Mostly known for his role as the bleach-blond, sloe-eyed teen pin-up Austin Moon on Disney Channel’s popular series Austin & Ally and his family band R5, with millions of young fans (4.3 million and counting on Instagram alone), 21-year-old singer and actor Ross Lynch is taking a unexpected turn when it comes to his next role: Jeffrey Dahmer. He convincingly broods as the notorious serial killer during his formative years in director Marc Meyers’s My Friend Dahmer, based on John Backderf’s graphic novel of the same name.
“Coming from Disney Channel and doing all those things, I remember meeting with Marc the first time, he was telling me, ‘If you’re going to do this, it’s a very ballsy move,’” Lynch says over the phone from Germany, where he is on tour with R5. “It was part of the appeal for me.”
Perhaps—like many of his generation—he was initially unfamiliar with Dahmer. It didn’t take long, however, to become intrigued by his story. And it’s a dark, twisted and surprising new role for Lynch. Like fellow Disney alum Zac Efron, who next stars as serial killer Ted Bundy, Lynch couldn’t distance himself further from his days at Disney. “What really drew me to the role was obviously the character—the script is really good,” says Lynch. “But it was also [because] the majority of the world wouldn’t expect me to do this.”
“I was almost immediately fascinated with the character, just because of the extremes that he went to,” he adds. “Unfortunately, the tragic, horrible things that he did are interesting.”
The film focuses on Dahmer’s high school years, leading up to his first murder, just like in the comic. It was a time when Dahmer’s darkest thoughts began to unfurl into a troubling reality. His victims were animals, which he tortured to satisfy his deranged fantasies. Backdref, who was a classmate of Dahmer at Revere High School in Ohio, used his personal experiences with Dahmer for the comic. “After high school, [Backdref] wasn’t in communication with Dahmer at all,” says Lynch of the author—known by the pseudonym Derf. “We’re telling his story.”
So what did he learn about the slayer by inhabiting the character? Here, Lynch shares the most fascinating things he discovered on his journey to get inside the mind of a psycho.
JEFFREY DAHMER WAS A CHARMER
ROSS LYNCH: He would go to these bars and pick up these young men that he would take back to his house, where he would proceed to kill them. But there was a scenario where a young man had actually gotten away and talked to police. Dahmer somehow convinced the police that this man was drunk, so the police later took this man back to Dahmer’s house. It shows you that he was smart and had somewhat of a charm. He could convince people. I find that story so wild.
[Dahmer] was pulled over and was drinking and driving. There was a body in the trunk … He convinced the cop [to let him go]. The cop even made a reference to the smell in the car. There are a few stories like that.
HE WAS AN ATHLETE
LYNCH: He was a really good tennis player. This came as a shock to me, because he had an awkwardness about him and had a very distinctive walk. You’d assume he wasn’t coordinated.
DAHMER REFERRED TO HIS HIGH SCHOOL YEARS AS THE HAPPIEST TIME OF HIS LIFE
LYNCH: It was the only time I think he felt anything close to normal. Sometimes people that went to high school with him would come to set while we were filming. [They] said he was always polite … that Dahmer never did anything vicious towards them and was known as a sweet, quiet guy.
DAHMER “DRANK EXCESSIVELY” IN HIGH SCHOOL
LYNCH: There are a few video interviews where he talks about everything that he did in his high school years. He kind of goes through everything. I read a lot and talked to [John Backderf] a lot about what [Dahmer] was like in high school. I was told that the people around Dahmer couldn’t tell that he was spiraling. He drank excessively in high school yet people didn’t think to offer help.”
DAHMER TRIED TO STOP KILLING
LYNCH: Like a bad addiction, he got into alcohol and even joined the military to try and prevent himself from killing people. He was later kicked out of the military. At surface level, he’s a serial killer, but he says that he tried to stop. It eventually got the best of him. My understanding is that the temptation was like a drug withdrawal, constantly knocking on his brain.
THE ACTOR, DAVE SORBORO, WHO PLAYED STEVEN HICKS HAD A PERSONAL CONNECTION TO THE HITCHHIKER WHO WOULD END UP BEING DAHMER’S FIRST VICTIM
LYNCH: The guy who played Steven Hicks in the film, he said that Steven Hicks was his friend’s uncle or something. He was somehow associated with Steven Hicks and was playing him in the film.
THEY SHOT THE FILM IN DAHMER’S CHILDHOOD HOUSE
LYNCH: We actually filmed in Dahmer’s house. The guy who lived in it was friend’s with [Backderf]. That’s also where [Dahmer] killed his first victim. While we were filming, I didn’t necessarily feel it, because I was more in the headspace of Dahmer as a teenager and wasn’t trying to dwell on the fact that someone had died in the house, but the crew and everyone else felt an eerie energy around. Also, the hut where Dahmer was keeping his roadkill was in the exact same spot that he had his actual hut. So almost everything you see in the film take place in the same areas that he actually existed.
MY FRIEND DAHMER IS OUT IN SELECT THEATERS NOVEMBER 3, 2017.