Nothing could be more unnerving than having to film inside of a murder’s former home.
When one commits a crime–let alone a string of murders–as heinous as Jeffrey Dahmer’s one cannot help but begin arguing the notions of nature versus nurture. Was it his genetic makeup that led to the appalling crimes? Was it the household and environment around him that shaped the monstrous personality that took the lives of sixteen innocent people? The debate still rages today in the psychiatric field, with no clear cursor pointing to one or the other.
Director Marc Meyers attempts to focalize that debate by presenting a portrait of the man in his formative years of adolescence. From disgusting cat dissections to bizarrely insensitive mimicry of mentally handicapped people, Dahmer was always a troubled individual. But during the tumultuous years of high school, most would simply chalk the behavior up to ill-intentioned delinquency.
Based on the unnervingly brilliant graphic novel by John Backderf of the same name, Meyer’s “My Friend Dahmer” (which is perhaps one of the most interestingly titled films on the Tribeca docket) suggests, it is perhaps most significantly influenced by the people that surround you. The Knockturnal had the opportunity to speak to stars Anne Heche (“John Q.”), Alex Wolff (“Patriots Day”) and Ross Lynch (“Austin and Ally”) about filming inside Dahmer’s real home, the lack of empathy from those around Dahmer and how the younger generations seldom knew of Dahmer’s horrific crimes.
In a world that moves a million miles-a-minute, it’s no wonder that star Ross Lynch had never heard of the infamous serial killer. After all, the Disney channel heartthrob was born after the sensationalized murder of the serial killer and seldom had any real reason to delve deeper into the subject, save for some morbid curiosity.
“I actually didn’t know who Dahmer was. It was really fascinating to play Dahmer. The script was great and I was open to the challenge.” When asked if the “Teen Beach Movie” star would continue pursuing such dark films, Lynch replied, “I kind of like to do everything–that’s my thing. I have another movie coming out called, ‘Status Update,’ so I have my hand in a lot of pots.”
A famous fact that seemed to continuously drilled into the teenage stars’ heads was that they were all in fact virgins. “I don’t really know how that came about [laughs]. It was one of those things where he would have these little catchphrases that would get us into that acting mode that he wanted us in. He was a tremendous joy to work with. Sometimes you have certain directors that are a little too hands-on and Meyers was really good about being just the right amount. It was a very collaborative process.”
Watching a Killer Grow
When one utters the name Jeffrey Dahmer, one cannot help but imagine the brutality of his crimes. Notorious for his fetishization of violence, rape and death, Dahmer’s crimes were a particularly brutal moment in American crime history. Having killed sixteen people over the course of a little more than a decade, Dahmer became infamously known as the Milwaukee Cannibal. It was a moniker that Backderf (played by Alex Wolff) could hardly believe.
Wolff explains that the film is a complicated portrayal of high school relationships that are often ambiguous and bizarre. “I think this movie captures friendship and the weirdness of friendship in a way that hasn’t been captured before. It’s a friendship that’s not a friendship. It’s just two people who were stuck together and put in the same situation.”
When asked about the perspective that Backderf plays in the film, star Alex Wolff explained “I am the audience’s eyes, experiencing all these things. But the reason I love the script is because it’s unapologetically original. It’s not doing what you would guess from this kind of movie. It’s empathetic and it’s un-empathetic toward everybody. It’s really unique and interesting but at the same time it’s just about a group of kids in the 1970s.”
Being a Powerlessly Affectless Mother
From borderline personality disorder to schizotypal personality disorder, Dahmer was infamous for his multitude of psychiatric dysfunctions–one’s that began manifesting themselves by his alcohol-fueled teenage years. And few others could have observed that more obviously than one of Dahmer’s few close friends, John Backderf.
“Well, certainly I have a point of view of the responsibility that parents have for their children. If you’re child has gone so far off the rails and you haven’t noticed, I would say your point of view is partly to blame. To be able to show a person who’s essentially emotionally checked-out from paying attention to the behavior of her son, that’s a horrible thing. But for me, it was a great thing for me to show because it’s not like you can see a mother and say, ‘oh, they’re ignoring their kids!’
The More Disturbing, the More Fun
Wolff has a growing penchant for playing disturbed characters that witness atrocities or even commit them. Wolff wholeheartedly agreed, saying, “Yeah, apparently I’m really fucked up. But on a more serious note, I think stories that challenge audiences really interest me. That can be interpreted as pretentious or whatever but I love movies that give you characters that are mixed. Some of my favorite movies are “Taxi Driver” and “Midnight Cowboy.” These are movies that have complicated characters that don’t give you an answer.
When asked about his experience working with Meyers, Wolff responded, “he was so enthusiastic, complimentary and encouraging. But most of all, he was also really loose. He encouraged us to all hang out a lot. We all stayed in the same room, we were best of friends. That was really important and he created that environment. He kept saying, ‘you guys are just normal kids, you’re not a Jeffrey Dahmer yet.’ We’re just a bunch of fucking virgins [laughs].
On Working in the Dahmer’s Childhood Home
The production of “My Friend Dahmer” had an extra tinge of creepiness attached to it. No, Dahmer’s family wasn’t on sight to provide insight. No, they didn’t use real props used by Dahmer. Instead, Meyers made the interesting choice of finding the real home that Dahmer had grown up in in Ohio and use it as a set in a drive for verisimilitude. While there may have not been any overt apparitions, it was still damn eerie.
When asked how it was filming on location, Heche said, “obviously it’s odd. They would ask, ‘oh do you want to go downstairs and check out the basement?’ and I would go ‘no!’ I didn’t want to know stories or anything. But because we shot inside the house, we put on the clothes and Joyce [Dahmer] came alive it was strange.”
But that didn’t stop Heche from becoming one with her character after she became Joyce. “I went back into her bedroom and they told me that was my ‘holding area’ and I didn’t know it was her bedroom. I laid down on the bed and the wall was all-mirrored and I was like, ‘Oh no… that is so disturbing.’ I never take selfies but I had to! I never saw a ghost but I definitely got the feeling that this was going to be a messed up journey [laughs].”
“My Friend Dahmer” had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. The film is currently seeking distribution.