‘Dahmer’ CD Eric Dawson on the One Simple Thing Ryan Murphy Likes to See in Self Tapes

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Photo Source: Courtesy Netflix

In the Envelope: The Actor’s Podcast features “in-depth conversations with noteworthy actors and creators. Join host and senior editor Vinnie Mancuso for this guide to living the creative life from those who do it every day. 

Casting director Eric Dawson is almost as responsible for Ryan Murphy’s vast TV empire as, well, Ryan Murphy himself. Along with his partners Robert J. Ulrich and Carol Kritze at Ulrich/Dawson/Kritzer Casting, Dawson has been in the audition room with Murphy since the late 1990s; he’s cast “Glee,” every season of “American Horror Story,” and, most recently,  “Dahmer—Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story,” which earned him his eighth Emmy nomination. 

On this episode of In the Envelope: The Actor’s Podcast, Dawson explains the intricacies of a Ryan Murphy audition room, the challenges of sifting through hundreds of self tapes to find the perfect Dahmer, and how the creative team landed back on their first choice of Evan Peters. 

The ‘Dahmer’ team wanted Evan Peters to play Dahmer—but he was busy shooting another Murphy production. 

“Evan said he was interested, so we started figuring out how to take a guy who is starring in [‘American Horror Story: Delicate’] in Massachusetts and shoot ‘Dahmer’ with him in Los Angeles at the same time. And he's in every scene, basically. How does this look? Especially during the pandemic when you couldn't get on flights without being tested. Ultimately, they ended his role on ‘Horror Story’ a little quicker and shot him out. That way, he was able to focus on one thing. It would've been really hard to find the space that Evan needed to be in to play Jeffrey Dahmer, if he was also playing a gay playwright in ‘Horror Story’ at the same time. I'm so glad we made that decision. I take my hat off to Ryan. Most producers would say that's a non-starter, somebody not being available. That doesn't tend to get in the way for Ryan. He realizes that who you hire is just about the most important thing you can do in a process. So he doesn't tend to give up easily.”

In the midst of ‘Barbie’s box office success, Dawson still remembers Margot Robbie auditioning for ‘American Horror Story: Asylum’ in 2011.

“Margot has a lot of ‘it’ factors. That's the tough thing for casting directors who aren't in the room [anymore] with actors. Margot is probably one of my favorite auditions of all time, and it was right before she broke out. She was such a star. It was crazy, her star appeal when she walked in the room. Even though she didn't get that role, that was one of those things as a casting director where you go: This is a star, what do we do with her? Immediately, though, she was out of our realm of possibility of hiring. But that's really the fun part of casting, is seeing the people whose careers are just rising.”

Dawson believes the biggest mistake actors can make is not coming prepared. 

“It's about doing your homework. If you're going to do medical jargon, you better know what it is that you're talking about or it comes out as gobbledygook. Or people who don't look up pronunciations of words. You want to go, how long would it have taken to realize how to say ‘Potomac’? Those things just ding you as not doing the work. Everybody likes to see people who put in the work. People come in sometimes and say, I only had time to prepare one scene, so I'll do that. It just gets you off on the wrong foot.”

If you want to audition for Ryan Murphy, show a bit of your personality.  

“What I actually think is nice and [Murphy] does watch for is a little thing—30 seconds at most—at the beginning [of your self tape]. Say something important about yourself, or the shows he does, or the character you're reading for. Just a personal moment, and probably not more than 15, 20, 30 seconds. But I think sometimes that's important, to just see the person for a second. You get engaged with the person or a little snippet or story. Michael Learned, who played Evans mother in Dahmer, she was friends with Sarah Paulson. When she taped, she told a little funny Sarah Paulson story at the beginning. I think Ryan enjoyed that. Nothing too big, but just a little bit of your personality, since we're not in the room anymore.”

Subscribe to In the Envelope to hear our full conversation with Dawson: