Don’t call Child Protection Services, but Ross Lynch’s mother used to take him and his siblings to over-21 karaoke bars to perform. 2002 was a simpler time. “My siblings and I used to reenact Michael Jackson videos together,” says Lynch, now 22, over the phone from Los Angeles, the signal crackling as he’s driven through the Hollywood Hills. “My mom would get us all on stage to sing our songs. I always used to refuse to sing but then this one time, I went up there and this old couple came up to me afterwards with a napkin in their hand saying, ‘Can we have your autograph, little boy?’ Bearing in mind I was around six years old at the time…”
The premature performances were prophetic. Since 2009, the Lynchs — that’s Ross, Riker, Rocky and Rydel — have existed as pop outfit R5, along with their family friend Ellington Ratliff. When we speak, Lynch has just landed back in the US from the Japanese leg of their tour. “I had one day off,” he laughs. “It wasn’t really a day off ‘cause I was full of jet lag, but I like to work and keep things in motion. It’s good to keep busy in the music world, the industry is so sporadic, if you stop for a second, people could easily forget about you.” I wouldn’t bet on that too soon. There are 1.4 million Instagram followers tracking the group’s every move, so comparisons to their childhood hero Michael Jackson and his familial band, wouldn’t be too far off the mark. “We just preferred to hang out with each other more than with anyone else,” Lynch reasons when I comment on the wholesome aura a band of siblings brings. “Even back home in LA, I just moved in with my brothers,” he explains. “The same goes for being on the road, we’ve known each other our entire lives so we’re always going to have each other’s backs.”
Top FENDI, trousers DIOR HOMME and underwear BENCH
Further propelling Lynch’s angelic public image (which, after endless gratitude and promises to hang out at his next London show, I suspect is just the same as his private one) was his Disney Channel stint. Starring as the titular role in Austin & Ally, Lynch appeared as an aspiring musician in the series for five years. Needless to say, pre-teen fans come with the territory, so Lynch’s next move after the show came to an end in 2016 wasn’t exactly what you’d call “on-brand”. “I put out to the universe that I wanted to delve into something darker and more indie,” he professes. “It was in my mind since the beginning.”
So the universe — or at least the industry — listened, and Lynch was transformed from the charming adolescent Austin, to infamous killer and necrophiliac Jeffrey Dahmer, who murdered 17 men and went undetected for 14 years. My Friend Dahmer takes its plot from the graphic memoir by John Backerf, Dahmer’s school friend who knew him before he’d committed any crimes, as a bespectacled, awkward teenager, obsessed with preserving animals and trying to find his place in not only the firmly structured hierarchy of high school, but the wider world. Lynch plays the teenager with a magnetic detachment, a world away from the laughter track and gleeful singalong moments of Disney.
(BOTH) Jacket KENZO and T-shirt SUNSPEL
“I considered the pros and cons of doing such a film,” he explains (after all, leading a young adult audience to the true story of a cannibalistic necrophiliac might not all be sunshine and roses). “The pros always outweighing the cons… I did think about the younger fans I acquired from Disney Channel and if they’d understand it but surprisingly every person I’ve spoken to has been supportive. I knew it was going to be good in the film community to view me in a different light, playing an in-depth character with many different layers.” Lynch readily admits — multiple times — that the 180 move was in part to avoid being typecast for million-dollar-smile roles for the rest of his life. “I wanted to have fun with other roles and have the audience at the edge of their seat, just like my role in this movie does,” he explains eagerly. “It’s a combination of wanting to see what I could do as an actor and how I can out-perform myself, but also it was for the future of my career.”
Much like the millennials who follow Lynch, the film was his first introduction to Dahmer, not that you’d guess from his unnerving portrayal. There’s a sense of vulnerability in there somewhere, and as a viewer you feel torn, vilifying a troubled, adolescent character in retrospect before they commit the crimes you know are just around the corner. “I feel like his one redeeming factor was the fact he was just a kid at this time,” Lynch agrees. “He hadn’t actually done anything wrong and the anchor of the film is that these are just kids trying to get though high school.”
(LEFT) Shirt and neck tie SAINT LAURENT by ANTHONY VACCARELLO, jeans DIOR HOMME and trainers CONVERSE
(RIGHT) Jacket BURBERRY
Luckily the goriest thing required of Lynch was clutching some roadkill — taken home by Dahmer to be preserved in his shed — but surprisingly in a story about such a prolific criminal, the coldest scenes are those where nothing much at all happens. The banality of suburban life is tainted by what you know in hindsight. In one scene, wanting to appear the high-school standard of “normal”, he coerces a girl into going to the prom with a monologue before leaving her on the dance floor, another sees him waiting at the side of the road alone for a daily jogger who never arrives. “When I was in those secluded moments I really did feel like it was just me there,” he explains, “all because of what I’m putting in my own head.” While you might not be able to call Lynch’s experience in A&A method acting, playing Dahmer with the unbounded intensity required was certainly closer. “Other actors have said to me that they wouldn’t recommend acting because it’s all psychological and you’ve got to be careful with it,” he admits. “Acting is an amazing thing, I’m not trying to talk negatively about it all I’m just saying you do have to be careful with it.”
“I’m trying to put together a list of people that I aim to be like and set goals for myself to accomplish,” Lynch continues, “people like James Cameron… I’ve done so much but there’s still so much more to do… I’d love to write and direct my own film at some point, I feel like I’ve been around enough writers and know enough people that they can guide me in that way some time down the line.” Whether it’s acting, singing or directing, it’s still telling a story, he tells me.
“The thing I love most about being an artist is exploring,” Lynch concludes. With Disney and Dahmer, he’s visited each end of the spectrum, now it’s his time to venture into the world between.
My Friend Dahmer — in UK and Irish cinemas this summer.
Taken from the Spring 2018 Issue; out now and available to buy here.
Stefan Bertin at Frank's Agency using Bumble and Bumble and Bobbi Brown Cosmetics