Culture

Super Girl: Jennifer Carpenter

Dexter star Jennifer Carpenter chases killers all day, runs marathons by morning—and still has time to save the world.


Dexter star Jennifer Carpenter chases killers all day, runs marathons by morning, scales fire escapes in a few swift strides—and still has time to save the world.

Jennifer Carpenter scurries from the street toward the tiny café with one hand curiously placed on the crown of her head and the other reaching for the door. Her emerald-green eyes are wide with dismay as she explains, “Hold on, I think I just got shit on.”

A fitting entrance for an actress who’s best known for playing Debra Morgan, the feisty, foul-mouthed cop and sister to a serial killer (played by her ex-husband Michael C. Hall) on Showtime’s much-acclaimed crime series Dexter. The striking five-foot-nine brunette’s creative use of cuss words and inappropriate phrases (including her favorite “Christ on a crutch”) has become a trademark. Off-set, her flare for profanity remains intact, as proven on this cool autumn morning in post-Hurricane Sandy lower Manhattan.

Back from the bathroom, the 33-year-old Kentucky native announces that it was “just dirty water.” This seems far less offensive than bird feces to the former New York resident who first relocated to the gritty city some 15 years ago to train at the world-famous Julliard School. The move led to her Broadway debut in 2002’s The Crucible and ultimately to her breakout role in the 2005 film The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Since then, Carpenter has been on a horror streak, ranging from Dexter to the upcoming cannibalistic thriller Bone Tomahawk co-starring Kurt Russell and Peter Sarsgaard.

Though Carpenter now lives in Los Angeles when Dexter is in production, she was in town for the ING New York City Marathon. This year, the three-time marathoner was set to lace up in NYC with a purpose: to race on behalf of Every Mother Counts (EMC), a nonprofit founded by supermodel-turned- activist Christy Turlington-Burns that raises awareness and support for maternal health around the globe. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other plans. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy’s destructive impact across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic in late October, the marathon was canceled for the first time in its 42-year history.

That didn’t stop Carpenter from breaking a sweat to give back to both EMC and NYC. Here, she shares what went down before, during and after last fall’s Marathon Sunday.

WERE YOU IN THE CITY FOR HURRICANE SANDY?

JENNIFER CARPENTER: Yeah, I got in three days before. I’m subletting an apartment in SoHo from a girlfriend. I like to come here in between filming to reset. Even though you can go a hundred miles per hour here, it rejuvenates me somehow. I guess it’s because life is so predictable in LA. I’m up at the crack of dawn and home after sundown. On average, we work 13-hour days or longer and they can be brutal.

WHAT DID YOU DO THE NIGHT THE STORM HIT?

JC: I was planning on weathering it out alone, which is a terrible idea. I didn’t get scared until we lost power and heard how the facade had ripped off some building nearby. I ended up crashing with friends who had electricity uptown. When I realized that I had left my running shoes in SoHo, I had to go back for them the next day. I forgot the keys to my building, so I scaled six stories up the fire escape to get inside.

WAIT, YOU BROKE INTO YOUR OWN BUILDING?

JC: The Italian restaurant next door let me climb onto their first-floor fire escape. My hands started shaking somewhere near the third floor. I thought, Are my running shoes worth dying over? I guess so, because I kept going. At the top, this guy recognized me through his window and let me in. Before I could explain what I was doing, he asked, “Can we get a picture?” I had just done Kelly and Michael that morning, so I was in full hair and makeup.

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SO DID YOU ACTUALLY GO FOR A RUN THAT DAY?

JC: I run every day. It’s like medicine. At Julliard, we’d train 12 hours a day. After rehearsal, you’d just walk right back upstairs and go to sleep. That’s when running became my meditation. I also used it to explore New York City, at the time. I’d run to Central Park and say “hello” or “good morning” to everyone I passed. It took me a while to realize that people don’t do that here.

WERE YOU BUMMED WHEN THEY CANCELED THE MARATHON?

JC: You know, this was the first time I was going to run the marathon with an injury. I have plantar fasciitis in my right foot, which is so painful.

I also suffered a bit thinking about how much the Every Mother Counts team had put into this fundraising race. I could tell they were disappointed, but we didn’t want to disrespect the people whose lives had been changed forever by Sandy. So we just met for a run in Central Park on Saturday morning. I had medals made for the team, who I met for the first time on Friday night at our carb-loading dinner. For some, it was their first marathon, and I didn’t want them to be discouraged.

WERE YOU THE ONLY ONES OUT RUNNING IN CENTRAL PARK THAT MORNING?

JC: No, not at all. People who had flown in for this from all over the world were running and waving their flags, smiling and supporting each other. I think it was our way of cheering NYC on. Running is such a loving sport.

HOW LONG DID YOU RUN FOR?

JC: We managed to put together an impromptu relay to run the full marathon in the park.

HAD YOU TRAINED WITH ANYONE ON THE EVERY MOTHER COUNTS TEAM?

JC: Since I live in LA, I trained a lot on my own and with my running partner, Jonny Lee Miller, who was on Dexter for a bit. Before he became Sherlock Holmes on Elementary, we’d run the winding trails behind the Hollywood sign on weekends. He knows the strangest, hardest ways to get up there. When I’m struggling uphill, I’ll ask him a question so he can talk to me the whole way up. He’s done like 15 marathons, so he’s great at pacing. When we ran the New York City Marathon together two years ago, I said I wanted to do it in under four hours and he got me to 3:34, which is my best time yet.

DID JONNY INTRODUCE YOU TO EVERY MOTHER COUNTS?

JC: No. He’s run for EMC before, but it was my friend Nick Newbold who told me about it at a dinner party one night. He works closely with Christy on the project. Right away, I was like, “I’m in.” I remembered reading this New York Times article a couple of years ago about women in Africa who were dying after childbirth because of things like infections caused by doctors not wearing latex gloves. I can’t believe that women are dying today for reasons like that. It just blows my mind. So I called our props guy at Dexter and asked him to give me all of the gloves that they’re not using. I also got him to call the companies where he gets those gloves, and ask them to donate more gloves. It was great. We sent over cases of the stuff. Christy’s focus is exactly where I want to be.

WHAT DID YOU END UP DOING ON MARATHON SUNDAY?

JC: I woke at 8 a.m. and went to Queens to volunteer in Rockaway with my Marine friend, Zach, and some other guys who are involved with this great disaster relief organization called Team Rubicon. As soon as we got there, we each signed a waiver, then people handed us a wheelbarrow, six shovels, gloves, goggles, buckets, trash bags and we got to work right away. The first house we visited, we did a week’s worth of work–picking up debris, digging out sand, tearing down walls–in just a couple of hours. It was disgusting, gross and hard, but no one stopped. I don’t think we even took a water break. When we finished, we just moved on to the next one. Every single home had a mound of trash, dirt and memories on its front lawn. It looked like a scene out of a sci-fi-film. We told ourselves to keep moving because after the sun sets there’s no power. Can you imagine? We got back home around 7:30 p.m. I was exhausted in the greatest way.

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