Many of us humans have a complete fascination with true crime. Producers are always on the lookout for the next Hollywood movie that will portray a serial killer with such realism it really gets people talking.
There is no end of true crime stories out there at the moment but these following performances made such an impact, they shaped the future careers for the actors themselves.
Alongside the critical praise and audience admiration, becoming a real-life serial killer on-screen also comes with a slight curse as discovering the darkest parts of a serial killer’s mind is no light task.
10. Cameron Britton as Ed Kemper
‘Mindhunter’ fans endlessly praised actor Cameron Britton for his hyper-realistic portrayal of serial killer Ed Kemper. Also known as the “Co-Ed Butcher,” Kemper claimed the lives of ten victims including his own mother and grandparents. Standing 6’9″ tall and with an IQ of 145, he could overpower his victims both mentally and physically.
Britton had a certain ritual before he slipped into the terrifying role as he explains in the clip:
“In the beginning, there was something about Ed’s dialog. I could tell that this was a real person. You’re expecting this maniac and he comes in very polite. In a chilling way, it tells the audience they won’t know what to expect with this character. I think it’s easy to say that all of us have some darkness and as an actor, you have to be willing to go to the darkest corners.
“When I get into character with Ed, it’s funny; I can get the hair straightened, clip the mustache, put on the clothes, throw on the boots – even change my voice. It’s all great. But he doesn’t show up until the glasses go half an inch down the nose… it’s like a switch. I can feel it.”
9. Zach Villa as Richard Ramirez
Many notorious serial killers have featured in ‘American Horror Story’ as characters including Dr. H. H. Holmes, Madame LaLaurie, and even a killer clown named Twisty who had the likeness of John Wayne Gacy’s alter-ego Pogo the Clown. For the latest season ‘1984’, they cast Zach Villa as Richard Ramirez and it’s chilling how much the actor resembles the serial killer and satanist.
Known in the media as ‘The Night Stalker’, Ramirez terrorized Los Angeles and later San Francisco in the 1980s killing 13 victims. His wide variety of weapons used during the home invasions included handguns, knives, a machete, a tire iron, and a hammer.
Due to his uncanny likeness to the serial killer, Villa became a subject of an obsession amongst the Night Stalker’s fans’. Speaking at MEA World Wide (MEAWW), Villa said:
“Society, in general, tends to get obsessed, especially when someone’s playing a real character, with how close they are to the actual person. Physically, I do see a similarity (between himself and the serial killer) and that was jarring at first because I think it’s dangerous for an audience member to expect someone to be and act like what they imagined a serial killer will be in real life, specifically Richard.”
8. Darren Criss as Andrew Cunanan
Andrew Cunanan killed 5 people – including Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace – before shooting himself with the same gun he used to kill Versace. ‘The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story’ details the events that led up to the murder spree with Darren Criss as Andrew Cunanan.
Speaking about the complexity of the serial killer, Criss revealed to Larry King that he shared a lot of similarities with Cunanan. Revealing:
“Andrew didn’t really follow the typical prerequisites of a killer. If you look at the Jeffrey Dahmers of the world or (Charles) Manson or anybody who’s famous for this psychopathic behavior – there’s a lot of almost stereotypical patterns in youth that kind of point to what they did. Whereas Andrew was a very vibrant, bon vivant, and loved kid.
“What is so heartbreaking about this story other than the obvious tragedies of these homicides is you go, wait, if there are all these good things happening – your heart breaks more than it does get angry because it’s just this wasted potential.
“As an actor, I am in the business of empathy. My actual opinions of morality, obviously these acts were deplorable and unforgivable. But when you look deeper and when you are trying to find the common denominators between yourself and another person, you’re going to find more in common than not.”
7. Zac Efron as Ted Bundy
When streaming giant Netflix announced the Ted Bundy biopic ‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile’ (2019) would star Zac Efron. Set in the late 1970s, the film is told from the perspective of Bundy’s longtime girlfriend, Elizabeth ‘Liz’ Kloepfer, who was in a relationship with the serial killer for seven years.
Early reactions to Efron’s casting were positive and many fans agreed it was a ‘career-changing’ moment for him. The former child star revealed that he found the similarities between himself and Bundy quite scary as he naturally slipped into the role.
“Something clicked pretty early on, and it was kind of scary. It was that Ted and I had quite a bit in common in the way we carried ourselves. There are a few mannerisms. You can tell he’s a bit bashful. He’s kind of shy. He’s a well-spoken guy, but he hides his anxiety with a bit of a smile. I didn’t want to do too much of an impersonation.”
6. Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos
Aileen Wuornos is recognized as one of the most notorious female serial killers of all time. Convicted of fatally shooting six middle-aged men along the Florida highways in 1989 and 1990, she was later executed for her crimes. Charlize Theron portrayed the serial killer in ‘Monster’ (2003) which bagged her an Academy Award for Best Actress.
In an interview with Barbara Walters, the actress explained, “We all go through misfortune and unhappiness and we all struggle through life with the same things she struggled with but on such a different level. In her life, that was her reality – she had nothing else to hang onto but hope. The great thing about her is that she never wanted people to feel sorry for her or kind of apologies for what she had done. And I think that was great.”
South African-born Theron has also had her share of tragedy too. In 1991, at the age of 15-years-old, she hid with her mother in their kitchen at home as her father was threatening to kill them both with a shotgun. He shot at them through the kitchen door. Her mother, who was also in possession of a gun, shot her husband dead. Authorities decided the killing was in self-defense and no further action was taken.
5. Jeremy Renner as Jeffrey Dahmer
Jeremy Renner starred as the serial killer and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer in the 2002 autobiographical movie ‘Dahmer’. The film follows the life of Dahmer as authorities discovered he murdered, dismembered, and even tried to consume the bodies of 17 young men in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Renner went on to big things after this role which also landed him the lead in ‘The Hurt Locker’ and became his breakthrough in Hollywood. Yet, playing one of the most twisted and sadistic cannibals in history also has its pitfalls.
“After I did the film, playing a guy who was basically a monster, things started getting creepy. My cat was stolen. Then some girl bit me in a bar because I wasn’t paying attention to her anymore and I had to go to the hospital. It kept me single for a while, that’s for sure. Lot of people I wanted to date, but people I probably shouldn’t date.”
4. Ross Lynch as Jeffrey Dahmer
Following in the footsteps of Renner, former Disney star Ross Lynch went from squeaky clean ‘Austin & Ally’ to a reclusive cannibal for the film ‘My Friend Dahmer’ in 2017. Surprisingly, Lynch had not heard of Dahmer until he first read the script for the film but he soon caught up on the real horrors this serial killer inflicted on his victims.
To get into character, Lynch would watch Dahmer interviews each day before filming. Lynch said many of the cannibal’s mannerisms stayed with him even after filming had ended. He explained in an interview with E-Cinema, “After filming, I definitely had a little bit of Dahmerisms – I guess you could call them – still kind of around. Like even after we were done filming, I was a little more anti-social, more so than I usually am.”
Some scenes for the film were shot at Dahmer’s actual childhood home in Bath, Ohio. The film’s director also wanted to use Dahmer’s former high school for the movie as well, but the school rejected the offer.
3. Michael Rooker as Henry Lee Lucas
Before ‘The Walking Dead’ and ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’, actor Michael Rooker took on the role of real-life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas in ‘Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer’ (1990). Henry is a drifter who works odd jobs and lives with his friend Otis Toole – who is also a serial killer. Produced on a budget of just $100,000 the film has since become a cult classic amongst true crime fans.
For the role, Rooker watched videos of Lucas’ interrogations as he gradually confessed to hundreds of murders – claims which have since been disputed. Rooker revealed, “I thought he was full of shit when I was watching it. He was just saying all sorts of stuff, and you could tell he just got off on that, and I didn’t know if I believed even half of what he was saying.
“But I ended up taking away a little bit of body language and some of his vocal rhythms. That helped a lot – certainly a lot more than any of the books that were being written about psychopaths and sociopaths at the time.”
2. Michael Shannon as Richard Kuklinski
Richard Kuklinski was a serial killer known as ‘The Iceman’ who associated with the DeCavalcante crime family of Newark, New Jersey, and the Five Families of New York City.
Many people who are familiar with Kuklinski would have watched the HBO interviews in which he details his violent childhood, his family life, and his own history of gruesome crimes. To step into Kuklinki’s shoes, Shannon also watched the same interviews but he had access to a 20-hour-long unedited version.
Shannon said, “One of the main things I discovered is that it’s very hard to get to know the guy because you’re never quite sure when he’s telling the truth. He contradicts himself all the time. But the one thing that seemed very apparent to me is that he’s a very sad, lonely person who had been in a lot of pain pretty much his whole life and that the one thing in the world that meant anything to him had been taken away from him forever.”
1. Damon Herriman as Charles Manson
Australian actor Damon Herriman portrayed cult leader and psychopath Charles Manson so realistically – he played him twice. Herriman nailed the role both for the hit Netflix series ‘Mindhunter’ and Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Once Upon A Time In Hollywood’.
On August 9th, 1969, Manson’s followers followed his orders and rounded up the occupants of 10050 Cielo Drive in Beverly Hills. Most notably, actress Sharon Tate was brutally murdered beside them and, at the time of her death, she was eight-and-a-half months pregnant with her and Roman Polanski’s son.
Talking about the complicated process of becoming Manson, Herriman said, “He was such a complex guy. He wasn’t a one-dimensional villain. The guy had so much going on and he was almost certainly suffering from probably several mental disorders.
“At times he sounded like a crazy person and at times he spoke some sense. Obviously that was the rarer occasion. At times, he seemed terrifying. At times he seemed completely sane. So it’s very confusing for an actor trying to take all that stuff on.”