The Sundance Channel’s Appropriate Adult, stars Dominic West, a serial killer responsible for the murders of over a dozen young women.
West was concerned about the potential risk in making a film about the famous UK investigation, but was intrigued by the angle the film takes. He recently talked with the Los Angeles Times about his experience.
Many actors play historical figures, but in this case West had primary source material to pull from, that of Fred West’s interviews; however West still struggled with finding the character: “I don’t think you ever identify with people like that. I once played Iago, another sort of devil. They’re roles you don’t identify with, but you do, I suppose, get into their head a little bit,” he said.
“The advantage of playing Fred West is there are over 100 interviews on tape that you can hear. You don’t normally get that with a character. I was fairly sure I could understand what his thinking was and the makeup of his mind listening to 60-70 hours of his interviews. In that way, you get under their skin a little bit. Though, with him, it was something I was very conscious of-–maintaining a certain detachment from. I suppose in all parts you play there’s an element where you submerge yourself in their character but still remain detached and objective about the character. I was very clear to keep that distinction and keep that detachment. He messed with everyone’s heads—including his biographers, a lot of whom had breakdowns. I was pretty wary about getting in too deep. I was determined not to let him get to me.” “Many actors also feel that you should never judge your character. West however feels that keeping was paramount to his performance when he says, “Inevitably when you’re acting a part, you sort of take their side. You give them the benefit of the doubt. You sympathize with them. The challenging thing to keep in mind the whole time was that he was not of sound mind…I sometimes felt myself acting him with a heart and a warmth that I don’t think he had. I had to be pretty vigilant about that.”
West met with the real-life Janet Leach, the serial killer’s “appropriate adult” a role in the UK legal system that safeguards the rights of the vulnerable in police custody. When asked what someone can take away from this very real and traumatic experience now on film, West says, “There was catharsis for her [Janet] with this film. I think that’s another function of drama when it’s done right.”