‘Dexter’s’ Jennifer Carpenter now fights ‘The Enemy Within’

‘Dexter’ alum plays espionage traitor in NBC drama

Jennifer Carpenter stars in “The Enemy Within,” premiering Monday on NBC.

In her most famous role to date, “Dexter’s” Debra, Jennifer Carpenter often was hilariously profane … but not this time.

Here’s why: Her new series is for broadcast television, and her latest character doesn’t have much to be amusing about. Premiering Monday, Feb. 25, NBC’s intense “The Enemy Within” casts Carpenter as an ex-CIA agent sentenced to life in prison for treason. She’s also the only person able to solve the dilemma facing an FBI agent (Morris Chestnut), who has to manage his personal agenda against her when she’s released to help find a lethal criminal she’s very familiar with.

“Everything that has led up to this certainly informs Erica Shepherd,” Carpenter confirms of her new alter ego. “She was the deputy director of the FBI, so she was the eyes and ears of the information that was going to be threaded through the most powerful players in America. It’s not a laughing matter, and it is a fight for her life – so it’s a heavy responsibility.

“In a strange way, from having so much experience from eight years on a cable show, (‘The Enemy Within’) feels comparable to working in an environment like that,” Carpenter maintains. “(With) the subject matter and the caliber of actors and writers and directors that we’re working with, it really feels like it challenges an audience in a way that they deserve to be challenged, because TV has changed the way it has in the last 10 years.”

Jennifer Carpenter stars in “The Enemy Within,” premiering Monday on NBC.

“The Enemy Within” also stars Raza Jaffrey (“Smash,” “Code Black”), Kelli Garner (“The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe”), Cassandra Freeman (“Marvel’s Luke Cage”) and Noah Mills (who had the same Monday time slot on NBC last season with “The Brave”). Carpenter’s last post-“Dexter” series was CBS’ expansion of the movie “Limitless,” and re-entering the weekly TV world requires certain sacrifices from her.

“To be a working actor means you have to agree to live the life of a gypsy,” she reflects. “We go where the work is. And now, I have a family (including husband Seth Avett, of music’s Avett Brothers), and it meant moving once again from North Carolina to New York. And the second I was offered the opportunity, I was like, ‘Pack the kitchen. Here we go.’

“I knew it was going to be a make-or-break moment,” Carpenter says. “I mean, I wanted to attack it like an athlete. I wanted to get the win and make the show what I sensed that it could be, and what I felt like I heard it was trying to be from the pilot. I want to look back at the end of this season and think that we played a really good game.”

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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