Thomas Dekker: Fearlessly Disappears into Characters

Photo by Eric Ray Davidson. Thomas wears t-shirt and jeans by Levi’s, vintage leather jacket. Styled by Rachel Pincus.

In February, Thomas Dekker was working social media for his new Fox series Backstrom and noticed that William Shatner had posted about the show. Never one to bite his tongue, Dekker shot back at the Star Trek icon, “I wonder if he remembers we worked together when I was six?” Shatner didn’t (though he did remember Dekker from another show, and replied with a thumbs-up emoji). Shatner probably isn’t alone in his hazy recall of Capt. Picard’s son on Stark Trek: Generations. Few remember Dekker as the creepy blond-haired son in John Carpenter’s Village of the Damned. Or for the fairly significant parts he had as a child on Seinfeld, ER, Honey, I Shrunk The Kids, or Seventh Heaven.

Dekker had a great time as a kid, but doesn’t particularly care about being lauded for that period. “My father was a huge film aficionado and he had — it’s still in my house — a huge library of movies, three to a videocassette. My favorite when I was eight years old was Carrie. My father showed me Kubrick and Bergman when I was like nine,” says Dekker. “So there was definitely something in me from a young age that loved great cinema. But it really didn’t feel like those films were connected to my own experiences as an actor.”

“By the time he was 17, Dekker was ready to move on from acting; he filled out an application to work at Amoeba Records, put a band together, thought about directing. But instead of quitting, he switched representation, booked a huge role on what would turn out to be the mega-hit Heroes, then quit that show to play John Connor on Fox’s TV adaptation of the Terminator franchise, then landed the lead in Gregg Araki’s Kaboom in 2010.

When it was done, and I was at Cannes, at Sundance — I just felt like, My god, I am part of a universe now that I have grown up obsessed with,” says Dekker. “I still can’t believe that I was given the opportunity to be a character that weirdo kids — like I had been myself — loved and watched.”

It was a role that his agents had advised against (too sexual, too risky), but they were missing the point: For Dekker, it was a transformative experience. Suddenly he was free to go for it, to play roles in any sort of off-kilter way that seemed right. And that’s
what he did, taking on all sorts of twisted projects, like the eccentric Lance Loud on HBO’s Cinema Verite and a heroin-addicted rocker in Catherine Hardwicke’s Plush.

Which brings us around to his current gig with Fox: On Backstrom he plays the flamboyant, petty- thief roommate of the title character. It would be a pretty run-of-the-mill police procedural if it weren’t for his character, and for the fact that Backstrom is
played by the similarly eccentric Rainn Wilson. “We said the whole time that it felt like we were shooting two different shows: Backstrom and The Backstrom and Valentine Show,” says a laughing Dekker, who admits that he embellished what was originally a much smaller part when he auditioned. “I’ve never
wanted to be this guy that you recognize in every role. What’s interested me has always been how different I can be from one role to the next, how unrecognizable I can be.”

Hair: Tony Chavez
Grooming: Jo Strettell