When 20 different family members and loved ones refuse to speak to you for your Jeffery Dahmer biopic, do you give up and say, “Hey, maybe this isn’t project isn’t the best thing to continue throwing money at?” Not when you’re Ryan Murphy. Instead, you double down on “research” and find yourself a lead actor who can commit to your vision.
Enter Evan Peters, Murphy’s chosen star. In a recent panel discussing the series, Murphy asserts that Peters spent an extensive period of time in character as the serial killer to prepare. Dahmer murdered seventeen people, primarily African American men and boys, between 1978 and 1991.
According to Murphy, Peters wore lead weights around his arms and lifts in the soles of his shoes in order to master Dahmer’s gait. The way Murphy puts it (per Deadline), Peters “basically stayed in this character, as difficult as it was, for months.”
Peters himself also spoke about the measures he undertook before filming to get a hold of Dahmer’s specific mannerisms. Beyond wearing Dahmer-esque glasses and having a cigarette in hand “at all times,” Peters says he also created a 45-minute composite of Dahmer’s voice and worked with a dialect coach to master the tone.
“I wanted all this stuff, these external things, to be second nature when we were shooting,” Peters explains. His co-star Niecy Nash, who plays Dahmer’s neighbor, shares that he inhabited the character so fully, she often felt frightened for him.
“I prayed for you a lot, for real, because this is weighty,” she tells Peters. “And when you stay in it, and you’re tethered to the material, like bone to marrow, your soul is troubled at some point.”
The whole method process here begs a seemingly obvious question: why did Murphy and Peters lean in on “research” before establishing a single contact close to the victims they purported to memorialize? Although Murphy says he received no response from whomever he reached out to, no response is a response. It’s at least enough of a hint to rethink the philosophy of the series before strapping on the lead weights and pressing play on 45 minutes of a murderer’s musings to get a sense of his softer side.