Short is the last word anyone would use to describe 31-year-old Cameron Britton, who, at a ceiling-grazing 6-foot-5, towers above nearly every one of his costars. Yet the actor barely made the height requirement for David Fincher’s Netflix thrill ride Mindhunter, stealing scenes as Co-Ed Killer Edmund Kemper, himself 6-foot-9.
“They had to put me in lifts!” says Britton. “A 300-pound man in high heels — it’s a lot of fun.” And a lot of hard work. We talked to Britton about how he prepared to play the infamous serial killer and what’s up next.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did this role come to you? It can’t be very flattering to have your agent say, “Hey, there’s this serial killer role that I think you’d be perfect for…”
CAMERON BRITTON: I mean, hats off to [executive producer] David [Fincher] — he wanted to find an actor who is large enough to play the role, and that’s kind of hard to do. You have to find someone who’s the right age and the right look and can pull it off and be 6-foot-5 or taller. And I just hit that cut off at 6-foot-5. So the script came to me, and the opening line was that one: “Why are you looking at me like that?” And then I say, “I’m a regular guy most of my life… but at the same time I was living a vile, depraved, entirely parallel other life.” That was the first thing that I read, this character talking about the dichotomy of who he is and he phrases it in such an interesting way. I thought That’s a really interesting character — there’s something about the dialogue. I could kind of tell that it was a real person, so I looked it up, and, sure enough, he was real, and I just kind of fell in love with the script immediately.
What sort of research did you do on Edmund Kemper? He’s a pretty well-documented guy.
You can learn about any point in his psyche, any point in his life, and you can read some of his letters to pen pals that are posted online. His Wikipedia page is incredibly extensive, and, yes, the YouTube interviews range from many periods of his life while in prison. He’s incredibly well-documented, so there was a lot of source material to work from, which is really helpful. My favorite source material was what John Douglass put down in his book [Mind Hunter, upon which the series is based]. He not only interviews Ed, but he refers to him through the rest of the book, and it was there where I learned that Ed is incredibly invaluable to them because he was the first one they ever interviewed and he just so happened to be the most forthcoming of all the ones that they interviewed. So that gave me an understanding of how well my character understands this world. I feel like the Kemper character is sort of the ambassador — he introduces Holden [played by Jonathan Groff] to all of this.
So I prepared with the material, but I also did my own experimental work. I didn’t want to do an impression so much as capture the essence of him as best as I could. I like to go outside in character. I like to go to dog parks, things like that and just start conversations with people and see if their conversations would be pleasant or disturbed. People really seemed to enjoy meeting Ed, which meant I was doing a good job. Because I think the scariest part of serial killers is that they could be standing right next to you at a bus stop and you’d have no idea.
What types of things would you talk to people about as Ed?
I talked to them about anything. Their lives. There was one man who was convinced that the best way to raise your dog is through sternness, so, of course, Ed liked to lean in on that conversation. There were some Uber drivers who seemed more than happy to talk about darker stuff openly. I also bought my car in character.
And how did that go?
I’m pretty sure I got, like, a thousand dollars knocked off the car in character. I wouldn’t say I’m a shy person, but I like my privacy. I don’t like to be too forthcoming, but when I’m performing as Ed, there’s an incredible amount of confidence he gives people — so much eye contact and he’s so unafraid of being himself that you feel kind of powerful when you’re in character.
It sounds like you had a really great grasp on Ed before you even stepped onto set. Did the character evolve as you got to work?
I got to set and all kinds of new epiphanies came because I’m working with Jonathan and I hadn’t done much of that. And we’re filming in an abandoned prison, which was really cold, and the vibe in it added this weight to the scenes. I’m fully in hair and makeup, and they were so meticulous to make this as authentic as possible that the prison was abandoned but there was a drinking fountain that set design made sure worked fully just in case… The coffee, the temperature was only as high as would be allowed in a prison at that time. They put my prescription in Ed’s frames. I mean, anything that you would need to get immersed into the role was at your disposal. And then working with David, working with someone who wants to get it right but there’s not one way to get it right — it was about exploring. We would spend so much time on these dialogue-heavy scenes just seeing where they go and if they went great, fine, let’s do it again and see where else they go. And there were times on set that I really, really got lost in the moment, and I credit that a lot to just the whole group effort. It was a remarkable experience.
Are you getting recognized on the street yet?
Mostly no. There have been a few people. There’s been some people I’ve overheard talking about Mindhunter. I’ll lean in and say, “Hey, I haven’t seen it yet. Is it any good?” And they’ll say, “Yeah, you should go check it out.” I [also] fell in love with all the serial killer performances and the ones who are in L.A. I contacted and met in a bar.
Wait, you had a serial killer meet-up?
Yeah! [Laughs] The actor who plays Gene Devier (Adam Zastrow) and then the Richard Speck character [played by] Jack Erdy, we all met in a bar, and I didn’t tell Adam I was coming. He worked in that bar, and he didn’t recognize me. I talked to him for a while and then we sort of hinted at it and he figured it out. All three of us had a great time. We sang karaoke, we sang “Psycho Killer” by Talking Heads. [Laughs] We had a great time. I met Happy [Anderson], who played Jerry Brudos briefly. And he is exactly that — he is happy. It seems like every killer that they cast is a pretty pleasant person. You wouldn’t think when you book a role like this that you would make a weird group of friends out of it who also play killers on the show. But I really do love hanging out with those guys. We’re just going to keep doing it. We love talking Fincher and talking Mindhunter.
Will Ed be in the second season of Mindhunter?
I have no idea. I will see. I would love to come back.
You will appear in another dark, Fincher-produced project, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo sequel, The Girl in the Spider’s Web, playing hacker Plague opposite Claire Foy’s Lisbeth. How is prep going for that?
I’m excited to learn a Swedish accent. I’ve never done one before. I’m really excited. I’m all caught up on The Crown. I just love Claire Foy. It’s hard from where I’m sitting to imagine her going from Queen Elizabeth to Lisbeth Salander, but she’s clearly such a talented actress that I can’t wait to see the transformation.
Mindhunter is currently available on Netflix.