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Matt Carr/Getty Images

Michael C. Hall Looks Back on Six Feet Under—15 Years Later

Matt Carr/Getty Images
Matt Carr/Getty Images

A longtime stage actor, Michael C. Hall had never been in front of a television camera when he was cast as David Fisher, the closeted heir to his family's funeral business, on HBO’s Six Feet Under.

“Luckily, I was playing a character who was very tense,” Hall tells mental_floss, “so I didn’t have to pretend I wasn’t. I could funnel that nervousness into the performance.”

The critical and commercial success of Six Feet Under, which ran from 2001 to 2005, was due in large measure to Hall’s depiction of David as a man who often seems to be choking on his own repressed tendencies. While all of the Fishers had neuroses—his mother, Ruth (Frances Conroy) was a terminal people-pleaser, while wayward brother Nate (Peter Krause) struggled with inheriting their recently-departed father’s funeral home—David’s sexual identity kept him on an emotional ledge.

With the series celebrating its 15th anniversary this year, Hall spoke with us about the show’s legacy, David’s impact on gay and lesbian culture, and the emotional torture of trying to binge-watch a show this heavy.

Thinking back on what could be some of your key memories from the show, it seems like getting the call you’d been cast would be the first. Do you remember how you found out?

I was back in New York playing the Emcee in Cabaret on Broadway. I remember walking home on 100th Street and getting a call from both my manager and my agent. They were both on the line, which I took as a good sign. It’s usually good news when people call collectively.

They asked if I was sitting down. I wasn’t. They told me I got the job. I probably let out some sort of scream or some noise of celebration and relief. I’d invested so much in the audition process and really wanted to be a part of it.

David had a few “coming out” scenes on the show. Was there one that stood out for you, or helped you to understand the character in a more complete way?

Because of how well-drawn the character was, who he was, I often had a sense of where he was coming from. But the first scene and first person where he came out was to his mother. Playing that with Frannie [Conroy], what I remember is her hand, her fingers, touching mine on the couch in a way that was affectionate but also skittish. It was surprising and perfect.

His was always a journey toward self-acceptance. I think he really needed to come out to himself.

David’s relationship with Keith [Mathew St. Patrick] was often referred to as a new standard for a depicting a complex gay relationship on television. You wound up on the cover of The Advocate. Did you get a sense the character could be a catalyst for changing minds about same-sex couples?

I felt enormously proud and humbled being charged with playing a character who was unique in the television landscape. And maybe remains unique, I don’t know. But it’s a gratifying thing, as gratifying as anything I’ve done. People saying that spending time with the character, seeing that relationship, helped them change their idea of a gay couple, or to have people say the existence of David and his story gave them strength at a formative time, is amazing.

One of the show’s most divisive episodes is season four’s “That’s My Dog,” where David is carjacked, forced to take drugs, and generally tortured psychologically for an hour. Were you surprised by the reception?

I knew it was a departure for the character and in terms of storytelling of the show. We would usually go from story to story. In this case, David was kidnapped, the story was kidnapped, [the audience] was kidnapped. It was crafted with that awareness.

A lot of people discover shows on streaming services like HBO NOW now, gorging on them. How do you think Six Feet Under holds up to that kind of marathon viewing?

Whatever people can stomach, I say go for it. If you want to watch five seasons in a week and a half, more power to you. But it was definitely one of those shows where, when it originally aired, people got together with friends or loved ones and made it kind of a Sunday night party. It was exciting to be part of something that brought people together. That was true of Dexter, too.

But yeah—by its nature, it might be harder to take in big, heaping shovelfuls.

The show also missed the era of the multimedia crossovers. Would David have fit in on any other HBO show?

[Laughs] It would be fun to see him on Game of Thrones. No, I don’t know. I could see him making funeral arrangements for the victim of a mob hit on The Sopranos, or his personality being exploited for comic effect on Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Were you aware HBO posted character obituaries following the finale?

I was not.

Apparently David went on to appear in several theater productions following his retirement from Fisher and Sons. He played Ebenezer Scrooge in a stage production of A Christmas Carol.

That sounds about right.

All images courtesy of HBO.

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Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
The 10 Wildest Movie Plot Twists
Laura Harring in Mulholland Drive (2001)
Laura Harring in Mulholland Drive (2001)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

An ending often makes or breaks a movie. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as having the rug pulled out from under you, particularly in a thriller. But too many flicks that try to shock can’t stick the landing—they’re outlandish and illogical, or signal where the plot is headed. Not all of these films are entirely successful, but they have one important attribute in common: From the classic to the cultishly beloved, they involve hard-to-predict twists that really do blow viewers’ minds, then linger there for days, if not life. (Warning: Massive spoilers below.)

1. PSYCHO (1960)

Alfred Hitchcock often constructed his movies like neat games that manipulated the audience. The Master of Suspense delved headfirst into horror with Psycho, which follows a secretary (Janet Leigh) who sneaks off with $40,000 and hides in a motel. The ensuing jolt depends on Leigh’s fame at the time: No one expected the ostensible star and protagonist to die in a gory (for the time) shower butchering only a third of the way into the running time. Hitchcock outdid that feat with the last-act revelation that Anthony Perkins’s supremely creepy Norman Bates is embodying his dead mother.

2. PLANET OF THE APES (1968)

No, not the botched Tim Burton remake that tweaked the original movie’s famous reveal in a way that left everyone scratching their heads. The Charlton Heston-starring sci-fi gem continues to stupefy anyone who comes into its orbit. Heston, of course, plays an astronaut who travels to a strange land where advanced apes lord over human slaves. It becomes clear once he finds the decrepit remains of the Statue of Liberty that he’s in fact on a future Earth. The anti-violence message, especially during the political tumult of 1968, shook people up as much as the time warp.

3. DEEP RED (1975)

It’s not rare for a horror movie to flip the script when it comes to unmasking its killer, but it’s much rarer that such a film causes a viewer to question their own perception of the world around them. Such is the case for Deep Red, Italian director Dario Argento’s (Suspiria) slasher masterpiece. A pianist living in Rome (David Hemmings) comes upon the murder of a woman in her apartment and teams up with a female reporter to find the person responsible. Argento’s whodunit is filled to the brim with gorgeous photography, ghastly sights, and delirious twists. But best of all is the final sequence, in which the pianist retraces his steps to discover that the killer had been hiding in plain sight all along. Rewind to the beginning and you’ll discover that you caught an unknowing glimpse, too.

4. SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1983)

Sleepaway Camp is notorious among horror fans for a number of reasons: the bizarre, stilted acting and dialogue; hilariously amateurish special effects; and ‘80s-to-their-core fashions. But it’s best known for the mind-bending ending, which—full disclosure—reads as possibly transphobic today, though it’s really hard to say what writer-director Robert Hiltzik had in mind. Years after a boating accident that leaves one of two siblings dead, Angela is raised by her aunt and sent to a summer camp with her cousin, where a killer wreaks havoc. In the lurid climax, we see that moody Angela is not only the murderer—she’s actually a boy. Her aunt, who always wanted a daughter, raised her as if she were her late brother. The final animalistic shot prompts as many gasps as cackles.

5. THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995)

The Usual Suspects has left everyone who watches it breathless by the time they get to the fakeout conclusion. Roger "Verbal" Kint (Kevin Spacey), a criminal with cerebral palsy, regales an interrogator in the stories of his exploits with a band of fellow crooks, seen in flashback. Hovering over this is the mysterious villainous figure Keyser Söze. It’s not until Verbal leaves and jumps into a car that customs agent David Kujan realizes that the man fabricated details, tricking the law and the viewer into his fake reality, and is in fact the fabled Söze.

6. PRIMAL FEAR (1996)

No courtroom movie can surpass Primal Fear’s discombobulating effect. Richard Gere’s defense attorney becomes strongly convinced that his altar boy client Aaron (Edward Norton) didn’t commit the murder of an archbishop with which he’s charged. The meek, stuttering Aaron has sudden violent outbursts in which he becomes "Roy" and is diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, leading to a not guilty ruling. Gere’s lawyer visits Aaron about the news, and as he’s leaving, a wonderfully maniacal Norton reveals that he faked the multiple personalities.

7. FIGHT CLUB (1999)

Edward Norton is no stranger to taking on extremely disparate personalities in his roles, from Primal Fear to American History X. The unassuming actor can quickly turn vicious, which led to ideal casting for Fight Club, director David Fincher’s adaptation of the Chuck Palahniuk novel. Fincher cleverly keeps the audience in the dark about the connections between Norton’s timid, unnamed narrator and Brad Pitt’s hunky, aggressive Tyler Durden. After the two start the titular bruising group, the plot significantly increases the stakes, with the club turning into a sort of anarchist terrorist organization. The narrator eventually comes to grips with the fact that he is Tyler and has caused all the destruction around him.

8. THE SIXTH SENSE (1999)

Early in his career, M. Night Shyamalan was frequently (perhaps a little too frequently) compared to Hitchcock for his ability to ratchet up tension while misdirecting his audience. He hasn’t always earned stellar reviews since, but The Sixth Sense remains deservedly legendary for its final twist. At the end of the ghost story, in which little Haley Joel Osment can see dead people, it turns out that the psychologist (Bruce Willis) who’s been working with the boy is no longer living himself, the result of a gunshot wound witnessed in the opening sequence.

9. THE OTHERS (2001)

The Sixth Sense’s climax was spooky, but not nearly as unnerving as Nicole Kidman’s similarly themed ghost movie The Others, released just a couple years later. Kidman gives a superb performance in the elegantly styled film from the Spanish writer-director Alejandro Amenábar, playing a mother in a country house after World War II protecting her photosensitive children from light and, eventually, dead spirits occupying the place. Only by the end does it become clear that she’s in denial about the fact that she’s a ghost, having killed her children in a psychotic break before committing suicide. It’s a bleak capper to a genuinely haunting yarn.

10. MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001)

David Lynch’s surrealist movies may follow dream logic, but that doesn’t mean their plots can’t be readily discerned. Mulholland Drive is his most striking work precisely because, in spite of its more wacko moments, it adds up to a coherent, tragic story. The mystery starts innocently enough with the dark-haired Rita (Laura Elena Harring) waking up with amnesia from a car accident in Los Angeles and piecing together her identity alongside the plucky aspiring actress Betty (Naomi Watts). It takes a blue box to unlock the secret that Betty is in fact Diane, who is in love with and envious of Camilla (also played by Harring) and has concocted a fantasy version of their lives. The real Diane arranges for Camilla to be killed, leading to her intense guilt and suicide. Only Lynch can go from Nancy Drew to nihilism so swiftly and deftly.

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iStock
Hollywood's 5 Favorite Movie Villains
iStock
iStock

Movie villains are meant to bring out the best in a hero, but with the right script, director, and performer in place, these bad guys can sometimes steal the show from their clean-cut rivals.

Take any horror movie, for example—chances are you’re not watching Friday the 13th to root for the absentminded teenagers down at Camp Crystal Lake. And Steven Spielberg certainly didn’t become a household name by directing a shark movie titled Three Guys on a Boat Drinking Narragansett.

The Hollywood Reporter set out to celebrate these iconic agents of evil by surveying 1000 professionals in the entertainment industry (directors, producers, entertainment attorneys, etc.) on their favorite movie villains. A rogues' gallery of murderous AI, mafia bosses, and a diabolical fashion magazine editor all made the top 25 list as the worst of the worst, and while they’re all deserving, the top five are the gold standard. They include:

5. Nurse Ratched: Played by Louise Fletcher in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
4. The Joker: Played by Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight (2008)
3. The Wicked Witch of the West: Played by Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz (1939)
2. Hannibal Lecter: Played by Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Hannibal (2001), and Red Dragon (2002)
1. Darth Vader: Played by David Prowse and James Earl Jones in the Star Wars movies (Prowse 1977-1983, Jones 1977-present)

That top spot might not come as a surprise to most, unless you’re still in your twenties: According to The Hollywood Reporter, survey respondents in that age group put Darth Vader in the sixth spot—behind Regina George from Mean Girls.

To check out the entire list, head to The Hollywood Reporter.

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