By Anne Brodie
Prolific producer and provocateur Ryan Murphy has created some of the most popular shows and series in the history of television and streaming including Glee, Pose, American Horror Story, American Crime Story, Hollywood, Ratched, Feud, Scream Queens … you get the drift. Murphy’s signature over-the-top excess, generous helpings of Gothic, soapy, melodrama, and utterly captivating stories are often based on real-life events. All of these descriptors match his two latest Netflix outings, Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story and The Watcher. Murphy joined two panels, one with the stars of Dahmer, the other with the stars of The Watcher for international critics, and here is a sampling of what they had to say. Let’s start with Dahmer with Ryan Murphy-Co-Creator/EP, Writer, Evan Peters as Jeffrey Dahmer, Niecy Nash-Betts as Glenda Cleveland, and Richard Jenkins as Lionel Dahmer.
Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story
Setup – Dahmer the late serial killer and torturer of gay men had the need to keep his victims in his Milwaukee apartment, in vats of acid, or in the fridge. Neighbour Glenda Cleveland repeatedly reported the awful smells and screams from his apartment to the police but they never responded. One night, a victim managed to escape certain death at Dahmer’s hands and find the police. He was arrested and sent to prison in 1992 where he was later murdered, leaving behind a legacy of utter horror. The series, ten years in the making, has been streamed a billion+ times and is Murphy’s biggest hit to date.
Niecy Nash-Bettes – The show’s success makes me emotional. Glenda feels finally heard. Her story has been heard around the world from wherever she is resting. It is for every person who hasn’t been heard, I know a lot of people who have not been heard before. We’ve all been Glenda Cleveland. I felt responsible to get it right, for me, you got to experience this through her eyes she was the Town Crier, the nosy neighbour, the portal, this really happened. Because a black woman did the complaining, the racism, a homosexual relationship, and homophobia of it all, this baby walked back to the house and met his demise. Many days onset there were tears in my eyes with the weight of the thing.
Evan Peters – The writing was brilliant. I was terrified and challenged. I watched Stone Phillips’ Dateline story and was fascinated and I wanted to dive into his psychology, and read as much as I could, to understand why he did what he did.
NNB – Evan was so deep in character. People would ask me what is Evan like. I dunno, I don’t know the man. I respected his need to keep the darkness and tension so it played out onscreen. I asked how he was doing, and if was he upset. “Oh no ma’am”, he said and I said I prayed for you a lot. This is weighty and you’re tethered in it, your soul is troubled at some point. Like my grandmother always said, “Hang tough till you get enough, and when you get enough, hang tough”.
Ryan Murphy – Evan seems so dark and brooding. But he’s hilarious, my children sat on his knee.
EP – I was coming out of it, having the end goal in sight, and I started to breathe and let go. Now it’s time to bring in lightness family and friends, so I watched Step Brothers.
Richard Jenkins – Did you see “A Father’s Story” (from father Lionel Dahmer’s POV)? It’s a cautionary tale, he missed stuff and said “Don’t let stuff go by, listen to your children when they’re trying to tell you something.”
Setup – The Watcher is based on the true story of the Broaddus family, whose story went viral after it was reported in 2018. In 2014, Derek and Maria Broaddus bought the six-bedroom Dutch colonial at 657 Boulevard in Westfield, New Jersey for $1.3 million. They were now in deep debt but it was their dream home. It became their nightmare when letters signed “The Watcher” started arriving, showing knowledge of their home and family life, and threatening them. Police did little to help, seems there was a history with the place. “Dean” and “Nora” began to suspect neighbours, their real estate agent and others as they became increasingly paranoid. Some tidbits from Ryan Murphy-Co-Creator/EP, Writer and Director, Naomi Watts as Nora Brannock, Margo Martindale as Mo, Jennifer Coolidge as Karen Calhoun and Noma Dumezweni as Theodora Birch.
Naomi Watts – I’m so happy in the fear genre, I’ve had good success in it, particularly The Ring. There have been big reactions and it feels different and it’s being received so well. We had a lot of fun (shooting) for five months with a great expansive cast, people we knew and respected. We had plenty of time to bond and chat and theorise as to who the watcher was. It was one of the great experiences of my career. Ryan wanted to write about not feeling safe, family and security.
Ryan Murphy – I always wanted to do something with an Agatha Christie vibe with an all-star cast of amazing actresses. There’s no real violence, nothing heavy, I just wanted to explore the whodunnit.
Noma Dumezweni – As a true story, something that happened, we wanted to be respectful of the family.
NW – True Crime. These things are in our brains, they are wired in a way that we want to understand what’s going on and unpack those things, figuring things out. It’s a big question, everyone is obsessed with darker stories.
RM -There is no one in the world like Jennifer Coolidge (the sketchy real estate agent). She is a great talent and she improvised. She says what’s written but what she wants to say. In the Country Club scene, she goes off in brilliant improvisational takes. I just let Jennifer say whatever she wants. I love that. You cast somebody for what they can bring to the table and she is one of the great comediennes of all time. Jennifer Coolidge is having a moment, the Emmy and two hits soon to be three, the Coolidge Renaissance. Jennifer’s like a jazz musician, you ask her to interpret, she goes off, and it’s a miracle. She riffs for seven minutes and gets ovations from the crew.
Jennifer Coolidge – I’m trying to make sense of it. It’s sheer luck and I’m just thrilled.
Margo Martindale – As women of a certain age, we loved it.
Both series on Netflix now