Domhnall Gleeson Wants The Patient To Push Back On 'Schlocky' Serial Killer Tropes

Fifty years from now when we look back to explore what sort of entertainment defined the 2010s into the 2020s, true crime and serial killer stories will absolutely be at the top of the list. Birthed out of the true-crime podcast boom of the 2010s which led to the true crime docuseries/adaptation explosion we're currently living through, filmmakers and screenwriters have been forced to get a lot more resourceful with their crime stories, considering the truth is often stranger than fiction.

One of the newest examples of this is "The Patient," the psychological thriller limited series starring Domhnall Gleeson as a serial killer who kidnaps his therapist (Steve Carell) not to make him yet another victim, but in the hopes that he'll be able to cure him of his homicidal urges. According to a recent interview in Decider, it was this decidedly unique take on the serial killer subgenre that drew him to the project in the first place.

"Well, I mean, in terms of what drew me to the project, it's the name Steve Carell," Gleeson joked. "In terms of the script, just the one-liner is a fascinating one-liner: Serial killer kidnaps therapist, keeps him in his basement to try to stop serial killing, then they have therapy sessions together," he said. "That's really interesting, but there's a really bad version of that show that's quite schlocky and that is all about the mythologizing of the serial killer and this sexy, strange guy who's intriguing in a way that, you know, I find a little bit distasteful. I don't like that version of things, and there's been a lot of it." 

Without naming names of specific projects, Gleeson is absolutely right.

Romanticizing killers is weird, y'all

An unfortunate side effect of the true-crime boom has been an unsettling obsession with romanticizing the (almost always) men who commit atrocious acts. Heartthrob Zac Efron played Ted Bundy in 2019, which meant the movie focused heavily on his admittedly very powerful performance. But what that does, however, is pivot the focus to those that commit atrocious acts, and never those who lost their lives. How many of us can name the victims of Richard Ramirez, John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, or BTK? Chances are, not a lot can, but there's a good chance we can all pick each of these men out of a lineup.

Strangely enough, the fictional crime-horror film "The Black Phone" is one of the few that actually prioritizes the voices of the victims over those that do the killing, something that most true-crime stories could learn from. While "The Patient" is still very much about the fictional serial killer of Sam Fortner, its goal is not to romanticize the character but rather explore why he is the way he is and the lengths he's willing to go to reform his behaviors. The audience is not meant to empathize with him in a sense of feeling sorry for him, but instead, present a character study of two people in an unimaginably difficult situation. It's an attempt to humanize without giving the character a pass, which is something our society has historically struggled to achieve in real life.

'It felt a little more responsible to me'

Gleeson also acknowledged that Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields serving as the writers were a huge draw for him, having loved their previous show, "The Americans." Gleeson said, "When I read this script, I was so happy that [mythologizing] was just not what they were interested in." He continued by saying, "What they were interested in was a weird, strange version of it, which is no less interesting." Gleeson said that their decision to explore the dark complexities was not just a more interesting choice in analyzing a serial killer, but also a more respectful approach. "It also felt a little more responsible to me in terms of just talking about something which has been talked about a lot," he said. "So that was really the main thing that drew me in."

The character of Sam Fortner is unlike anything Gleeson has played before, which is saying something considering his rich, diverse, and fascinating resume. "There's a lot about his personality that is — he views himself as being pathetic, right? And a lot of it is situation that he views himself as being unworthy of what he deserves in this life because he's got a huge ego, he's very selfish, all that stuff — all the stuff that we know [about] people who have done that," Gleeson said. "But I thought the J's did a remarkable job of setting up a real person away from that."

"The Patient" is now available to stream exclusively on Hulu.