“I do a lot of people watching, not actor watching but behavioral watching. That goes into everything I do.” – Paul Walter Hauser
Actor Paul Walter Hauser has had a colorful career since his breakout performance in the title role of 2019’s Richard Jewell. In Apple TV+’s miniseries Black Bird, he portrays real-life suspected serial killer Larry Hall, who authorities believe may have killed perhaps more than 50 women. The miniseries, created by author Dennis Lehane, forces Hauser to expand his range into playing a character coming from an extremely dark place, and he shared his experience making the miniseries with AV Club.
Though the landscape has been filled with dramas about serial killers lately, Hauser said that he didn’t take inspiration from any particular acting performance to portray Hall. He explained:
“I didn’t call upon any other performances I can think of. A lot of it was Dennis’ writing and my own warped creativity. I do a lot of people watching, not actor watching but behavioral watching. That goes into everything I do. I once heard Michael Keaton talk about how instead of ripping off other actors, he rips off people he met, like an auto mechanic he met as a teenager or his golfing buddies or something like that. It’s kind of what I do too. I look at people I’ve met and think about how, for example, Larry is socially awkward, so what are some tricks I’ve seen in socially awkward people? You match those choices with what’s happening in the scene and what you want to portray in the story. Dennis Lehane is the one who is buying the groceries and giving me the brilliant recipe, but then it’s my job to doctor it with how I’m going to burn the ends or stir in the paprika. It’s my job to make people pause while they’re chewing and ask, ‘What the hell am I tasting?'”
Like other actors who have portrayed serial killers, Hauser says he relied on his acting instincts to handle the dark material. He continued, “My buddy Cameron Britton brilliantly did Mindhunter, where he played Ed Kemper. It was my favorite serial-killer performance since Anthony Hopkins. But the only way I can differentiate my approach is to block out all those performances and think about what I have to do. Having singular focus and trusting your instinct becomes the real way to get things done.”
For most of his roles, Hauser has had to change his voice to reflect the real-life voices of the character he is portraying. He admitted that it was an aspect to acting that he’s found challenging, explaining, “One of the hardest things to do as an actor, in my opinion, is to maintain a vocal choice throughout a project. I’ve had to do it for a few things like Cruella and Richard Jewell. This one I would refer to as an emotional or psychological accent. I started off being a little more in my voice, and then I started blending to his true register in episodes two and three. The high-pitched thing is how he sounded for real. If anything, I diluted it to make it more digestible. Dennis and I decided that he dropped his register vocally when he’s being himself; when he’s trying to say something he doesn’t mean, it will go high. We all change our vocal choices without realizing it. I never talk to a total stranger like I talk to a loved one.”