Jennifer Carpenter has a reputation to uphold. After all, the star of Dexter, which chronicles the struggle of a kindhearted serial killer, has become Hollywood’s go-to gal for darker subjects, and her next two films — The Factory and next year’s Gone — are no different. But deep down, Carpenter is a class clown, and her inner goofball would kill to come out. “[One of] my first jobs was [2004 big-screen comedy] White Chicks, but I think once people hear you scream, they sort of can’t hear you unscream,” she says. “But my absolute dream is a Woody Allen movie.”
Both cold-blooded killers and neurotic New Yorkers are a long way from home for the 32-year-old Louisville, Ky., native, but Carpenter knew early on what she wanted to do. “I made an announcement when I was 8 that I was going to be an actor,” she remembers. “I am pretty lucky that my parents never said no.”
Carpenter eventually set her sights on New York, where she attended Juilliard. But her Big Apple journey nearly ended before it began. “I wasn’t going to apply to Juilliard because of the $50 application fee, and my mom insisted that I pay for my [own] application fees,” Carpenter says. “Fortunately, she sent it in for me.”
A few years after graduation, a fluke curse word sealed her fate on Dexter. “They sent 13 pages for an audition the next day. It became a cram session,” she says. “At the audition, I was fumbling with the pages, and I dropped some and said [a bad] word. I am pretty sure they were like, ‘We found our girl.’ ”
Six seasons later, the Showtime series is still going strong. And when Carpenter’s not enacting the gruesome and bloody and otherwise macabre, she’s lacing up her sneakers and hitting the trails.
“Running’s really meditative and addicting,” she says. “I decided at the end of last season that I needed to shake it off, so I ran the New York City Marathon. My goal was to do it in under four hours. I did it in 3:34. I couldn’t walk for a week, but that’s OK. It’s nice to push yourself to places that you wouldn’t think that you would go.”