Guillermo Diaz Previews Getting Into the Mind of Rodney Alcala for ‘The Dating Game Killer’

Guillermo Diaz on Portraying Rodney Alcala in ‘The Dating Game Killer’

As Huck in ABC’s “Scandal,” Guillermo Diaz is accustomed to playing a dark figure who does morally questionable things. But his new role as convicted serial killer Rodney Alcala in Investigation Discovery’s (ID) first scripted true crime project, “The Dating Game Killer,” takes things to a whole other level.

“Of course they’ve both killed people, but Huck is a more socially awkward type of guy who regrets the things he’s done,” Diaz tells Variety. “Rodney Alcala has an almost genius IQ and is super charming and was always super upbeat and happy. Women and children were drawn to him, and that’s how he lured people into his world and was able to do all of these horrific things. I kind of pictured him as a pied piper: people wanted to be around him and follow him. I find him very different from Huck, and I approached them in different ways.”

Alcala’s first known crime took place in the late 1960s, when he lured a child into his apartment, raped and beat her. A good samaritan happened to spot Alcala picking up the girl and called the police, which allowed them to get to her before Alcala could kill her. This event is what opens ID’s movie about Alcala, but it is only the beginning: Alcala went on to become one of the most prolific serial killers in American history, with 130 murders linked back to him, made further infamous by the fact that he appeared on “The Dating Game” during the height of his crimes.

“To find out [“The Dating Game Killer”] was going to be ID’s first scripted movie, I felt really proud and wanted to do an extra good job in the role. It was definitely a draw for me in choosing to do this movie,” Diaz says.

Ahead of the premiere of “The Dating Game Killer,” Diaz talks with Variety about embodying the man and the monster, as well as if he feels justice was served with Alcala’s eventual sentence.

There is so much information available about Rodney Alcala and his crimes today. How daunting is that when you’re trying to find your own version of the character?

That’s the perfect word. After I found out I got the role, I Googled him and read up on him all night, and it became absolutely daunting, and I started to feel physically ill. I found myself saying, “OK I have to stop now.” I read enough information about him and saw his mannerisms — how he moved — and I saw pictures of his victims, and it just became overwhelming. I decided after that point to just concentrate on the task at hand — the script, the movie. I had all of that history in the back of my head when I was playing the character, obviously, but I didn’t want it to sidetrack me or derail me. I also didn’t want to use that or let that inform me too much because then you’re playing the ending of the film.

If just reading about his crimes made you feel ill, what were the most challenging scenes to actually shoot?

The hardest scenes were with the young children, like the opening scene with the little girl. You don’t really see much, but just having to shoot those scenes with this little girl and wondering what she really knows. She’s playing a real person, and does she know what he does to her? It was really upsetting. The actors’ parents were there if they were underage, but it was really hard.

And yet, in order to fully embody him, you must have had to find some common ground or something you could understand about him.

It was tricky. I had no idea that he had a steady girlfriend the whole time he was doing these killings. It was just a steady stream of information. The producers had been living with this story and this script for a long time, and they knew so much about him. He had a very codependent, dysfunctional relationship with his mother, and it’s known he had a very dysfunctional relationship with his father, who abused him verbally and physically, so that kind of helped me get into his skin. He’s a human being. He’s a monster, as well, but he is also a person that was hurt by someone else. It doesn’t justify the killings — we’ve all been through horrible things with our families or just s— that we go through, and we don’t go out and kill people — he’s still a very disturbed person. But having that information about his family, which we touch on in the film, that helped me stay grounded.

Did you talk to Rodney or his family or victims’ families to understand him further?

At first I asked the producers if I could meet Rodney himself. He’s still alive, on Death Row, and I thought about meeting him, but they advised me against it, and then I agreed with them. It’s not going to help my performance, but if anything, he might get off on the idea of us making a movie about him. I also didn’t want to talk to the victims’ families. I felt like I didn’t want to conjure up painful memories and feelings they had about this guy. I don’t know how they feel about a movie being made about this person who killed a family member of theirs.

The movie follows Rodney through the years, being on the FBI’s Most Wanted list, getting arrested for some of his offenses, but ultimately let go time and again so he could continue to take new victims. He was finally sentenced to death in 2010, but he’s actually still alive today. Do you think the audience will walk away from the movie feeling like justice was served?

Some people believe being put on Death Row but not being put to death is almost a harsher sentence because you have to stay in this world and live with what you’ve done, whereas if you’re put to death, you’re being released and people might think that’s too good for him. Hopefully people will come away feeling satisfied that he got what he deserved. And the fact that it was one of his victims responsible for that will give people some sort of hope and satisfaction, for lack of a better word.

Do you personally think he got the sentence he deserved?

I think it took a really long time for him to get what he deserved. He kept slipping through the cracks of this flawed justice system, and it took way too long. He took too many lives being released from jail when he shouldn’t have. So I go back and forth, but now I certainly feel like he’s better off just on Death Row and not being put to death. That’s just my personal opinion.

“The Dating Game Killer” premieres Sunday, Dec. 3 at 8 p.m. on ID.