“Who in this room bought Taylor Swift’s new album?” asks Ryan Murphy diversity Studio filled with our photographer and art director, his advertising team and Evan Peters who he poses alongside for the shoot. The vibe is casual — “I feel like Dracula,” Murphy laughs at one point as they enter the frame seamlessly, a testament to how comfortable they are together.
The mood is an exact contrast to the set of Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, as they tell me later in the day during the interview – oddly on Halloween.
“You could hear a pin drop on this set. We all felt, “We’re here to work on very difficult material. We’re here to answer very tough questions about homophobia, systemic racism, and white privilege. In a weird way, when Evan walked on the set or Niecy Nash walked on the set, it was very much like a church,” Murphy recalls. “Sometimes you put on a show — and we certainly did — you put on a show about witchcraft and talk about donuts or Taylor Swift. That didn’t exist.”
In fact, Peters stayed in his role and focused on the serial killer who murdered 17 boys and men between 1978 and 1991 for most of the filming. “It was scary,” Murphy admits.
“Evan went home and it wasn’t like he was rocking back and forth in his bedroom, which I think people assume. He had a life, albeit limited and devoted. It was like running a marathon. When you run a marathon, you eat a certain way. You sleep a certain way. It was a very athletic approach to the performance,” says the creator, who visited Peters regularly during filming and had open conversations about mental health. “There were moments when I felt like a father who has a child who is in the Olympics. You say how can I help you?”
Peters notes that staying in character to tell the story and get the intended message across felt “difficult but worth it.”
But they both knew it wasn’t going to be easy; In fact, Murphy hesitated before sending it to Peters because he knew he could do it — but also knew how intense it could get.
Looking back, Murphy admits there were “some dark days” and Peters kept to himself most of the time, but he couldn’t think of any other actor who gave as “120%” as Peters.
And though the duo have collaborated on 10 projects since the first season of “American Horror Story” in 2011, “Dahmer” wasn’t an instant yes for Peters.
“It was a real fight. I’ve really thought about it and tried to process it. I drove back and forth a lot,” he says. Ultimately, it came down to working again with Murphy, someone he trusted and knew understood his process.
“I knew you were an incredible support system and I trust you and there’s an honesty,” he tells Murphy. “I knew that with the goal of ending this thing as strong as I started it, you would create a great safety net. If I fell, I could get up and we could end this thing. I was up for the challenge.”
Much like his mental transformation, Peters also underwent quite a physical transformation over the course of filming; He went on a no-carb, no-sugar diet to lose 15 pounds in the beginning.
“In the early stages of filming, I didn’t really have an appetite,” he says. “Then I worked out for episode 3 when Dahmer starts exercising and gained about 20 pounds for ending up in prison to show what he looked like back then.”
When they were finished, the year-long editing process began. For the first time, Peters was executive producer and went through every single take.
“He stood up for the other actors, and a lot of those scenes changed because of his observations as an actor-producer,” says Murphy. “He stayed in it for a very long time and was committed. It’s a very difficult thing to go through over and over again.”
The work didn’t stop until the show came out. They didn’t do any marketing or promotion for the series, which Murphy says was because the material was too heavy. Critics received no episodes early. Nobody knew how it would work.
Four years into Murphy’s five-year, $300 million deal with Netflix, it quickly became his biggest hit, with more than 1 billion hours of playback in its first 60 days.
That popularity came with backlash. Relatives of Dahmer’s victims spoke out, upset that they were not involved; Murphy says he reached out to about 20 families but never heard a response. So he relied on his “very large research staff”, which worked around the clock for 3.5 half years.
“I was never interested in Jeffrey Dahmer the Monster. I was interested in what made him special. I think the fact that all of the characters in it are treated as real people makes some people uncomfortable. I understand that and try not to have an opinion on it,” he says. “We’ve always tried to center everything on the victims.”
One person the “Dahmer” team did not contact was Lionel, the father of the killer portrayed by Richard Jenkins in the series.
“I did a lot of biopics. It’s almost like you’re a reporter; I always try to stay neutral. I think we told a very specific story,” he says. “I think Lionel told his story. That wasn’t that story.”
When the show released, Netflix listed it under the LGBTQ tag, previously used to denote uplifting stories about the community. After significant backlash, the label was removed.
“I think it got the label ‘One’ because of my involvement. I’m a gay man so most of my stories are about some kind of LGBTQ thing and I do it out of selfishness; Growing up I had nothing [to look to]’ explains Murphy. “My mission was to talk about these stories and characters and uncover buried history.”
Murphy understands why people weren’t happy with the day – “A lot of people in the community want to uplift. I understand that,” he says – but he doesn’t agree.
“It’s about homophobia,” he adds. “I have a saying, ‘My job as an artist is to hold up a mirror to reflect what happened.’ It’s ugly. It’s not nice. do you wanna check it out If yes, check it out. If you don’t, look the other way, and sometimes some of that outrage is directed at the frame of the mirror instead of the reflection. I’m trying to say that I really understand why you’re upset about including this. I understand it, but I personally disagree.”
After such a heavy lift, both Murphy and Peters aren’t sure what’s next…or so they say. Seven days after completing this interview, Monster was renewed for seasons two and three. While Murphy could not be reached for comment on what that looks like, it doesn’t seem like Peters is jumping to be a part of it.
“I’m going to take a little break from darker roles and explore the light,” he says. “It would be interesting for me to play something a little closer to home, a little more mundane, and explore the details of those kinds of experiences.”
Murphy also claims he wants some alone time, which might be difficult now with more “Monster,” “Feud,” and “The Watcher” on the way.
“Until now I’ve always gotten an answer like ‘I want to do this’ or ‘I want to do that’. I feel like I’m very happy with what I’ve been fortunate enough to do. I have no interest in staying on the treadmill which I have been on for a very long time so I will get off. I’m interested in not knowing,” he says. “My day has always been in 15 minute increments and I don’t care anymore. I bought a farm. For some reason I’m much more interested in chickens and daffodil bulbs. I am interested in another part of my life. For the first time, I’m just chilling and trying to do nothing.”
https://variety.com/2022/tv/news/dahmer-ryan-murphy-evan-peters-backlash-lgbtq-tag-1235456098/ ‘Dahmer’: Ryan Murphy, Evan Peters on Backlash, LGBTQ Day and More