Jefferson Mays, the renowned Broadway and TV actor, engaged in a conversation with RyeTheNewsGuy.com to discuss his portrayal of Dr. George Hodel in the captivating limited series, I am the Night, airing on TNT. This highly anticipated show has sparked widespread discussions, reigniting the timeless inquiry of “who was truly responsible for The Black Dahlia’s murder?” Mays delved into his experience working on such a compelling project, shedding light on his meticulous preparation for the role, including extensive research into Dr. George Hodel’s son’s book. Furthermore, he provided insights into what viewers can anticipate from the series, leaving us eagerly awaiting its release. Lastly, Mays addressed the possibility of his return to Broadway in the near future, leaving theater enthusiasts hopeful for his triumphant comeback.
The official summary of the series is as follows: Penned by Sam Sheridan and drawing inspiration from real-life incidents, I Am the Night narrates the captivating tale of Fauna Hodel (India Eisley), an adolescent girl who was abandoned at birth and raised in the outskirts of Reno, Nevada. Fauna manages to live a relatively content life despite the enigma surrounding her birth, until a fateful day when she stumbles upon a revelation that shatters her perception of everything she knows.
Provide me with some insights into your experience working on I am the Night and your perspective on co-starring in the series.
The experience was absolutely marvelous and an incredibly captivating, eerie tale. It captivated me right from the start and held me spellbound until the very end. Never before have I encountered such an experience in my life, where the element of unpredictability was so prevalent. Although I received the initial two scripts featuring my character, I remained clueless about the unexpected plot twists and the significant relationships that would unfold. In a way, it resembled life itself, as I was able to immerse myself in the entire story without any knowledge of its ultimate conclusion.
Can you provide me with information regarding Dr. George Hodel, the notorious gynecologist who has been implicated in some of the most depraved activities in Hollywood?
Indeed, Dr. George Hodel was an intriguing individual with a rather enigmatic past. Born to Jewish emigres from Europe at the turn of the century, he grew up in Pasadena, almost like a European aristocrat. With an exceptional IQ of 186, he was undeniably a genius. As a child prodigy, he displayed remarkable talent in playing the piano and even received tutelage from the renowned composer Rachmaninoff. Due to his exceptionally high IQ, he had the privilege of being educated at a Montessori school in Paris, personally run by Madam Montessori herself. This early exposure also allowed him to become fluent in French.
Undoubtedly, Dr. Hodel possessed extraordinary gifts, but he was also an eccentric figure. Returning to Pasadena for high school, he must have stood out quite prominently. Intrigued by his story, I delved into his son’s book, “Black Dahlia Avenger.” Interestingly, his son happened to be a LAPD homicide detective. In this book, he implicates his own father, accusing him of various crimes, including the infamous Black Dahlia murder. The shadow of these crimes, along with the Black Dahlia murder itself, looms ominously over the series “I am the Night.” However, it is important to note that the primary focus of the series is the captivating journey of Fauna Hodel, Dr. Hodel’s granddaughter, as she embarks on a quest of self-discovery in the dark underbelly of 1960s Los Angeles, ultimately uncovering the truth about her grandfather.
What was the source of inspiration for this character and what were some of the challenges you encountered while portraying this role as an actor?
The majority of my inspiration came from detailed descriptions of the man himself. I made every effort to pay tribute to him, considering he was a real person. Therefore, I heavily relied on his son’s portrayal of his father, including his mannerisms, speech, literary preferences, and artistic obsessions.
I aimed to ground the character in factual information. However, it is important to note that although the series is based on true events, it may not necessarily depict them accurately. Now, moving on to your other question regarding the specific challenges I faced.
Well, playing a villain does present a unique challenge because villains never perceive themselves as villainous. I had to let go of any restraints and suppress any traces of guilt I may have had. I approached the character with a clear conscience, fully believing that everything he did was right, good, and proper. It was the rest of the world that failed to understand him.
Nevertheless, I did find a major challenge in how I would endure the weight of this role throughout several months of filming. Would it overwhelm me? Surprisingly, the opposite occurred. Ultimately, I discovered that playing a villain can be a cathartic experience, allowing you to confront your own inner demons by behaving poorly on screen. As a result, you become a more pleasant person in real life.
What can we anticipate witnessing by watching I am the Night? Can you provide any insights?
I strongly encourage individuals to approach this series with an open mind, as it offers a unique and captivating experience unlike anything I have ever witnessed before, especially not on TNT or television in general. The series possesses a remarkable atmosphere and is visually stunning, evoking a sense of nostalgia for the golden age of Hollywood in a truly alluring manner.
When watching this series, I recommend allowing yourself to be immersed in its narrative. It unfolds at a deliberate pace, respecting the intelligence of its audience. Unlike many other shows, it does not rely on excessive jump cuts or predictable plot twists to maintain constant excitement. Instead, it provides an experience that is reminiscent of indulging in a beautifully written and satisfying novel. This is the impression I have gathered from it.
As we conclude our discussion, I am curious to know about your future plans. Are you considering a comeback on the silver screen or do you have intentions of returning to Broadway?
I am uncertain, and that is both the terror and joy of this profession – you never truly know what lies ahead. Perhaps next week, you could find yourself filming in Laos or exploring a jungle. However, I have a deep passion for the theater, and I fully intend to return to it. Recently, I concluded a production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, a one-man show that I performed at the Geffen Theater here in Hollywood. I would be thrilled to bring this production to New York next season. Therefore, I strive to stay involved in various endeavors as they arise, ensuring that I have multiple irons in the fire.