Interview | Ross Lynch on playing Jeffrey Dahmer in the movie 'My Friend Dahmer'

The former Disney star was cast as the notorious American serial killer


This article first appeared in Attitude issue 297, Summer 2018.

Ross Lynch has already had a colourful and varied career. At 15 he was the lead vocalist in a pop/rock band, R5, with his siblings and the following year landed the joint-lead role in the Disney Channel comedy Austin & Ally.

But now he’s ready to shake off the shackles of his bubblegum beginnings and follow in the footsteps of Disney alumni Britney Spears, Zac Efron and Miley Cyrus (to name but a few) by killing off his squeaky-clean persona and establishing himself as “the real deal.”

His chilling performance as a young Jeffrey Dahmer in the new biopic My Friend Dahmer is a complex portrayal of the infamous gay serial killer before he committed his first murder. And his next role as Harvey Kinkle in Netflix’s “darker” reboot of Sabrina the Teenage Witch could make Ross, now 22, an even bigger star.

How did the role come about?

After Disney life you have a decision to make. But I knew I wanted to do an indie film, maybe something more dark, just to do something different.

Did you ever question whether it was a good idea to do this film?

Absolutely. Playing a serial killer is definitely the furthest left turn I could take. When I read the script, I thought that they painted him in a very empathetic way.

Obviously, all the things that he did were terrible, and I want to make a point of saying that we're not trying to glorify a serial killer at all.

But there was something about the script where I kind of felt bad for him at the end of it. 

Do you think you would have gone on and continued to play that character if it went into much darker territory and covered the killings?

It's such an interesting, tragic story that it'd be dificult to say no to; that's the reason for cinema: to explore these crazy stories.

So, from that perspective I feel I probably would have done it but it comes down to what the script would be like.

If the script continued to be as good as it was, and it was in that same sort of light as we filmed the movie, then I probably would have said yes.

Maybe a part two?

Everybody was joking about, saying: “In ten years we're going to do a part two.”

You mentioned the script, and obviously there's other source material for this film as well, like the graphic novel. Did that influence your character?

Absolutely. The graphic novel didn't come into play until after I'd booked it though.

So prior to it is I was watching videos and reading the script. That's what really drew me into the role.

Typically, on set I'd have a bag with me that had the graphic novel in it, the script, and then I had this video that I would watch, where Dahmer basically confesses everything that he did, and I found that to be pretty helpful.

Although, at the same time we're playing with all the stuff before he ever killed anyone, so you find this is him then, but how does he get there?

So, there was nothing for you to play off apart from the graphic novel and the script and what people knew about him?

People from his high school days would come to the set because they were interested. The community was very supportive of the film, which was nice. 

The role is very physical, you hunch a lot, you mimic the way he walks and moves.

Most of the physicality of the role came from the video where he walks into the interview and sits down. He actually walks like that, very hunched over and kind of shuffles his feet. When I saw that I knew I had to do it. I wanted to have his mannerisms and physicality down. 

Did you find it difficult to inject some humanity into him knowing what he was to become?

Not especially, no. The whole question is: was he born or was he bred this way? And I kinda lean on the “bred” a bit. Actually, I go back and forth, to be honest.

I think that if someone could have interjected and said: “Hey I'm here for you,” maybe there could have been a different outcome.

How was Anne Heche to work with?

She's so energetic. Even when the camera wasn't on her she would be trying to do things to provoke my performance: she would change her lines or make weird faces and try to intimidate me, to make the scene better.#

Did it affect you, inhabiting that role?

It took me a while to leave him behind because even when I got home it still took me a second to get back to myself.

It can play with your mind. That's why I think you can be bred [like that], because even acting that way you can convince yourself of a lot of weird things.

People don't think about it, like when you're exposed to slasher films, you're putting those things into your brain. After I watch a slasher film, I can't sleep.

One of the other issues that he's dealing with, of course, is his sexuality. There's a lot of like repressed stuff there. Do you think if he might have been able to express that a little more freely, he might have gone down a different path?

That would have definitely helped, but I don't know if it would have completely changed what he went on to do.

Why do you think he's such a fascinating character for people still? There's a lot of Jeffrey Dahmer fan clubs and people wrote to him in prison.

I think the fascination is with the extreme in general. If someone were to go and pick up people at a bar, take them home, and drill a fricking hole in their brain and put chemicals in it, that's unbelievable. Still to this day I'm like: “that actually happened?

My Friend Dahmer is on digital now and DVD now.