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Nov 10 2017
Ross Lynch On Playing Jeffrey Dahmer, Welcoming Gay Fans & Becoming A Star Comments (0)

Twenty-one-year-old Ross Lynch, who starred as a crushworthy musician on Disney Channel's Austin & Ally for five years and who headed up two Teen Beach Movie installments for the network,  isn't on the typical Mouse House trajectory of some of his forebears.

Giphy Brady_and_tanner_teen_beach_movie_like_me_garrett_clayton_ross_lynch_shirt_teaseThe Teen Beach boys: Ross Lynch & Garrett Clayton (GIFs via Disney Channel)

When I met him back in 2012, he struck me as a potential future Michael Jackson or Justin Timberlake, displaying effortless dance skills and bursting into song while I attempted to corral him for an interview for the teen mag I founded. He also had mega-charm, enough to stick out among a cast of talents that included similarly charismatic Garrett Clayton.

Screen-shot-2017-10-11-at-1-07-31-pmLynch is transformed on the big screen as Dahmer (Image via FilmRise)

Instead of a solo journey, Lynch surprised me by eschewing the Hilary/Miley/Demi/Selena route, focusing on music with his mostly-family rock band R5 and, now, by choosing a movie role that represents a 180 from his perky Disney character Austin Moon, that of a teenage Jeffrey Dahmer before his serial-killing days in the well-received My Friend Dahmer.

It's a disturbing film, one that could best be described as coming-of-rage.

My Review of My Friend Dahmer

In the film, which is in theaters now, he brings to life a pathologically awkward teenage boy whose family trouble, social-outcast status and verboten, unannounced homosexuality make him strangely relatable ... until you remind yourself that the character would, in real life, grow up to kill and eat a bunch of innocent dudes.

I spoke with Lynch about this unique moment in his life and career, when everybody's niece knows him and more adults are getting the memo every day, as well as all about the bold-as-hell movie that is helping to put him on the grown-up map ...

My-friend-dahmer-ewLynch as a teen Jeffrey Dahmer (Image via FilmRise)

Boy Culture: When I first encountered you, on the set of Teen Beach Movie in Puerto Rico, you were this magnetic dancer and bundle of energy, and I envisioned you going a Michael Jackson or Justin Timberlake route as a solo music star. What is it about acting that pulls focus from music, or does it?

Ross Lynch: Well, you know what’s interesting is, a lot of people — I think because of the subject matter of this particular film, and because it’s a shock from what I’ve done in the past — a lot of people are really interested in this project. It’s not necessarily that I’m not doing as much music. I’m actually really, really concentrated on music as well. I just got off a six-week tour in Europe with my band (R5). So actually, I probably spend more time on music than I do on acting. But in this particular scenario, the content matter and the fact that it’s about Jeffrey Dahmer and criminal minds and just kinda everything that’s happening right now, everyone’s really interested in this story, this project, and I think all that kinda goes to the focus being on me as an actor.

My Long-Lost Q&A with 16-Year-Old Ross Lynch:

BC: There’s a YouTube video of your performance in A Chorus Line, which was staged in L.A. at the Hollywood Bowl, and one of the comments is obviously from a kid, who posted, “I just found out what gonorrhea was yesterday.”

RL: [Laughs]

BC: I think that comment speaks to the tightrope you’re walking as a teen heartthrob venturing into adult roles. Do you give that any thought? Or are you just hoping your fans will grow with you?

RL: To be honest with you, I know that they’re growing up with me because I’ve seen it happen before my eyes. As I’ve been touring around the world, I’ve literally seen fans that come to 50-plus shows and they do grow up with me and they are really interested in now, this new direction that I’m taking, because that’s the kind of stuff they want to watch, too, stuff like My Friend Dahmer. So there is definitely consideration when you think about a role like this. There wasn’t any hesitation, but definitely consideration when you’re thinking of taking this big shift, but I also, I wanna be more concerned with the career I’m taking rather than the people — you know what I mean? People can choose to follow what I’m doing. That’s the consumerist position to make, “If they like what I’m doing, if they like the music that I’m making,” things like that. But me as an artist, I just wanna be making things that I can be passionate about and that I really love to do. This goes for everything.

With that being said, I do think that the fan base that I have currently is really, really, honestly quite special because they are so accepting of everything that I’ve done already. Even when they found out I was playing Jeffrey Dahmer, it’s only been positive responses. So I really do feel fortunate for the people that have strapped in for this crazy ride with me.

BC: How did you go about finding Dahmer’s humanity for this role? As I watched, I felt such empathy and then would go back and forth reminding myself he would grow up to be a monster. It was a Hitchcock kind of tension going on.

RL: Well, it was a time in Jeffrey Dahmer’s life when he was a high school kid. You know, I’m playing a kid — he technically hasn’t done anything wrong at this point in his life. Although, yes, like you said, he is going to do all these horrible things, he was still a human being and he was still a kid, although lost and becoming unhinged soon and kinda going down this downward spiral of, you know … all the right doors were opening for him to become what we know him to be. I thought that that alone, that situation of everyone leaving him and all that, I thought that was sad, especially when we were reading the script. When I first found out about Jeffrey Dahmer, I didn’t actually know everything about him, so I’m reading the script thinking, “This is quite a sad story.” And then obviously you learn everything that he did and you have these weird, conflicted emotions of feeling bad, but there’s nothing, there’s absolutely nothing you can say that would justify what he did, because it’s terrible. And that was certainly not our goal. We just wanted to share the story as honestly as we could.

My Friend Dahmer Cast Q&A: 

BC: What do you think the film is saying about his sexuality? There’s a weirdly charming scene where Dahmer, desperate for contact, tricks his doctor into touching him intimately, which I think even non-psychopaths could relate to as hilariously clever. But he seems haunted by his desires, and I wondered if you thought the movie was suggesting that repression was causative regarding the crimes he went on to commit?

RL: I think, you know, it was definitely a different time. It was the ‘70s and it wasn’t as easily available to kids to say, “This is who I am and this is what I like.” So I think that definitely added to the pile of confusion and to the mixed emotions that he’s feeling. He had a lot of demons, he had a lot of things in his head and a lot of dark shit going on. I don’t necessarily think that the sexuality thing was the biggest thing on his brain. I think it was a factor in him deciding later who he was going to kill, because everyone that he did kill were all men. But I don’t necessary think he was… I don’t know, it’s hard to say. I live in a situation, obviously [being gay] is still not accepted as it should be. I grew up in L.A., and I grew up around a community where everyone just wants to be themselves and it’s totally accepted, like, “you do you” mentality. In the ‘70s, it just wasn’t that way, and I think it added to the pile of confusion for Dahmer.

MaxresdefaultDahmer tricks his doc into touching it (Image via FilmRise)

BC: What would you say to your young gay fans, of which you have many?

RL: Well, first of all, I actually have a lot of gay friends that, you know, I heard a story the other day that I wasn’t aware of where he came out and he didn’t get a positive response from his family, and that was really, really hard for him. Obviously, it still is a tough situation. I think ultimately you need to find the right people to be with and that accept you as a person and that make you feel comfortable in being who you are. That’s what life’s all about. Don’t let other people hold you down. If that’s who you are, I think you gotta just be that, you know?

BC: So, if you were to become a gay icon, you’d be happy in that position?

RL: [Laughs] What do you mean?

BC: I just mean if you became an inspiring icon to a large number of gay people in particular, you’d be happy to be that?

RL: Yeah, absolutely! I’d be happy to have any sort of position where I’m supporting love and freedom and all-around, just, good vibes. I’m definitely down to be that person who just supports love and happiness. Absolutely.

BC: Speaking of good vibes, the film is so dark, but was there a moment during the filming when you were totally exhilarated, when something went so well?

RL: Oh, man … it was a rare occasion on this particular film because a lot of the days I went home I was feeling really sort of distressed, I guess you could say, and tired, obviously. So most of the days, I’d go home and steam out in the shower and I’d sort of decompress from the day, But there were a few times when I felt like I was successful as an actor on set. Not necessarily like I was happy with my performance or exhilarated by this feeling that I got playing Jeffrey Dahmer, but it was like, “I feel this way, and I think this is the correct way that Dahmer was feeling at that time,” so I felt I was accurately representing what he was going through at that time. There were a few moments of that that really stuck out, like the time when I was in the car with Derf — or Alex Wolff, his character’s name is Derf— and there was this moment where I was so in that moment and I was based in that reality of just right there, where the camera didn’t exist. The actor in me was really excited because that’s the goal, is to get lost in that moment and to just be in that moment completely.

Maxresdefault-1A strong performance (Image by FilmRise)

BC: Was it a physically demanding role? Your gait as Dahmer is remarkable.

RL: Yeah, actually, you know, the walk was nice because that was my way of stepping into Dahmer. Right when I had his posture and had the glasses on, I was Dahmer at that point. It was really nice to have that tool to really get in and out easily. Obviously, there’s definitely, like, repercussions, I guess you could say. I found it to be a tool rather than a stressful thing. I got the walk from all his interviews, and although it may seem exaggerated, it’s actually how he walked. If you watch his interviews, you’re gonna be shocked at the way he moves his body. It was honestly an essential part of playing Jeffrey Dahmer, I think — physicality. It actually represents the way he felt and just, overall, just how comfortable he was with the world — he wasn’t. He probably always felt like an outcast.

BC: What’s next? Broadway?

RL: You know, I have not necessarily been exploring the Broadway route all that much. I have met a lot of interesting people in the Broadway world, so maybe in the future I could explore that. But right now, I really wanna — Dahmer’s doing a lot of great things for me as a young actor and I’m really excited by the possible opportunities that are coming from this particular film. I’m excited by musical possibilities with R5. We have some singles coming up that I think could be prominent songs in the Top 40 world. But also, I’m looking forward to getting a house. [Laughs] I’m still living with my mom right now. I’m always on tour, so I’ve been renting houses left and right and I really would love to just settle down, build my studio back up and really take advantage of Soundcloud and YouTube and all these streaming platforms. I really think there are so many outlets for young, creative people. Everything is uncertain in a great way right now, and I’m really just trying to appreciate it all and take it all in.

CreditJoeMagnaniMy first shoot with Lynch in 2012 was my last in the teen biz. (Image by Joe Magnani)

BC: I first met you when you were just beginning to have young fans, and now you’re entering into a new level of fame. Are there negatives yet?

RL: I’ll tell you what — it’s strange. I don’t really consider myself famous, so when I’m at these certain Hollywood parties, it’s all very strange. Some people do consider me famous, but to be honest with you, a lot of people really like that, that they’re known and that people know their name and they can kinda take advantage of that. For me, it’s about being creative and being an artist and exploring things. I think fame is just part of the gig to me. That’s the best way I can put it.

BC: Maybe because you're still at that gateway where you’re not too famous yet?

RL: Yeah, I think you’re right. I think I might still be at that gateway. I don’t have paparazzi at my house. I’ve kind of taken the position of not really caring what people think, and I think that’s healthy, even for someone that’s not in the limelight. It’s okay to realize that we live in a society and society sometimes projects certain things onto people, and at the end of the day, everything is just an idea, and after you realize that, it’s okay not to care as much.

Obviously, I care tremendously about a lot of things, but what other people think doesn’t concern me as much.