Zac Efron discussed the challenge of taking on famous serial killer Ted Bundy in the Netflix film “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile,” and getting into that mindset. Actor Jussie Smollett found out that he won’t be returning to “Empire,” and his music/acting career is officially over.
There is hardly any violence in the Ted Bundy movie “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile,” which premieres on Netflix Friday and stars Zac Efron as the notorious serial killer. It was a deliberate choice on the part of filmmaker, Joe Berlinger, now something of a Bundy scholar with this fictionalized film and his popular Netflix documentary series, “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes.”
Berlinger believes that recreations of crimes have a “numbing effect” that desensitizes audiences.
Plus, “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” is told from the point of view of Bundy’s girlfriend, Elizabeth (Liz) Kloepfer, a single mom who dated Bundy for about six years starting in 1969 and through some of his trials. He was executed on death row in 1989.
Kloepfer believes in his innocence even while everything seems to point to the contrary.
“It’s based on what Liz would have seen, which is nothing,” said actress Lily Collins, who plays the part of Kloepfer. “In order to make the audience feel like they’re in the mindset of Liz at the very end of the movie, you have to earn that. And it almost heightens the anxiety because you’re teetering on the edge of ‘is he or isn’t he guilty?’”
Collins and Efron decided to take the leap into the darkness of this story together. The two have been friends for over a decade, going to back to when Collins was a teenage Nickelodeon reporter interviewing Efron and the cast of “High School Musical” on the orange carpet.
“We had talked about what type of projects we both wanted to do down the line,” Collins said. “It was really exciting for me to see him taking that risk, and I thought to be a part of that felt really natural and very exciting.”
Efron had his hesitations about taking the role.
“I had heavy reservations about playing a serial killer, especially one so popular as Ted Bundy,” Efron said. “I didn’t want to glorify or be a part of a project that glorifies any aspect of Ted Bundy or what he did. Nor am I interested in telling something just because it was true or shocking.”
But the script, which Michael Werwie adapted from Klopfer’s 1981 memoir, “The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy,” was different than he expected.
“I liked the idea of bringing attention to the element of Ted Bundy that was so charismatic, and who was able to win over the world and yet be so evil and duplicitous,” Efron said. “I got to really take a look and feel it and it was very uncomfortable.”
Collins was able to meet and spend time with Kloepfer and her daughter, who told her stories about their time with Bundy.
“There was so much love and so much trust between the two of them (Bundy and Kloepfer), or so-called trust,” Collins said. “There are these two worlds that I think were really important to show in the film because that’s the truth of it. The reality is that there were happy times. She was leaning so far into those happy times that she didn’t see the other side until later, in the trials.”
Neither Efron nor Collins are fans of the true-crime genre, which is booming on streaming services and in podcasts, but they understand why it’s so popular. Efron noted that the Bundy case, which was televised nationally in the United States, may have helped contribute to the current obsession.
And both are sure they couldn’t have taken something like this on any earlier in their lives.
“Honestly, if you would have asked me to try and do this a few years ago I don’t think I would have been capable,” Efron said. “I don’t think I would’ve come out with solid product.”
It’s an experiment that has been paying off. Since the film’s premiere at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, both have gotten critical praise for their performances, especially Efron’s unsettlingly natural and transfixing portrayal of Bundy.
They’re grateful, too, to have each other to bounce creative aspirations off of.
“People who are our age who are still around in the area and want to do constructive things?” Efron said. “It’s not a lot of people.”
Jussie Smollett’s Empire Ends
People were angry when it turned out that actor Jussie Smollett got away with staging his own homophobic assault, but that proved to be his final acting challenge. “Empire,” the show that turned him into a celebrity has decided to not have his character return.
Fox Entertainment said Tuesday that Jussie Smollett will not return to his series “Empire” next season in the wake of allegations by Chicago officials the actor lied about a racially motivated attack.
“By mutual agreement, the studio has negotiated an extension to Jussie Smollett’s option for season six, but at this time there are no plans for the character of Jamal to return to ‘Empire,’” the studio said in a statement that gave no reasoning was given for the decision.
Fox announced earlier Tuesday that the drama about a hip-hop record label and the fiery family behind it had been renewed for a sixth season.
A Smollett representative released a statement to several media outlets suggesting a hope that he may eventually return.
“We’ve been told that Jussie will not be on ‘Empire’ in the beginning of the season but he appreciates they have extended his contract to keep Jamal’s future open,” the statement said. “Most importantly he is grateful to Fox and ‘Empire’ leadership, cast, crew and fans for their unwavering support.”
Fox announced earlier Tuesday that the show had been renewed for a sixth season.
Smollett’s character was removed from the final two episodes of season five.
Chicago police allege Smollett paid two brothers to help him stage a January attack in which he said two masked men beat him, hurled racist and homophobic slurs at him, doused him with a chemical substance and put a rope around his neck.
Smollett, who is black and gay, maintains the attack wasn’t staged. He was arrested, but prosecutors later dropped the charges.
“Empire” films each episode in Chicago.