Netflix organized two talks on its studio lot for Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story and The viewer — the most recent and biggest series, both courtesy of Ryan Murphy.
Murphy moderated both discussions and marked one of the first press events around Dahmer because it has become one of Netflix’s most-watched shows ever – and, as Murphy said at the event, the biggest hit of the super producer’s career.
While the show streamed nearly a billion hours, Murphy admitted it was “something none of us understood or saw coming,” but he has two theories as to why it got off the ground. “I feel like the world is such a dark place and people are looking for a place to put their fear down, and that’s one thing,” he said. “The other thing is I think people have been really interested in the idea of mental health since COVID, and on the show every character has a moment to talk about that.”
One of the highlights of the success, Murphy said, came in an emotional discussion with star Niecy Nash, who joined the conversation along with Evan Peters and Richard Jenkins. Nash plays Glenda Cleveland, Dahmer’s neighbor who on many occasions tried to alert the police to his murders but was always ignored.
“I cried like a baby because I said to Ryan, it’s my prayer that wherever Glenda Cleveland’s soul rests she finally feels heard,” she said. “She finally knows that her story has gone around the world. That was important to me.”
During the conversation, Peters also admitted that he was terrified to take on the role of the serial killer – who horribly murdered 17 men between 1978 and 1991 – and moved on if he did. To prepare, he placed weights on his arms to reflect Dahmer’s running style and wore the character’s shoes, jeans and glasses for months of preparation, along with extensive research and dialect work.
He had such a deep character, “People will say, ‘How is Evan?’ and I’m like, ‘I don’t know, I don’t know that guy,'” Nash joked.
“When I played the part, I wanted to give him 120 percent, so I brought a lot of darkness and negativity with me,” explained Peters of his trial. “It was just having that end goal in sight, knowing when we would shut down and finally be able to breathe and let it go and say, ‘Okay, now it’s time to bring in the joy and the lightness and comedies and romances and go back to St. Louis and see my family and friends and yes, look stepbrothers.’”
“Evan Peters, you and me in a rom-com right after this,” Nash teased, while Peters replied, “Oh, I’m down.”
The series has been outraged by the victims’ families, some of whom have accused the streamer and team of failing to reach them. Reiterating his earlier comments that his team had reached out to 20 of the victims’ relatives and friends with no response, Murphy said he had four or five investigators work on the show to make sure they were getting it right.
“We tried to interpret the story, but we also went on to say that we definitely had something to say. I had something as an artist. I felt like this was the biggest thing I’d ever worked on, that kind of research into the idea of white privilege,” Murphy said. “I mean, this guy was actually caught 10 times and escaped, and I wanted to tell that story. I wanted to tell a story about homophobia. I wanted to tell a story about police work. I wanted to tell a story about racism, systemic racism. We were well aware that we had to talk about all those things over and over in the writer’s room and also with the actors.”
“I felt responsible to do it right,” added Nash. “There were many days when I left with tears in my eyes because the weight of all these things happened and knowing it all didn’t have to be.”
Murphy also led a discussion on: The viewer during the event, with stars Naomi Watts, Jennifer Coolidge, Margo Martindale and Noma Dumezweni participating remotely. The show follows a true story, that of the new owners of a New Jersey home who begin to receive anonymous letters from someone calling themselves “The Watcher,” containing specific and threatening details about the family.
Murphy said Watts told him it was her biggest hit since The ringas she said, “I was so happy to be back in this genre. I’ve had a lot of success with it and as an actor there are a lot of emotions that fall under the umbrella of fear.”
“There’s been great reactions for all of us, and it feels very different to be in something that’s been so well received across the board, like in big ways,” she continued. “It’s very often you put your work there and people just don’t get to see it. So it’s a nice feeling.” Martindale noted that she is surrounded by fans when she goes out in New York recently, which she has never had before.
Murphy also revealed his conversations about bringing Coolidge to the project, saying she agreed to do it if she killed someone. “You were very interested in the idea, which I find fascinating, of playing a darker, ruthless character that you said no one in a million years thought would write for you,” Murphy said. “I’m like, ‘I want you to play something like that, someone who is villainous.'”
“Nobody really thinks about me when it comes to maybe a dark, bad person or someone who isn’t really very nice,” Coolidge confirmed. “I’ve always had a fantasy about it.”
The series is based on a story detailed in the cut in 2018, and Murphy noted, “When we got the rights, we tried to be respectful to the family. They had certain reservations about their children, which we were on board with. And when we filmed it and made it, you were all based on real people or people in our research.”
Regarding the breakthrough success of these two true crime stories, Watts mused, “It’s so clear, there’s a pull now. There’s a lot of darkness in the world and a lot of chaos… Maybe it’s a way of trying to understand what’s going on and unpacking – needing a sense of control by figuring things out.”