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How [SPOILER] Prepared to Play a Serial Killer on Based on a True Story
The Based on a True Story actor said one book helped him understand psychopathy and the absence of human emotion for his role as the "West Side Ripper."
Playing a serial killer in Peacock’s new dark comedy Based on a True Story can’t be easy, but the actor behind the unique role explained exactly how he did it.
Is the West Side Ripper Based on a True Killer?
British actor Tom Bateman recently spoke with NBC Insider about starring in the new series Based on a True Story as Matt Pierce, a plumber who moonlights as a vicious serial killer lurking on the streets of Los Angeles. Known as the “West Side Ripper,” Pierce teams up with married couple Ava Bartlett (Kaley Cuoco) and Nathan Bartlett (Chris Messina) to create the next hit true-crime podcast, featuring none other than the elusive killer himself.
When asked by NBC Insider if the fictitious West Side Ripper was based on a real-life killer, Bateman said the character was based on “total amalgamations” that were “stitched together” to create one generic killer.
“For me, a lot of the inspiration I got was mainly from the script,” said Bateman. “Really, just seeing how [the writers] wanted this guy to operate and what interested him.”
How Did Tom Bateman Get into Character?
Bateman admitted to NBC Insider that the true-crime genre isn’t as expansive in the U.K. as it is in America — an explosion which Bateman called a “phenomena” — and so he didn’t listen to true-crime podcasts to help him get into the role.
Instead, he read Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test: A Journey through the Madness Industry, which explores how many “psychopaths” evade detection in everyday life.
“It looks at the psychology of psychopaths and serial killers and Jon Ronson’s trying to understand what makes them tick,” said Bateman. “That, for me, became really fascinating. This idea that psychopaths are very good at emulating emotion and putting on masks of real people. That they have no empathy. They don’t have that connection that human beings have. So, I really loved playing with that.”
Bateman discussed how the character of Matt Pierce could balance the façade he puts on to evade capture and cover his true, serial-killing essence. He said Pierce “doesn’t actually have a personality.”
“He just sort of pretends to be this charming guy, but the mask drops the moment he’s alone and pretends to be a good dad,” said Bateman. “For me, that’s where I started to get cooking.”
Like other real-life serial killers, such as the B.T.K. killer Dennis Rader, Matt Pierce is shown as a loving father to his young son in Based on a True Story. Bateman said he found the subject of a psychopath being capable of loving a child “an interesting gray area.”
“The underlying thing in this book I read was that there is no empathy; therefore, there is no love and sympathy and understanding of a human being; There is only this feeling of survival of the fittest,” Bateman explained. “If you’re wearing a mask of being a good dad for so long, at what point does that mask take over, and actually, there may be moments in Matt’s life where he does almost — in performing being a good dad — think, 'Oh, my God, I do love this kid.’”
Not only does the character act as a good father, but he also charms his way into the lives of Ava and Nathan Bartlett and his victims.
Tom Bateman on Playing a “New and Unique” Role
What separates the role of Matt Pierce from other serial killers depicted on television is that Based on a True Story is a comedic thriller, which helps water down the horrors of real-life killers. Bateman said that a “crucial part” of playing Pierce was seeing how he treats the Bartletts as if they are toys.
Bateman admitted he wasn’t sure about the role when initially thinking he’d play a “scary guy,” but soon realized Piece was “so different” and “new and unique.”
“He’s so fun and stupid and silly and playful and provocative,” Bateman told NBC Insider. “You get to see – and what I wanted to embrace in my performance — was a glee in being the cat in the cat-and-mouse dynamic.”
How to Watch Based on a True Story
Tune in to see more of Bateman’s character, with all eight episodes of Based on a True Story premiering on Thursday, June 8, only on Peacock.