The biggest thing Jennifer Carpenter has learned about starring in network TV shows such as the short-lived Limitless or her new drama The Enemy Within is basic television is very different than cable.

While portraying Debra Morgan on cable series Dexter, Carpenter worked in a world with few limits. Working on The Enemy Within has meant working within tighter guidelines.

“Cable has all this freedom. With a network show, you sort of have to pull the reins,” Carpenter says. “But, what this show is going to do is take a look at challenging issues with really three-dimensional characters. In my opinion, what has been seen in network TV is a two-dimensional world where people are trying to do the maths of the crime.

“This show tries to highlight real people in the real world. So if you get in a car accident on the way to work in the morning, it’s going to affect the choices you make for the rest of the day.”

In the case of her character on The Enemy Within, one incident can impact the safety of the world. Erica Shepherd (Carpenter) is a brilliant former CIA operative who makes a national security decision based on her personal life that turns her into one of the most notorious traitors in recent American history.

She’s serving a life sentence in a super-maximum security prison, but her skills are so strong that FBI agent Will Keaton (Morris Chestnut) decides to get Shepherd to help him track down some of the most dangerous and elusive criminals.

Jennifer Carpenter and Morris Chestnut head the cast of The Enemy Within. Photo: AFP

Getting to work with Chestnut was a bonus for Carpenter because she finds more energy in a scene when head to head with a strong actor. The power for her is while their characters are coming from different points, in the end they share a common goal.

She had the same kind of acting energy working on Dexter with Michael C. Hall. One difference was during her time on Dexter, Carpenter’s character had some lighter moments despite being the adopted sister and co-worker with a Miami forensic technician by day who was a serial killer at night.

There is no room for humour in The Enemy Within.

“It’s really not a laughing matter what the show is talking about. She was the deputy director of the FBI, so she was the eyes and ears and the information that was going to be threaded through the most powerful players in America. So it’s not a laughing matter, and it is a fight for her life,” Carpenter says. “So it’s a heavy responsibility.

“I think, in a strange way, having so much experience (of) eight years on a cable show, the show feels comparable to working in an environment like that, where the subject matter and the calibre 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.”

The strength of the script and cast were enough to make Carpenter agree to the project despite it meaning she would have to move from North Carolina to New York, where the series is filmed.
The way Carpenter looks at it, being a working actor means you have to agree to go where the work is. The second she was offered the opportunity, Carpenter said, “Pack the kitchen. Here we go,” because to her, the series represents a make-or-break moment.

The Enemy Within stars (L-R) Morris Chestnut as Will Keaton, John Finn as Richard Bregman, Jennifer Carpenter as Erica Shepherd. Photo: Diva

She adds, “This role feels more elevated to me because I am exploring what it means to be a patriot through the good, the bad and the ugly.”
Before signing on to star in The Enemy Within, Carpenter starred in The Exorcism Of Emily Rose, Quarantine, Gone, The Factory, Dragged Across Concrete, Seeking Justice and Brawl In Cell Block 99. The Kentucky native has often found herself cast as members of the law enforcement community.

“The only way those roles have expedited the work with this role is that I am pretty great at holding a gun the way I am supposed to,” Carpenter says with a laugh. – Tribune News Service/Rick Bentley

The Enemy Within airs every Tuesday at 8pm, on Diva (Astro Ch 702/HD Ch 723).