Dominic West plays serial killer Fred West in Sundance Channel's… (Sundance )
Dominic West won't be playing a serial killer again any time soon.
The British actor, best known for his role as hard-drinking detective Jimmy McNulty on "The Wire," had his fill of the darker side while filming "Appropriate Adult" (9 p.m. Saturday, Sundance Channel; 3 stars). In the movie, he plays real-life serial killer Fred West (no relation), who with his wife Rosemary killed at least 12 young women and girls in Gloucester, England.
The 1994 case became one of the biggest police investigations in British history and changed the life of Janet Leach, a social worker in training who sat in on police interrogations as an "appropriate adult," a role in the British legal system meant to safeguard the rights of suspects in police custody.
The film focuses Fred's psychological grip over Janet (played by Emily Watson) as opposed to the murders. It's still a grisly tale, feuled by West's mesmerizing performance.
West was able to listen to the recordings if the interrogations, and said his performance was the result of that research. "After you've listened to a guy for about 50 hours you tend to just know how he thinks and clicks and speaks and what makes him tick," he said.
What West noticed most about Fred was his ability to manipulate those around him--and not just Janet.
"In photographs of him with police, the police are often smiling," West said. "There was a disconnect there. He's talking about chopping up his daughter like chopping wood or putting the trash out."
West said he has happy filming took just four weeks, because he didn't want to spend any more time plumbing Fred's psyche. And as to whether he will do another "pretty dark and pretty intense" psycho role, he was quick to answer.
"I was offered another one actually," he said. "But I think I've done that. So no."
West, who by now has donned the classic 1950s suits of Hector Madden to film Season 2 of BBC America’s “The Hour,” talked more about that series, finding Fred’s dark depravity in “Appropriate Adult” and about how Eminem’s love for “The Wire” resulted in West doing a voice in the “Dr. West” skit on “Relapse.”
SPOILER ALERT: If you don't know the details of the Fred West case, some answers could be considered spoilers.
What’s it like to embody Fred West, such a disturbing person, for weeks on end?
Fortunately it was a fairly short filming period in that I did all my scenes back-to-back. So I was only at it for about three-and-a-half, four weeks. And it was away from home in Manchester and it was something that was [bleeping] intense for three weeks, but then I was able to leave it behind quite quickly and then I went straight into rehearsals for a play I was doing. So I got away from it quite easily, but at the time it was pretty dark and pretty intense.
It shows onscreen. The whole movie is pretty chilling. Did you do a lot of research?
I read all the books about him, which in itself is initially—I mean I've never read books like that before. I know lots of people do and it’s surprising how easy you get into books about people like that, but I was able to listen to some of the hundred-odd hours of the real police interviews with Fred West and that’s an extraordinary resource really … That was the main thrust of my research and the performance was based entirely on those tapes really.
Those tapes must have been shocking to hear.
You hear it enough it almost becomes normal—well normal isn’t the right work—but maybe I became sort of able to understand him better. It became one’s initial revulsion fading away, I suppose. I suppose inevitably it has to, although I was quite vigilant he wasn’t going to take me over and mess me up because people like that, even thought they’re dead, their malignancy does go on and on. And I know that from people who have written about him. And even though I had a very indirect experience of him it does mess you up and so I was pretty vigilant about that. I was pretty vigilant that he wasn’t going to mess me up.
Did you find him extremely manipulative of Janet on those tapes?
That is really what the film is about; it’s not about him and his crimes. He’s a sort of background character, but what you see is the manipulation—the manipulative, malignant, manipulative nature of him. I did a few visits to prisons—mostly for “The Wire” in fact because it’s watched a lot in prisons—and I met quite a few criminals who committed sex crimes and horrible crimes. The thing that strikes you first is how insidiously manipulative they are and how good they are at making something sound innocent when it has an underlying motive.