Jefferson Mays in I am the Night (Clay Enos)
Broadway and TV actor, Jefferson Mays chatted with RyeTheNewsGuy.com to talk about his role as Dr. George Hodel in the new limited series I am the Night on TNT. This new show has everyone talking and sparks the age old question of "who really killed The Black Dahlia?" He talked about working on a piece like this and how he prepared himself for the role, the research into Dr. George Hodel sons book, what we can expect from the series; and whether he will be returning back to Broadway soon!
The official synopsis of the series goes like this: Written by Sam Sheridan and inspired by true events, I Am the Night tells the gripping story of Fauna Hodel (India Eisley ), a teenage girl who is given away at birth, and grows up outside of Reno, Nevada. Fauna lives more-or-less comfortably with the mysteries of her origin, until one day she makes a discovery that leads her to question everything.
As Fauna begins to investigate the secrets of her past, she meets a ruined reporter (Chris Pine), haunted by the case that undid him. Together they follow a sinister trail that swirls ever closer to an infamous Los Angeles gynecologist, Dr. George Hodel (Jefferson Mays ), a man involved in some of Hollywood’s darkest debauchery, and possibly, its most infamous unsolved crime.
Tell me a little bit about what it was like to work on I am the Night and what it was like to co-star in it? It was a wonderful experience and a truly gripping, haunting story. It had me from the very beginning and didn't let me go until the end. I never had an experience like this before in my life in that I never knew what was going to happen next. I received the first two scripts in which my character appears, but I never knew what twists and turns the plot would take, what relationships would be significant to me. So it was kind of like life in that respect in which I was able to live through the entire story, not knowing how it would end. Oh Wow- that's a very exciting to hear. I'd never ever in my entire career worked that way before. It was mysterious. Could you tell me about your character, Dr George Hodel, the infamous gynecologist who has been involved in some of the darkest debauchery in all of Hollywood? Yes. Dr. George Hodel, of course, a real person, with a very mysterious past to say the least. He was a genius- IQ of 186. He was the son of a Jewish emigres from Europe at the turn of the century and pretty much raised in Pasadena as a European aristocrat. He, was a prodigy, a child prodigy. He played the piano, was tutored by the composer Rachmaninoff, and because if his prodigiously high IQ, he was educated in his early years, very early years in Paris at a Montessori school run by Madam Montessori herself. He spoke fluent French. So he was very gifted and very odd character. And then he came back and went to high school in Pasadena where he must have stuck out like a sore thumb. But I steeped myself in his son's book called the "Black Dahlia Avenger." Now his son, ironically enough, was a LAPD homicide detective. And in this book he essentially indicts his father, or accuses him of all sorts of crimes, the Black Dahlia murder among them. And the Black Dahlia murder and his crimes sort of hang over the series "I am the Night" like a malevolent black cloud. It's not really that story that is being told, it hovers menacingly in the background. The story being told is that of Fauna Hodel, and her sort of epic quest of self discovery in which she ascends into the dark underworld of Los Angeles in the 1960's and discovers this man, her grandfather.
Jefferson Mays in I am the Night (Clay Enos)
Where did you draw inspiration for this character and while playing this role, what were some challenges you faced as an actor? The inspiration I drew was largely from descriptions of the man himself. I tried to honor him as much as possible, he being a real person. So I was very much indebted to his sons description of his father, how he stood, how he spoke, what he read, what art obsessed him. So I tried to root it all in you know, factual facts about the character. That being said, the series itself though it is based on true events, of course, does not necessarily represent them. But, your other question was, oh yes, particular challenges. I
guess there's a particular challenge in playing a villain because villains never considered themselves villainous.
So I would sort of shake off all restraints and any twinges of conscience I may have had, and approach him with a clear conscience and with the knowledge that everything that he did he thought was the right thing and the good thing and the proper thing. It was just the rest of the world that had the problem and misunderstood him.
But I did feel a major challenge was how am I going to carry the weight of this for several months of shooting? Is it going to beat me down? Ultimately, I found quite the contrary and I'd urge you if you ever get the chance to play someone villainous, it's a wonderful, Cathartic experience in which you get to exercise your own demons by behaving badly on the screen. Then you're kind of more pleasant person in real life. Ha, I'll have to try it!
Absolutely. Go get yourself a mustache and twiddle it. With that being said what can we expect to see from watching I am the Night? Is there anything you can let us in on?
Well, I would urge people to go in preparing to be mystified in the best possible way, the series is like nothing that Ive ever seen, certainly not on TNT or on television. It's a series that's that highly atmospheric. It's beautifully shot. It conjures this bygone age of Hollywood history in this very sensuous way. I would urge people watching it to let it wash over you. It takes its time and I believe it also honors the intelligence of its audience. There are not lots of know jump cuts and you know, plot, twist to keep, you know, the sort of shiny object spinning perpetually. But it's felt like an experience almost akin to reading a really rich and delicious novel or that's the impresion i've gotten.
As we finish up here I wanted to ask what is next for you? Will you be back on the big screen or will you be returning to Broadway? Yes, I'm not sure and that's the horror and delight, of this profession is that you never know, you know, next week you could be shooting a film in Laos or something in a jungle. But I do, I love the theater, so I do intend to return to that. I just closed a production, a one man show of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, which I performed at the Geffen here in Hollywood and I would love to bring that to New York next season probably. So I try to keep a hand in a foot in another hand and another foot in as many things as I can as they come along. But I have no plan, you know, I'm always keen to be sort of mugged by project, ambushed by them. I don't have things that I want to do necessarily, but they're sort of thrust upon me and I enjoyed them.
I am The Night airs Monday's 9/8 central on TNT.
Editors Note: Some of this interview has been edited to fit the piece