“About six months before production started, Ryan called me and said, ‘We’re doing a series and we want you to be a part of it,” Barclay tells me. “I always listen to what Ryan Murphy has to offer because it’s always interesting. Ryan said, ‘It’s a miniseries about Jeffrey Dahmer,’ and I said, ‘Oh, that’s not interesting to me.’ But then he explained he wanted to tell it from the point of view of the victims.”
Barclay directed two of the Netflix series’ 10 episodes, including one focused on Tony Hughes, a Deaf and non-vocal Black man (played by newcomer Rodney Burford) who was murdered by Dahmer (played by Evan Peters) in 1991. Shortly after the series premiered, Hughes’ mother and family members of other victims publicly denounced the show for not only retraumatizing them, but also accusing Netflix and the producers for exploiting the story for profit.
“I don’t really have an opinion about that other than I really wish there’s a world where [Hughes’ mother] can experience it without pain, but I can’t imagine being able to see it without pain,” Barclay says.
“We tried to elevate and we tried to embrace Tony. We tried to give him a voice. We tried as best we could to make him resonate with viewers. And that seemed to have happened,” Barclay continued. “I’m really proud of what we did, not just for Tony, but also for the Deaf community. That was my mantra. We want to make these victims not disappear.”
It was announced on Oct. 20 that the limited series debuted on Nielsen’s weekly streaming rankings with 3.7 billion minutes watched from Sept. 19-25, making it the No. 1 program of the viewing window and the 10th most-streamed program in a single week ever recorded by Nielsen.
Most recently, Murphy said he reached out to 20 victims’ families for “Dahmer” research, but “not a single person responded” to his team. Murphy also has said that Peters stayed in character as Dahmer “for months” to prepare for the shoot.
Because of the story’s intense and brutal details, Netflix offered counseling services to the cast and crew.
“Some of the scenes that we depicted were pretty harrowing. When you’re shooting them, you don’t just get to watch them for two minutes,” Barclay says. “You’re living in them for a full day and you’re repeating them. It definitely took its toll on you. There were times that I was at home crying just thinking about the emotional experience that the actors have gone through and what the real people went through.”
He adds, “We took our time with it. We didn’t rush anything. Evan Peters was very intense as Jeffrey Dahmer. He was very much in character on stage so we really took care. We really protected the cast and crew as much as we could.”