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If you watch Dexter, Peter Weller is currently making your head swivel as the corrupt cop/P.I. Stan Liddy. Weller plays Liddy like a human rattlesnake, all slithery menace, and tonight’s episode promises to further stoke the budding Liddy-mania among fans.

Weller credits Dexter co-producers Manny Coto and Chip Johannessen for bringing him into the world of Dexter:

“Manny and Chip are friends from 24 — they also wrote that wonderful wacko Henderson character for me in the fifth season,” said the Los Angeles-based actor. “And Manny wrote Odyssey 5, in which I also appeared. When they tell you they’re writing a role for you, you can’t help but get some sort of synthetic hard-on for it. So I put the drapery around the character, made him a sort of cocaine cowboy.”

Weller’s take on Liddy: “He’s the dynamic antagonist — not the lead guy Dexter’s going after, but this guy is the thorn in Dexter’s side that’s going after him. I read the script and said, ‘Let’s swing it, man.'”

Liddy is only the latest in a career full of remarkably diverse characters for Weller. Best known for helping to make 1987’s RoboCop one of the most fascinatingly satiric and mythical of sci-fi action films, Weller has also starred in many fine, underrated movies ranging from Shoot The Moon (1982) to The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984) to Screamers (1995), as well as giving a shrewd, precise portrayal of Beat-era novelist, poet, and all-around pork-pie-hatted eccentric William Burroughs in David Cronenberg’s adaptation of Naked Lunch (1991). History buffs know him from his hosting gig on the History Channel series Engineering an Empire.

Oh, and Fringe fans adore Weller for his tender performance last season as an emotionally fragile widower in the second-season episode “White Tulip.”

“I steer away from episodic TV; it burns you out. But my wife read the Fringe script and said, ‘You’ve got to do this, it’s beautiful, it’s about a guy who wants to save his wife.’ There was a four-page scene between me and John Noble. That’s rare for television — wonderfully written. I was thrilled to do that [show].”

Did you also know that Weller is a Ph.D. candidate at UCLA?

“I’m finishing my Ph.D. in Italian Renaissance history. I just passed my oral exam. One of the guys on my committee is from Cambridge, a professor, Peter Stacey — he’s a genius. He’s also a Dexter freak. I brought him to the Dexter set, and he had this great take on the character. He said, “‘You know who Dexter is? If you watched Dexter from outside the US, you’d see immediately. He’s the history of America: a child born in blood, condemned to tyrannize — like a child — but possessed with the voice of its Founding Father, pointing him in the right direction. He’s the ultimate vigilante. A creation like Dexter sees itself as the world’s police force except it has a conscience, which is the voting public.’ Stacey told Michael C. Hall, ‘Your inner monologue the conscience of America.'”

Weller paused, and added dryly, “Manny Coto, who’s an arch-Republican, said that sounded like a gifted, intellectual, but Marxist tract.” Weller gives a hoot of appreciative laughter.

The actor is well aware that he’s intensely identified with his RoboCop role, and he’s comfortable with that. “It’s a landmark film, a classic. I never did more training for anything in my life. It’s moving and funny and has a perfect structure, and it’s socially hip. I think it’s the best of its genre, me in it or not. [Director Paul] Verhoeven is as mad as he is is tremendously profound, because he’s a medievalist from Holland — he knows legend. I knew he’d take these scenes and set them against this big operatic backdrop. The outer world was shifting and changing as the characters led their inner lives. So I knew he would make it great. He had a sense of history.”

Weller plays jazz trumpet in a “bebop sextet” that performs at least once a month in L.A. He may also become a reality TV star. “It’s a cultural food show my wife and I are pitching to Discovery and other places. It’s a reality docu-soap, not unlike Jersey Shore.” Really, Peter? Jersey Shore? Sounds a bit more up-market than that. “You get the insanity of marital drama set in the Mediterranean paradise — we spend part of every year in Europe. It’s our marriage in front of the camera — we tool around and get lost. We shot a pilot in which we get lost near these pesto markets and a gardenia fair, getting detoured. In fact, that’s what it should be called Detoured.”

Hmmm… it sounds blessedly Snookie-free; I’d watch.

Twitter: @kentucker

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