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Dexter's Jennifer Carpenter On Wearing Proenza, Rocking Rag & Bone, and Starring In Her New Indie Movie, Ex-Girlfriends

I'd say that I have a girl crush on Jennifer Carpenter, but now I feel like a loser because Mindy Kaling recently pointed out that the term "girl crush" is dumb. So maybe I just have a regular crush on Carpenter. I have to admit I find her looks fascinating: she's pretty in such a unique way. Her eyes are have that so-far-apart model quality, but she definitely has the tomboy vibe down. At least on Dexter, where she plays the swear-happy Deb, a police lieutenant who may or may not be in love with her serial killer brother (well, not brother by blood because that would be gross). It helps that she looks good in everything due to a rock star-like lanky physique, whether it's a plaid button-down and low-hipped jeans, or a sparkly gown. And, of course, that she has the acting chops to carry off a character as brilliantly and believably screwed up as Deb.

So I was really interested when I found out that Carpenter would be starring in Ex-Girlfriends. Out now, it's a relationship comedy (which she also co-produced) from first-time writer/director Alexander Poe, about a group of friends sorely in need of some dating rehab. They're young, they're confused, they don't really know what they want or need when it comes to love and therefore make some hilariously bad decisions. Here, Carpenter is a little less tough than Deb, but still no pushover. Of the movie's main characters, she still probably has it the most together. Ex-Girlfriends feels a little self-conscious (kind of like its characters) and isn't necessarily the most mature take you'll see on young love, but maybe that's kind of perfect given it's messy subject matter.

Anyway, I recently talked to Carpenter about finding her fashion sense and what she's got in mind for life after Dexter. Listen in.

Lucky: Was this movie a nice break from playing Deb on Dexter?

Jennifer Carpenter: You know what, I’m happy to say that everything outside of Dexter feels like a vacation, and I don’t mean to say anything negative about the show. It’s just a different kind of work. Emotionally it’s taxing and complicated, and that’s a great thing. I’m grateful to have a job that’s still challenging, but it was nice to slip into the comfort of a comedy.

In the movie they’re all 20-somethings who are sort of all up in each other’s business. Is there a character in the movie you think you’re most like in real life or that you related to the most?

I’m not sure that I would compare myself to any of them, but it makes sense for me to play Kate of all of them. Only because I have a couple years on Alex [Poe, the director], and I think he’s trying to put a spotlight on the hurdles that everyone on the quest for love has to take a look at. I felt like Kate, more than any of the other characters, could sort of sweetly laugh at their confusion and charge on.

When it comes to dating do you have a type? Do you go for the guy like Alex in the movie?

That’s something I’ve learned is a trap—a type. My laundry list of wants in a partner is basically kindness. I want someone who is kind, and that’s kind of where it begins and ends. I’m open to being surprised. My mother very sweetly gave me some advice lately, and it wasn’t having to do with relationships, but she said, “Do you ever just say, ‘I don’t know?'” Like I don’t know, throw your hands up, and that’s kind of how I am. If I meet somebody, I’m always happy to be surprised.

When it comes to playing Deb, she’s such a hard ass. Do you feel like you have a tendency to get cast in sort in the sort of tough girl roles?

Well, I was originally going to play the part of Laura. And Alex and I had a conversation, and I said, “Would you actually mind if I played Kate because I feel like people aren’t used to seeing me be anything other than Deb, or something that’s darker in a genre film, and I thought there was something really light about her.” And yes, she was strong, and I like to be compared to strong characters, but her strength didn’t close any doors on people around her. She skips away at the end of the movie. So that says a lot about her.

What’s next for you?

We have one more season of Dexter after 7, so we’ll do 8 total. I one-hundred percent want to do more theater, and film, I guess, but I think there’s something really satisfying about showing up at a job every day. My dad worked in a factory for 30 years. So there’s something really satisfying about the schedule of television. At a young age I always had an entrepreneurial spirit. So I’m trying to develop things on my own, too, and there are a couple things that have absolutely nothing to do with the entertainment business that I’m trying to tackle. We’ll just sort of see.

Can you say anything about the things outside of entertainment that you might be interested in doing? If it’s internet or clothing…

One is just simply a website idea for a charity. Another is an idea for a company. It’s a company that’s going to consolidate information on your technology. It’s an idea I came up with on a run, so we’ll see. It’s also about finding a team that can help me do that and find a way to make it lucrative.

Are you a techy person?

I’m not at all. That’s what I meant by my entrepreneurial spirit. I don’t know where it comes from. I have random ideas all the time from new drinks to new technology companies.

Is there a role you’d like to develop for yourself?  Maybe something you haven’t done before that you’re dying to do, like a period piece or action film?

It’s always been a dream of mine to be in a Woody Allen comedy. I almost look at Alexander Poe as a young Woody Allen, which is another reason why I think I responded to the script so much. As all actors should be, I was leaving therapy one day and I had a revelation that I thought would make for a good television show, and I’m trying to set that up now. It’s been a long process but really exciting, and I think it’s a character that I’d be interested in playing for a while and that people could relate to.

Are you aiming towards more of a relationship drama or a comedy?

It is a comedy, but I won't say.  It’s sort of a slice of life.  Sometimes you want to cry and hit things. And sometimes you want to roll around the floor laughing. So I would hope it would be a little bit of everything.

Have you been inspired by any of the other women in the film industry these days who are really doing their own things? Like Rashida Jones made a really great movie on her own. Obviously Mindy Kaling developed her own show.

I’ve never been an actor who said, “Oh I want to direct.” I really love writers, and I don’t want to pretend that I can do what they do just yet. I’m not saying I’ll never really try, but yes, I am inspired. But it’s not a goal to slap those labels or titles on myself. If the opportunity presented itself, as Ex-Girlfriends did, I will take it. It was a script I really responded to, and I knew I could be useful in ways outside of acting in it. I don’t want to pretend I know more than I do at this point, so I’m just open to letting it unfold in an organic way and paying attention and hopefully surrounding myself with really good people. You know Laura Linney has always been a mentor, and I feel like if you keep surrounding yourself with people you admire and have something in common with the way they work, it can only lead to good things.

Do you live in New York when you’re not doing Dexter?

Yeah, for the last three years. I went to college here, and I have the most incredible friends that are like family. I kind of hit a reset button when I come back here, so it keeps me balanced.

Tell us about your personal style. Is shopping something you’re into?

It’s something I never trust myself to do alone. One of my best friends in the world runs a fashion company, Proenza Schouler. She works very hard at it. She has been an inspiration and is teaching me that fashion is more than keeping up with the Joneses, and it’s actually a form of self-expression. That’s something I’ve really been falling in love with on this trip. It’s amazing how with a great article of clothing, can change the way that you’re feeling makes and make you carry yourself in a different way. I feel like you wake up in a different way when you’re wearing something that represents who you are. I think in Los Angeles we get trapped in our cars, and you want to pull up in something that says "This is who I am." And in New York, it’s you and your clothing. And that could mean shopping at a consignment store or Urban Outfitters or a place like Proenza.

Where do you shop usually?

I shop on eBay a lot. You know, I’m from Kentucky. I love to get a bargain. I shop on Shopbop, and I shop in friend’s closets. I don’t discriminate. I love Rag & Bone. I feel like it’s if they design solely for me, and I know a lot of women feel that way. Men, too.

What works for your body? You do have a very athletic body, and I feel like you always look a little rock and roll. I’m always envious of that body type of girls who can put on jeans and a T-Shirt, and you just automatically look stylish. Do you have certain go-to pieces that you always wear?

I love my Rag & Bone jeans. I go there for all of my jeans, pretty much. Any new sort of pant they’ve come out with I want a piece of. It’s funny. Sometimes the rock and roll look isn’t as cheap as it looks. I think it’s actually a lot like my career. People get to know me one way and then when I leave my jeans and t-shirt uniform and slip into a short leather skirt or a gorgeous Proenza dress or something, it’s really fun to shock people. Fashion truly is intimidating if you don’t know your way around it. I’m just starting to find my way around it and to be a little bit different.

What about red-carpet events? Are they a source of stress for you when it comes to getting dressed or is it something you have fun with?

Not at all. The people I work with that do my hair and makeup, which is really the hard part, we all have a great time hanging out together. And it really is a chance for me to step outside of myself and try on different clothes and different looks and know that I’m that person, too. I guess it brings a lot of anxiety when it’s something like the Emmys, and you’re going for the show, and you want to support the team, and there’s a prize they give at the end of the night. That always makes it a little nerve-racking, but I try not to take anything too seriously.

What was your style like growing up in Kentucky?

I went to a Catholic all-girls high school, so it wasn’t like we had a lot of fashion choices in the morning. It was our skirts and our button downs. It was pretty simple. It wasn’t a very superficial place to grow up, and I think when you’re not focusing on who has the better bag or the better shoes, you’re focusing on what kind of people you’re surrounded by and what kind of person you want to be. So Kentucky was a great place to grow up and a great place to visit. I don’t remember thinking about fashion then.

Back to Ex-Girlfriends what do you want people to walk away from the movie thinking? What message should they take with them from this?

I’d like them to have a good time and laugh a lot, and relate to some of it. I think Alex does a nice job. He takes the obvious and shines it up a little bit in a new way that feels even more true than it did before. But a lot of people who are just sort of getting into the game of love, maybe it will help them keep ahead a few steps and save them some pain. And for everyone else whose already been there, maybe they will be able to laugh at what was painful before and see it in a new way.

EX-GIRLFRIENDS will be released theatrically in New York on November 28, 2012 simultaneously with a cable and broadband VOD release.