At the end of September, Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story immediately dominated Netflix upon its premiere and now, a couple of weeks later, it remains as the streamer’s top show in the U.S. Among the cast is Cameron Cowperthwaite, who you’ve likely seen in other Ryan Murphy productions like American Horror Story: Cult and, more recently, American Horror Stories.
Following the series debut, Cowperthwaite spoke with LA Confidential about playing Steven Hicks, being in the family business and his next film, Double Down South.
How did you get cast on Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story?
I've been pretty blessed with Ryan Murphy Productions. I've worked with him like five times now, I think, at this point. When I did my first stint with him, I was really told that he truly is one of the most loyal people in Hollywood and once you can get into his camp, as long as you find a nice rapport with him and the rest of his team, he'll continue to call you. And at the time I did an audition for Jeffrey Dahmer, I put myself on tape because this was in the beginning of COVID when self tapes and the at-home audition started to become a thing. I did an incredibly wacky audition. I did the scenes and then I made an intense and dark and very disturbing home video that I shot on my iPhone using a 1970s film grain filter. I submitted to casting and obviously that part went to Evan Peters, who plays it beautifully. His portrayal of Dahmer is haunting. But because of that, I guess I had made my way toward the producer team again after it had been a couple years of working with them and they called me for Steven Hicks.
How did you prepare to play Steven Hicks?
I did as much research as I could. I find the research to be one of the most fun parts of acting. I think I learned more about the histories of the world and of the country prepping for an acting role than I did in school. Maybe that's because I wasn't always paying attention in class. I found that this story was interesting because it's told from the perspective of the victim, so you went in with this caring consideration of, at least from my mind, trying to capture at least the flair of Steven’s personality. I felt like that was the point a little bit— to present these victims as people and as breathing entities that had such a bright future ahead of them had they not encountered Jeff. I did a lot of research on where Steven was from. I did a deep dive on YouTube and found the Pegasus concert that had been recorded on a grainy VHS camera and that he was on his way to when he was picked up while hitchhiking. And that was like a spooky moment that really settled me into the reality of the story.
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You’ve said on Instagram how grateful you were to be part of this show. Can you tell us more about that?
It's so hard to get an acting job. So from that perspective, you're just grateful that anybody thought you were good enough to be there. I think a lot of times I go through the motions of faking it till I make it, waiting for someone to call me a fraud. I think that it’s a blessing that someone just hires you and I'm so grateful that someone sees the hard work that I’m putting in to tell an important story. And then on that important story note, I think that the message of the series is still applicable today. I think it's important to be part of powerful stories and this story revolves around communities that are still being underserved and over policed, and the members of those communities are crying out for change and struggling to be heard.
Ryan had consulted with Rashad Robinson, who's the president of the nonprofit civil rights advocacy organization Color of Change, to ensure that these victims' stories were front and center and that this didn't revolve around Jeffrey. I think that the production of this project going that direction is what makes it different and sets it apart. And I'm just very proud to be a part of that.
You’ve said that to be an actor, you have to love acting, otherwise it’s just too hard to do if you don’t love it. So, why do you love acting?
Besides having an incredibly dramatic personality and it gives me an excuse to be as rambunctious or wild or imaginative as I can be, I truthfully just grew up around the business. My mom and dad met at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival and I know when you hear the word Shakespeare, it's not really associated with Alabama, but at the time, it was one of the biggest Shakespeare festivals in the world. And I think it's one of those things that just makes me feel close to my family. I think it's just something that they always have had interest in that was then passed down to me and I used to go to the movies every weekend with my dad.
I just don't know a life without it. I think when I get to do it, I feel present. The members of my family that I care so much about, I just want them to be proud of the work that I'm doing and the hustle that is acting.
What role can we see you in next?
I did a movie with Academy Award winner Tom Schulman that just got into the Newport Film Festival and will premiere on the opening weekend on Oct. 15. I'm really excited about that. It's called Double Down South. It's a cool hustling billiards film.
I'm a huge billiards fan. My pop-pop used to teach me how to play in my basement and The Color of Money is one of my favorite movies of all time. So I think being associated with a pool hall film made me feel so bad***. It's a good story as well. It's a powerful story and I think it's one of those movies that actually made me feel good at the end. It was a happy ending, and I think that sometimes we don't always get that in real life or in film and I'm happy that anybody who's gonna get to see that will probably feel that way when they watch it as well.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Photography by: Photo by David Higgs