'I am the Night': Jefferson Mays says sociopath George Hodel lived in pursuit of his perception of truth and beauty
Jefferson Mays, who admits taking solace in a long hot bath after spending a day embodying George Hodel, says any evil George may have done was not in his mind while filming
The dark and twisted tale of George Hodel told through the eyes of his granddaughter Fauna Hodel will be revealed come Monday, January 28, when ‘I am the Night’ premieres on TNT. For the uninitiated, George is considered one of the evilest men history, having been accused of committing some of the most gruesome murders, including that of Elizabeth Short, better known as the Black Dahlia.
‘I am the Night’ does not shed too much light on George, considering we are following the journey of Fauna (played brilliantly by India Eisley) and jaded investigative reporter Jay Singletary (portrayed perfectly Chris Pine). When you do see the ridiculously talented Jefferson Mays on the screen, you will be sure to feel your skin crawl, and oftentimes he will get under your skin, as per Mays’ hopes.
Mays, who admits to taking solace in a long hot bath after spending a day embodying George, says any evil George may have done was not in the periphery of his mind while filming. “When I am required to play someone ‘villainous,’ I always try to normalize him as much as I can, exploring what philosopher Hannah Arendt called, 'the banality of evil,’ in her piece on [German-Austrian Nazi] Adolf Eichmann,” Mays told Meaww, adding, “All so called ‘villains’ think they are doing the right thing, or that they are somehow completely entitled to do what the rest of society considers the wrong thing. I tried to play every scene, no matter what George might be up to, in a quotidian, almost routine fashion, and with a conscience scrupulously clear.”
This is exactly the same reason Mays refuses to explain away George’s moral failings. While some actors prefer to attribute their villainous character’s villainy as a result of being undervalued or misunderstood in some way, Mays believes people are born the way they are, and there is next to nothing circumstances have to do with their moral compass, or lack of one.
“’If only Hitler had been admitted to art school in Vienna, things might have turned out differently!’ I am hesitant to explain or apologize for my character’s behavior. Very few of us ever know why we are doing what we are doing at any given time,” offered Mays. “As to George Hodel’s redeeming qualities, perhaps the best that can be said of him is that; however misguided, grandiose or downright sociopathic he might have been, he lived his life in pursuit of truth and beauty, as he perceived them.”
“A polymath of superior intelligence, catholic interests and keen appetites,” George was and certainly continues to be an enigmatic man. “I am not being coy or disingenuous in saying that the more I learn about Hodel, the more elusive and mysterious he becomes to me. One sets out with all sorts of preconceptions, but the more one learns, the more ambiguous, the murkier and the more interesting the people, the relationships and the events become,” said Mays.
What we do know of Hodel – barring the N number of exaggerated books and documentaries ‘Black Dahlia’ romanticizers have made about him – comes from the real-life Fauna’s book, ‘One Day She’ll Darken: The Mysterious Beginnings of Fauna Hodel’ - which was the inspiration behind ‘I am the Night’ - and the many books George’s son and LAPD homicide detective Steve Hodel has written, including 'Black Dahlia Avenger', 'Most Evil' and 'Hodel-Black Dahlia Case File'.
Mays, who admitted to only have been “cursorily familiar with the Black Dahlia murder,” depended on Fauna’s book and ‘Black Dahlia Avenger’ to draw some salient character traits and behavior. “I steeped myself in the contemporary Los Angeles art scene of the 40’s and 50’s, and dipped into some of the literature that influenced him in his youth — [Joris-Karl] Huysmans, [Charles] Baudelaire, [Edgar Allen] Poe, [Marquis] de Sade.”
That being said, 'I am the Night' does not claim to be a documentary or recreation of true life events, instead, as Mays puts it perfectly, the show "looms hauntingly in the shadows of I Am The Night, but satisfyingly remains mysterious." He said: "there is a reason the case has remained unsolved for over 70 years. The series is a work of art inspired by events in the life of Fauna Hodel, it is not documentary reportage, but I believe through artistic intuition it sheds some interesting light on the case. I’ll leave it at that."