Based on the acclaimed graphic novel by John “Derf” Backderf, My Friend Dahmer tells the story of infamous serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. Alex Wolff plays Derf in the haunting true depiction of that centers on the notorious murderer’s teenage years and how Dahmer (Ross Lynch) tried to navigate through high school and the struggles he faced to fit in — before he went on to famously mutilate, murder and devour 17 young men and boys between 1978 and 1991.
Wolff masterfully takes on the role of Jeffrey’s best friend in My Friend Dahmer. I caught up with him ahead of the film’s premiere. It opens this weekend.
The last time I spoke to you we talked about this. What a dark world to inhabit. How did you get into it?
It is, but a lot of this movie is about high school. It’s not trite and there are these kids in the ’70s who are bored, and my character is someone I love. He listens to punk music and is the ringleader. He liked being in charge and had this biting sense of humor. I liked his desire to be in control even though he wasn’t popular.
They weren’t super-weird kids, they were artsy types. Then he takes in Jeffrey Dahmer and starts to feel weirded out by him and grossed out by him. It’s a painstaking process watching this friendship disintegrate. It wasn’t hard to get into this world. I’ve known kids who were off in high school. I’ve been someone who champions the underdog and I’ve been guilty of taking them in. It was more about me than them. I was being entertained by them and embarrassing them and I could relate to that. I was also a huge troublemaker in high school — not a bully or a jock, but I’d stir up plans and I know that excitement. It’s a way to entertain yourself.
We also shot in Dahmer’s parent’s house and we had decided we would stay in the characters during the shoot of the movie.
It was also essential that Ross [Lynch] and I keep this distance, so when they shoot scenes where we come together and we’re next to each other, it feels like we are a thousand miles apart. It should feel like he is across the street and that we aren’t fully connecting. We hardly spoke during the movie. As for the other kids, we spent every night together. We’d wake up laughing and blend it into the movie.
Mark wanted to capture all the jokes and what you see on camera is improvised. It was such an opposing force to the storyline of Dahmer and how painful it is to watch him not to really be in the group.
You were in his house? What was going through your mind as you’re there?
The car scene at the end was a six-minute scene at the real house. Dahmer invites me in, we go inside and there was this really creepy vibe on set and a tense vibe in the car.
Ross looked so much like him and is whispering to himself in the car and it was just dark seeing that.
Being in that moment was stressful and we actually felt really sick after shooting that scene. We were both upset after shooting that. It was just a strange vibe being there outside the real house. Actually, one thing happened where I joked aloud, “Fuck this film and Fuck Dahmer,” I only said that because Ross and I felt sick, and the lights suddenly all went out on set and in the house.
OK, that’s spooky.
Talk about ghosts aren’t real. Anyway, the next day I went back and apologized to the house, I felt stupid, but I still did it.
Did you speak to any of his friends?
I hung out with Derf Backderf. I also hung out with some of his friends, but in order for this movie to work, Derf had to be more inviting to make it hurt when he was being an asshole to Dahmer. It was helpful meeting the people, but it was more helpful to work with the other actors and form those friendships rather than imitate everything. I felt it was more important to honor the script than the people and do imitations of them.
When we spoke before, you said some people didn’t know who he was?
I totally understand that. I knew he ate people and that he was a murderer, but I didn’t know the nuances of his life. That’s what I knew about him, and the whole film wasn’t an A&E special, it was a creepy suspense like a Hitchcock thriller, mixed in with Psycho and Dazed and Confused.
The film is intense. What was it like once you wrapped it?
The memory of the film is so good, it was about hanging out and laughing all the time. It was about going to set and having a good time. Half the film is about me feeling weird about Ross who played Dahmer, and then having so much fun, being loose. I saw the film in a room with the guys and we had so much time. Then I saw it at the premiere and realized it wasn’t fun at all. It was so dark.
My Friend Dahmer is out now.