at a secret paramilitary academy. Carpenter was credited with the role of Hysterical Student — not quite Oscar-worthy, but a fun project to have on her résumé.
Life in Los Angeles was hard for Carpenter at first, as her beginning roles were usually small and she had to hold up other jobs as she waited for her big break. She told Broadway Buzz, “I went out there with two suitcases and I lived on lawn furniture in the guest house of a friend of a friend who didn’t know I was staying there. When he came to town, I would go sleep on someone’s couch. It was pretty terrible.”
Thankfully, Carpenter landed one of her biggest early roles in 2004, only a few years after her cross-country move.
She’s known for her role in White Chicks
“White Chicks” is an underrated gem of the early aughts. The Wayans brothers comedy centers on Kevin (Shawn Wayans) and Marcus Anthony Copeland II (Marlon Wayans), two Black FBI agents who go undercover for an assignment. The twist is that they have to disguise themselves as two spoiled white women named Tiffany and Brittany Wilson and blend in with an upper-class socialite group to get to the bottom of a kidnapping case.
Carpenter played a friend to the real Wilson sisters. Carpenter’s character, Lisa Anderson, is perhaps most famous for her meltdown scene in a dressing room with Brittany/Kevin. In the scene, Lisa snaps and goes on a tangent about her insecurities, both shocking Kevin and giving viewers some of the best one-liners of the film.
It turns out that Carpenter actually met the Wayans brothers before she was cast in their movie. “I waited tables,” she told Broadway Buzz. “I actually waited on the Wayans brothers the day before I auditioned for White Chicks, and they didn’t remember me at my audition but they gave me my first job out there. They taught me a lot about working in front of a camera. They’re very patient and very ridiculous. And very good tippers.”
She earned critical acclaim in The Exorcism of Emily Rose
In 2005, Carpenter starred in “The Exorcism of Emily Rose,” a legal drama horror film inspired by the true story of Anneliese Michel, a young woman who died after undergoing several exorcisms. Carpenter herself played the lead role of Emily Rose, a college student who is believed to be possessed by demons. The horror narrative is intertwined with a courtroom storyline in which the priest who performed the exorcism (Tom Wilkinson) is on trial for Emily Rose’s death.
Carpenter received overwhelming critical praise for her role, including the Scream Award for breakout performance, MTV Movie + TV Award for best frightened performance, and a Fangoria Chainsaw Award nomination for best supporting actress (per IMDb).
Life on set of “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” was understandably upsetting at times — and Carpenter almost passed out during a pivotal scene. “During the exorcism in the barn — I wasn’t sure if I was allergic to hay or not,” she explained to Dread Central. “I took an antihistamine and I didn’t know that they make your blood thin and your heart race. So I was spending all day screaming and I almost fainted once. Right before I fainted I came to and opened my eyes and I didn’t know where I was or who anyone was so I took a breather and started up again. … It was so scary for me how I was feeling that it scares me now.”
Film analysis: The Exorcism of Emily Rose
- Fr Peter Malone
- Dec 31st, 2008
For film audiences since 1973, The Exorcist has been something of a model for what most people imagine as the rite of exorcism in the Catholic Church. The film was successful in its time, both critically and at the box-office, produced two sequels and many imitations, was successfully re-released on its twenty fifth anniversary and continues its life on television, on video and DVD. A prequel, The Exorcist: a New Beginning, was released in 2004. The Exorcist is probably a case where a film shapes consciousness rather than reflecting it.
In the era of The Da Vinci Code, there is a greater interest in Christian themes, especially connected with the Catholic Church. All kinds of hypothesis and inventions are turning up, many of which are being accepted as ‘gospel’ by a usually sceptical public. This is compounded by the impact of the abuse cases against clergy which have turned public attention towards the priesthood leading, in many countries, to disappointment on the one hand and to contempt on the other.
It is in this context that The Exorcism of Emily Rose has been released. Considered as a low-key box-office prospect, the film surprised the industry by taking $30,000,000 in its September opening weekend in the United States. This means that its prospects of being screened more widely improved considerably.
The Exorcism of Emily Rose is worth seeing.
The subject will not appeal to everyone. Demonic possession is a frightening topic. It is mystifying. Why would devils possess a human being, and what does this mean? How can people cope? What is the response of the Church? Who are exorcists and what authority do they have? What are the rituals – and are they successful? What impact does possession and exorcism have on non-believers and on a sceptical world? (It is interesting to note that a two month course on Exorcisms and Satanism was held in early 2005 at the Athenaeum Pontificium Regina Apostolorum in Rome.
This film takes all these issues into consideration. Admittedly, this is ‘only a movie’. It is not a theological or sociological or medical document. However, in the space of two hours storytelling, it draws its audiences into the reality of possession, moves them emotionally, but also challenges them to think about the issues.
Director and co-writer, Scott Derickson, is not a Catholic. He has a Presbyterian background. He has done his research and Catholics will be comfortable with his perception of the Church. As with so many stories, he has added some of his own speculations which are passed off as the real thing. This is the case especially with his device of having clocks stop at 3am and claiming it to be the devil’s hour for entering the world because three refers to the Trinity and to the time that Jesus died. (It would be a pity if that were the only thing that audiences remembered.) He also has a parish catechetical program where Emily Rose could study some Biblical Greek and Hebrew and even a smattering of Aramaic. (That is wishful thinking!)
In comparison with The Exorcist, The Exorcism of Emily Rose is a model of how to make more with less. It should not be considered as a horror film. Rather, it is a religious and psychological drama that has traditional elements of horror or, as The Hollywood Reporter describes it, a ‘supernatural thriller’. In the possession scenes, there is no swearing, no bile, no vomit, no head swivelling as in 1973. (It has a US rating of PG 13.) There are strange voices and utterances (as were also reported in the Gospel stories of demonic possession), catatonic episodes and limb contortions. The eeriness is felt through loud and piercing cries and the atmospheric sounds and sound engineering.
What are the themes and treatment that make the film of interest to Catholic audiences?
The film is basically respectful towards the Church, even when criticisms are voiced. It is sympathetic to this Catholic story at a time when many are hostile towards the Church or feel they have been offended by it.
The film shows a sincere priest, even though many may disagree with the stances he takes towards the possessed girl, the treatment by doctors and the medication she was prescribed. He is accused of negligent homicide because of his agreement with her that she should come off medication and that religious ritual was the way to deal with her condition. As portrayed by Tom Wilkinson, Fr Richard Moore is a decent and spiritual man caught up with something previously beyond his experience and trying to do his best for the family from his parish and getting the authority of the diocese to go ahead with an exorcism (including using technical resources like taping the ritual so that it can be authenticated). The screenplay shows the important role of the parish priest as confidant who can be trusted and the nature of confidentiality.
The film suggests a respect for simple faith, the trusting unsophisticated faith of ordinary people that more educated critics look down on as superstitious or simplistic. This is the case with Emily Rose’s parents and their beliefs and trust in the priest. It is glib to disregard anything that is not understood as ‘medieval superstition’.
During the latter part of the 20th century, many have struggled with the questions of evil in the world and how this relates to traditional teachings and beliefs about the devil and evil spirits. The film highlights the reality of evil in our world, the power of evil as well as of the divine.
The answer to some of these questions that the screenplay offers harks back to previous centuries, especially to those women who experienced apparitions whether it be Anne Catherine Emmerich, Bernadette, the children of Fatima or more recent visionaries. Emily Rose is presented as one of these. She sees Mary and receives a message.
In 2004, a number of Catholics found the spirituality in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ too focused on Jesus’ sufferings and the implication of cruelty on the part of the Father and not enough on resurrection hope. A similar critique might be made here. Emily Rose is given the option of being freed from possession by exorcism or continuing to be possessed until her death in order to witness to the world that there is a supernatural world, that evil exists and invades the world but that the presence of God is stronger.
This spirituality of victimhood has a strong tradition. In more recent centuries, saints like Therese of Lisieux offered her ‘little way’ of community contemplative life for the labours of overseas missionaries. Saints like Gemma Galgani or St John Vianney had experiences similar to those of Emily Rose in combating the devil. The efficacy and relevance of this kind of spirituality will be continually argued. The film does not follow the path of some recent visionaries (and of some whose messages have been discredited) in being pessimistic about the world and uttering apocalyptic condemnations. The message here is that redemption is possible and that good will overcome evil.
The core of the film is the court case where Fr Moore is being tried for negligent homicide. The prosecution develops the argument that Emily Rose was schizophrenic or paranoid or experiencing some kind of psychotic episode. Expert opinion is heard. The nature of the medication prescribed and its hoped-for effects are discussed. This is the approach that most people take (including Church officials who would take the part of what has become known as the Devil’s Advocate). The prosecutor, played by a steely Campbell Scott, has been chosen because he is a Methodist and a churchgoer. However, he stresses that, in the courts, facts are what is important and he relies on scientific, medical fact.
The defence lawyer, Laura Linney at her best, tries to counter these arguments. She calls a witness, an expert in the experience of evil in more sophisticated and less sophisticated religions around the world and their belief in possession. Then she decides that the better defence is to accept that the religious treatment, the exorcism, is a valid way of dealing with Emily Rose’s condition and that Fr Moore made the correct decision to go through with the ritual. She is a declared agnostic. Fr Moore warns her that she will be subject to demonic attacks. Strange things happen to her or that is how she perceives them. What happens to her in terms of the defence is that she realises that facts are not absolutes, that facts are always interpreted.
The screenplay is well-written all the way through. It is in the two summing up speeches that the differences between fact and interpretation are made very clear. Scientific evidence, plain and well-founded as it may be, is still working in the realm of hypothesis. Therefore, it must concede that there can be other possibilities.
One reviewer commenting after the screening was offended by the film because he alleged that it advocated bringing religious hypotheses into American jurisprudence. This highlights the limitations of the confrontative nature of court proceedings, especially the confining of witness testimony to issues of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ with no allowance for modifications or ‘buts’. The Exorcism of Emily Rose indicates that facts must be presented but the facts are open to several possibilities of interpretation.
The film raises the question as to the nature of holiness and who are saints. In the secularised Western world, people tend to be very sceptical about the possibility of saints. It is an unspoken assumption that saints should be ‘normal’. When the saint is less than perfect, especially if influenced by a psychological condition, their holiness is dismissed – except in literature where Dostoievski’s The Idiot and characters who resemble him can be extolled. Fr Moore claims that Emily Rose is a saint. He tells her story in court, challenging the audience to consider whether they think she is a saint and that this is an example of sanctity. This is clearly a challenge to the theological stances of the audience and the nature of their own spirituality and piety.
There is no claim that The Exorcism of Emily Rose is a cinema masterpiece. Rather, it is a well-written and well-crafted film that deals with religious and Church questions in a secular world which, at the moment, has become intrigued by spirituality and ecclesiastical institutions.
LONDON – 15 November 2005 – 1,760 words