Mindhunter’s Cameron Britton: how I played Ed Kemper

Mindhunter won our Best Crime Drama of 2017 award last year, and details of the Netflix show’s second series have been gobbled up easily.

If you haven’t seen it, it’s the slow-burn, creepy tale of a secret branch of the FBI tasked with researching a new kind of killer in the 1970s – the sequential, or serial, killer.

Jonathan Groff, Holt McCallany and Anna Torv took on the main roles, but one of the most memorable performances was Cameron Britton as terrifying serial killer, Ed Kemper. Britton won plaudits – not least from us – for his physical manifestation of the hulking psychopath, as well his portrayal of Kemper’s seeming banal, matter-of-fact personality.

Britton has given a really fascinating interview to Variety, which we’re printing in full. In it, Britton gives a real insight into what it was like to play a killer.

I was lucky enough early in the process to not want to make an imitation and that’s something that David did not want either. So it allowed me, when watching interviews with him, to capture his essence and then just let everything else come organically and instinctually to me. So you sort of get a mix of what Ed Kemper was like and then the artistic expression that I found.

This character is trying to hide his true self from everyone, so the audience needs to be able to see the true self and that he’s hiding it. So in my process, what I do is fill myself with dark impulses and then sort of create a second character. There’s Ed and then there’s the character Ed’s created to seem normal.

Before shooting Ed my hair was down to my shoulder blades and I had a big beard. Hair and makeup and costumes went into every detail possible to be really authentic — [slicking back] my hair, which is very curly, darkening my eyebrows and [putting] my prescription in those glasses. It helped dramatically with the performance to be able to look in a mirror and not see yourself.

I think what makes Ed Kemper so interesting is the way he phrases things and how insightful he is. It’s enough to just simply transcribe it at times. The rest of the script was Joe Penhall, and usually as an actor there’s a line or two in a script you don’t care for or that you want to re-look at, but with this script there was none of that. I loved every single word.

After the first day [of shooting] I was pretty tired, but what made it through the week and what made me full of energy was all of those takes. There’s something incredible about sitting in a chair and just doing what you love until it’s time to go home.

Mostly between takes [Jonathan] Groff and Holt [McCallany] and I were singing show tunes. It was a really dark subject matter, so it was really nice to have light, fun energy between to remember that this is acting. As an actor you need to enjoy what you’re doing to really do it.

Sometimes Ed just lingers. It’s hard to get out of that energy. That’s the hard part — with many characters I’ve done, sometimes I feel them sprout up when I’m driving and I want to do them, but with Ed I ignore those impulses because if you just have dark thoughts all day, they become habitual. But that being said, I very much enjoy that headspace because, creepy as it is, there’s a control and a power that comes from being this monster.

Series two of Mindhunter looks set to premiere in 2019, and it’s been confirmed that the story will revolve around the Atlanta Child Murders.


One Comment Add yours

  1. Andy D says:

    Great article. He pops up in HBO’s Barry as a tech security guy/stoner. It took a minute for me to place him as they looked so different!


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