Ross Lynch, who rose to fame on ‘Austin & Ally,’ has taken on a new role as serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. Ahead of the film’s premiere at Tribeca Film Festival, HollywoodLife.com sat down with Ross, and director Marc Meyers to discuss the eerie new film, the graphic scenes, and the preparation.
How much of Jeff’s life will we see?
Ross Lynch: It’s essentially 17-18.
Marc Meyers: It starts the end of his of Junior year in high school & carries through his senior year.
There’s an intense cat scene in the book — is there anything you avoided because it was too graphic?
MM: It’s there. If you’re gonna do it, you have to show it. What you don’t see, is in people’s imaginations so I was pretty loyal to the book. It was a great guide for all of us… It’s a real cat we got from the taxidermist. If you’re gonna do the movie, do the movie.
RL: All of those things that you will see in the film were real… like the cat. It smelled. He started to decompose a little bit. We tried to mask the smell with rubbing alcohol. You’ve never smelled something quite as bad as George.
MM: It didn’t smell the first day because it arrived frozen. However, when George — we nicknamed the cat George — did come back to set, it was a little smellier.
Why’d Ross work for this role?
RL: I look like Dahmer!
MM: Ross, as we know, is an enormously talented actor. He has a history of dance, we know him as a pop singer. He’s a wonderful performer. He had all those things, and I believed that he could look the part. That was the only role in the film that I felt, I had to be loyal to [the looks] in some way. He was the perfect fit. The timing worked of all of us, we were steadfast… I was like, I just met the guy who’s perfect for this.
RL: It’s almost like it happened so perfectly, you can’t imagine it any other way. The script came at the right time for me.
How are your Disney fans reacting?
RL: I’m really fortunate that they’re so interested in what I’m going to do next. I almost feel like I couldn’t do something that would make them not a fan. They’re super supportive.
Did you go dark on set to get into character?
RL : It wasn’t intentional. I’m not a method actor, but there were certain things we’d do on set like we wouldn’t talk sometimes to create that tension. It wasn’t ever like me showing up on set trying to be Dahmer all day, but being a younger actor it sort of takes over a little bit. More experienced actors tell me, ‘You’ll learn not to take your work home with you.’ But it was tough.
MM: It’s also not dark the whole time — he’s just another kid in high school with friends and this guy’s name is Jeff Dahmer. A lot of it is having fun together; it’s a character who finds a way to attract some new friends and they have some good times together. Obviously it will spiral downward, but he wasn’t dark the whole time. There were areas where that was necessary, but there was a lot of joking around! The movie is about a bunch of band nerds and what they did to try to pass the time.
RL: He’d tell me, ‘Let’s go and make a film about kids in high school — don’t think about what’s to come because it hasn’t happened yet.’
What’s the genre of this film then? Horror? Comedy?
MM: It’s both, everything, all at the same time. It’s a high school movie and it’s got some family drama mixed in there. We rub up against a couple of genres, which is great… It jokes around a little; everyone’s been disarmed with some humor — some politically correct — and then they start to get deeper and deeper into the friendships and the movie’s off to the races.
Is Dahmer’s sexuality a part of it?
MM: You’ll see. It’s there.
RL: It’s definitely in the film, it plays a role. It was just kinda another character trait. It wasn’t a big process for me.
How much research did you do?
MM: Together, we had lunch with the author two or three days before filming — we got on the same page & took some nuggets from the convo about his book and also his personal viewpoint on Jeff and their time together in Akron in the late 70s. I had done a lot of research, reminding myself of what the aesthetic of the 70s was like and the music. I spent time at the house, I stayed with the author for a number of days and interviewed him, trying to pull out nuggets from him that he couldn’t put in the book but might help me with my revisions. I met a lot of people under like 24 that didn’t know the Dahmer story was based on fact — unless you listen to rap, or a Katy Perry song.
RL: I didn’t actually. I had no idea. My dad was like, ‘This cool script just came in, it’s about Jeffrey Dahmer.’ I’m like, ‘Who?’ He was like, ’The serial killer, Jeffrey Dahmer.’ Obvisouly it intrigued me right off the bat. Technically he died before I was born.
What’s the rating?
MM: Well, it’s not gonna be G. I do hope its one of this movies that kids that are underage sneak into.
RL: It could be PG-13.
Was it tough to leave “Dahmer” on set when you left?
RL: It was easier with other roles because they’re just regular dudes. When you’re playing someone real too, you’re trying to get into their head. My whole world was consumed by Dahmer. I had this one video that I’d always reference, so it was kind of always around. After filming, it did take me a second to get back into the normal grove of life.
What’s the video?
RL: It’s an interview. He walks in and sits down with his dad and talks about all the things that he did and his reasons. That’s where I got his walk — there’s a split second where he walks in and I was like, ‘What the Hell!’ It’s really interesting.
MM: That’s where his dancing also comes in — understanding his physicality head to toe. I knew Ross could take this on and take on Jeff’s posture. We’d start scenes and he would roll his shoulders and just be that. We’d be filming scenes and the more he just became . . . our Jeff Dahmer.
The author of the graphic novel, John Backderf, says he thinks the community failed Dahmer. Do you agree? Could he have been stopped?
MM: I think we’re smart to not give a diagnosis, because were just trying to tell story. Derf’s approach to the book is in part, he slipped through the cracks. Could they have saved him? Probably. I also think mixed in is a deeply depraved human being. Our story doesn’t go into the things we know him as a monster.
So he’s not a monster, then who is he in your film?
RL: You will see . . . the becoming.
HollywoodLifers, do you want to see My Friend Dahmer?