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‘Fresh’ Star Sebastian Stan Unlocked His Character by Working with Famous Ted Bundy Expert

The actor tells IndieWire how he dove deep into the psyche of the twisted character at the center of Mimi Cave's tasty debut.

fresh movie still


Searchlight Pictures

[Editor’s note: The following post contains some spoilers for “Fresh.”]

There are plenty of twists and turns on offer in Mimi Cave’s delightfully demented directorial debut, “Fresh,” but perhaps the most thrilling is the steady revelation of just what the hell is going on with Sebastian Stan’s character Steve. Co-starring Daisy Edgar-Jones as the unlucky-in-love Noa, the film — which debuted to strong reviews at Sundance and hits Hulu today — starts off as something of a rom-com, with Noa and Steve meeting cute at the local grocery store, starting up a relationship, and eventually heading out on a weekend away together.

So far, so charming. Until, of course, said weekend away reveals Steve’s real plans for the lovely Noa, which, let’s just say, involve using her body for shocking, horrible ends. As alluring as Steve appears to be, there’s a true darkness to him, one that Stan was equal parts eager and scared to explore. So, how best to portray a possible psychopath? As the actor explains, lots of research, a dash of Ted Bundy intel, plus a generous chunk of YouTube-surfing.

Stan rallied two key people to help him dig into Steve: his long-time acting coach Larry Moss, plus Dr. Dorothy Lewis, a psychiatrist who specializes in multiple personality disorder and “has interviewed and studied and worked with a lot of psychopaths, including Ted Bundy.” (Stan, ever the completist, also watched Alex Gibney’s documentary on Dr. Lewis and her work, “Crazy, Not Insane”).

“I talked to them about what’s missing, what needs to be, what else do we need? What needs to happen [to a person] to get into this?” Stan said in a recent interview with IndieWire.

Both gave Stan a variety of books to study, with Moss honing in on the character’s narcissism (Stan said the book “Snake in Suits” was a big touchstone) and Dr. Lewis offering a number of books about similar criminals. Stan worked with both of them to “come up with this sort of backstory” for the character, “because what you’re trying to do is, essentially you’re going backwards in time with imagination and research and trying to connect the dots to how somebody potentially can end up like this,” Stan said.

He added, “He needed to feel real enough or else you just wouldn’t have felt the threat that Noa was in. And it has to come from some revelation of his ideology. We don’t need all of it, but some kind of revealing of that was important.”




Stan also worked alongside director Cave and co-star Edgar-Jones, with the trio using a particular scene that unfolds at the start of the film’s second act as a way to temper not just Edgar-Jones’ performance, but Stan’s as well. After she’s lured to a cottage getaway and subsequently drugged, Noa is shocked to wake up in a padded cell, chained to the wall and with no hope of escape. As Noa slowly realizes what’s happened to her, Steve observes.

“She goes through the stages of ‘this is a joke, I don’t believe it,’ denial, anger, the futility,” Stan said. “Her journey in that scene is so realistic. It’s so uncomfortable to watch. That scene and her performance sets the tone for the rest of the film, and you understand the danger she’s in and you understand him as a threat. We sat there with Mimi and talked about, ‘OK, like what is the beat by beat? God forbid this happened, what could be going through your mind?’ He’s aware of it clearly, because he’s done it before, so he’s watching it a certain way.”

Turning a seemingly out-there idea into something realistic (even with moments of levity) was key, both for the film and Stan’s work in it.

“The idea was just to be able to ground both of these characters into the story because there’s a lot of elements to it,” the actor said. “And tonally, it was a very specific movie to land on, because there are these moments of humor that sort of offset the horrors of what’s going on and weirdly humanize him in some ways, especially the beginning, which is so innocent in a way, and kind of like conversational and seemingly non-threatening or deprecating. How do we track that through the movie?”

And while the film’s humor — plus a few well-placed dance sequences from noted music video director Cave — add some lightness to that tricky tone, Stan doesn’t want viewers to forget about the serious stuff at its big, juicy heart.

“We’re discussing serious things, but at the same time, humor weirdly has a way of helping us process some of that in a different way,” Stan said. “Otherwise you’re going ahead and doing a documentary, and by the way, if you really want to find the real thing [online], you can.”

And he’d know from experience. “I went like a crazy person online,” Stan said. “One of the things that I found on YouTube was a [story about a] German guy who actually received a letter from a guy who was literally volunteering himself to be eaten. And you’re just like, what?”

A Searchlight Films release, “Fresh” is now streaming on Hulu.

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