'American Horror Story: 1984' star Zach Villa on playing the Night Stalker and society's morbid fascination with serial killers
It is no secret that society adores serial killers for some odd reason and implausible as the idea might seem to most, for Villa it was a job he needed to do, and did extremely well
The eighties' serial killer Richard Ramirez became infamous as the Night Stalker. A Satanist to the core, who had admitted to channeling his inherent evil in a way most humans wouldn't, Ramirez can be seen now haunting the fictional Camp Redwood, on Ryan Murphy's 'American Horror Story' season 9: '1984'. Of course, the real-life Ramirez died back in 2013 from liver failure, so donning his depraved and deplorable aura on the show is actor and musician Zach Villa, who still hasn't entirely grasped the concept of how popular someone as twisted as Ramirez can be with women. It is no secret that society adores serial killers for some odd reason and implausible as the idea might seem to most, for Villa it was a job he needed to do well. And so he did.
"When I found out that I was playing Ramirez, I just had a gut-check moment: am I glorifying serial killers? Am I glorifying violence? What is the tone of this project?" Villa said in a candid chat with MEA World Wide (MEAWW.) The 33-year-old has just released his debut solo 'Revolver' and is still basking in the glory of how well-received it has been. Luckily for him, his version of the Night Stalker has been received with a lot of warmth from female fans as well. "I think that humans just have a complete fascination with true crime and that manifests in a very lighthearted sort of way this season. So for me, it wasn't an issue; it was basically me doing a job that required all of my faculties and skills as an actor and that's about where it stops emotionally for me," he shares about playing the man who is believed to have raped and murdered at least 13 people before he was arrested and put away.
There's a certain downside to playing such a depraved character too, Villa claims, and most of that is "Balancing the schedule and balancing the kind of emotional stress that it takes. It's really difficult to be up all night, in a headspace where Richard is having evil thoughts and fantasies that aren't societally acceptable. That takes a toll, and when I have to come home, it's definitely a purge process. I have to let go but I can't completely drop it all off because of another shooting."
Day after day, as Villa put on the Night Stalker's persona on screen, what he also does is make an army of avid fans drool as they simply can't get enough of his bad-boy charm and all-black leather outfits. Thanks to his portrayal, fans all over social media have also gushed about what an absolute 'snack' the real-life Ramirez was. And while Villa doesn't necessarily get this strange fondness for the monster, he does have some insights into what gets the fans going.
"Society, in general, tends to get obsessed, especially when someone's playing a real character, with how close they are to the actual person," he said about the constant comparisons drawn between him and the Satanic murderer whose beliefs and supernatural prowess is being tackled in the series. "Physically, I do see a similarity (between Villa and Ramirez) and that was jarring at first because I think it's dangerous for an audience member to expect someone to be and act like what they imagined a serial killer will be in real life, specifically Richard."
He clarifies where the lines are drawn, saying: "I'm playing a character that was shaped for the show, because of the world that they've set it in. Maybe his satanic beliefs were a certain way in real life, but I also don't know that many people who knew Richard personally and on every level, or what his real-life beliefs were. My job is to take the information that is present and then make a decision about how I'm going to play it to make him interesting and entertaining. I think I've done a good job, but I understand there are purists out there talking about him as an evil Satanist or chaotic in a certain way, and that's not necessarily your goal when you start to act."
Even when it comes to the frantic frenzy that arose when Villa's first look as Ramirez was revealed, the actor believes none of it was far from what happened in real life. Disturbing as it might be to be told that they are pretending to be a monster exceedingly well, Villa believes, "The flip side of being as close to the real-life Richard as possible is that when he was captured, he had hundreds of love letters that were written to him in prison - something that, for whatever reason, the public, especially women, at the time, found fascinating and alluring."
Sure, Villa might not exactly know the root of this fascination, but he does remark that "We as humans are just obsessed and confused about people who are that depraved, and that makes us want to investigate further, for better or for worse. We want to understand our own human nature and I think that's where attraction comes from. Sexual attraction definitely crosses over into that realm a little bit so it's a confusing topic and I'm still trying to figure it out."
Catch Villa as the Night Stalker, Richard Ramirez on 'American Horror Story: 1984', airing Wednesday nights at 9 pm, only on FX.