Surprise, Motherf@#&er: Erik King on Dexter's Legacy
By Jake Rossen
At first, Erik King wasn’t sure he liked being a meme. As the relentless Sergeant James Doakes, who was immediately suspicious of co-worker and closeted serial killer Dexter Morgan on Showtime’s Dexter, King’s boiling-point performance arrived just as the internet was discovering new ways to capture bits and pieces of film and television.
“It was weird,” King tells Mental Floss. “I had never had a performance taken out of context before, so it took some getting used to. But I found it flattering.”
In 2016, on the occasion of Dexter's 10th anniversary, Mental Floss chatted with King about Doakes’s untimely death, how his father inspired the character, and the art of surprising serial killers with tirades of profanity. Now, 15 years after the series originally premiered, and as Dexter Morgan is readying for his big comeback, we're revisiting that conversation.
Was the intensity of Doakes on the page from the beginning?
I think it was clear who Doakes was. The intensity was there, but the disdain came later. The more Dexter eluded Doakes, the more he got pissed off. My father was in federal law enforcement and I have a lot of family and friends who are cops, so I knew a lot of them.
Was there any of your dad in the character?
There’s a lot of him in Doakes. He passed away in 2011, but I used to joke with him all the time. “You know, this guy is you.” It’s exaggerated, but he didn’t suffer fools. If someone parked in front of his house, there might be a colorful word or two coming out of him. And it was a public street. [Laughs]
Doakes and Dexter were usually playing a pretty cerebral cat and mouse game, but it occasionally got physical. Michael C. Hall once said he was taken aback by how strong you were while shooting a fight scene. Do you remember that?
I’m surprised he would say that, actually. If he thought that, he never let on. Michael is taller than me, you know. I had to bring my A-game. Doakes had to come at him like a bowling ball, had to hold his own, because I knew what was gonna happen in the end. As an actor, he always brought it.
The great flaw of Doakes is that he was suspicious of Dexter from the outset, which probably didn’t help his chances of survival. When did you know he would be dying at the end of season two?
It was either four or six episodes in out of the 12. One of the producers very kindly called me, which doesn’t always happen. He said, “I’ve got some good news and some bad news. The good news is, we’re writing some great stuff for you. The bad news is, you won’t be around much longer.” [Laughs] My first thought was how the rest of the cast would react, because I was and am good friends with them. I know the energy Erik King brings to the set and the energy Doakes brings, and I didn’t want to have it become, “Oh, what a shame.” So I kept it a secret for as long as I could.
Were you happy with the way he went out?
In order to maintain the integrity of who he was, he had to find out something [about Dexter]. It couldn’t have been eight or nine seasons of, “I’m watching you, motherf*cker.” That’s not going to work. Even though I wanted the character to hang around longer, I totally understood the choice.
Was there ever any discussion of Doakes surviving the cabin explosion?
Not with me. Once the cabin blew up and pieces were flying through the air, there was never a doubt in my mind.
Doakes had a way with words. How did you find out some of his choice profanity had become a meme?
I was at a gym in North Carolina trying to put some size back on when I was asked to return for season seven [in a flashback]. This guy comes up to me and says, “Did you see this website? They put Doakes in all these other movies.” You know, like Ghost—“surprise, motherf*cker.” Just little scenes. Someone would turn around and Doakes would be there.
As an actor, it was arresting to me, and kind of weird that Doakes had taken on a life of his own. Now it’s flattering. “French fries, motherf*cker,” all of that. I’ve seen it. [Laughs]
If that was weird, the Doakes bobblehead must have thrown you, too.
I have a couple of them. They have to send it to you for approval. “Does it look like you?” “Yeah, I guess it looks like me, kind of.”
What do you think would have happened to Doakes if he hadn’t crossed paths with Dexter?
Probably a police captain. The guy was really driven. He had a dogged determination. He and Dexter both. I always said they were like two pitbulls sniffing each other out. He keeps going until he finds what he’s looking for. And you see where it got him.
A version of this story ran in 2016; it has been updated for 2021.
Do you love television? Do you spend most weekends lounging on the couch binge-watching your favorite TV shows? Would you like to learn some incredibly fascinating facts about the best series of the past 20 years and the people who made them? Then pick up our new book, The Curious Viewer: A Miscellany of Streaming Bingeable Shows from the Last 20 Years, available now