A version of this story about Niecy Nash-Betts and “Dahmer — Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” was first published in the limited series/movie edition of TheWrap awards magazine.
In Netflix’s “Dahmer — Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story,” Niecy Nash-Betts stars as Glenda Cleveland, Jeffrey Dahmer’s neighbor who tried to warn the police about his murder, only to be repeatedly ignored. Her haunting performance has earned Nash-Betts her best reviews since her Emmy-nominated turn in 2019’s “When They See Us,” along with a SAG nomination and a Critic’s Choice Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Series. limited.
What interested you in the role of Glenda Cleveland?
When Ryan[Murphy, the creator of the show]called me, I said yes before I knew what it was about. (laughs) But when I started to unpack the story, what hooked me was that it went so long without being heard. I thought, what a gift it would be to finally have her in charge of this story.
Did you have any qualms about accepting the role out of concern for the families of the victims?
I didn’t because I had very in-depth conversations with Ryan and the other producers about the tone, the approach, and the lens through which we were going to experience this. I can tell you that when I showed up, I didn’t know any of the victims. They were all faceless and nameless. So when I got away from that, I was finally able to hear from people that I never knew were part of the story.
How much of Glenda not being heard or believed resonated with you as a black woman?
I feel like there have been times in my life where I’ve been a Glenda Cleveland. I feel like we all are, and if you haven’t already, keep living. Sometimes you say something and even though you say it, you are not believed or listened to or there is no course of action towards what you are saying. But despite all that, Glenda kept fighting and trying and trying, and that reminds me of me in a way. She never stopped trying. When people told me I’m funny, to stay in my lane, she’d say, “No. I can try.” And now I can finally invite the industry and my peers to see me differently, to see me as I see myself.
What was the most difficult scene to shoot?
The scene in the church, where I show up at the funeral. [of one of the victims] and the mother is crying and the father has tears in his eyes and I had to say, “I tried.” Because it is not the natural order of things for parents to bury their children. My brother was murdered in 1993 and I saw my mother at his funeral. So that scene was extremely difficult for me.
Do you think with roles like Jeffrey Dahmer and Glenda Cleveland there should always be some sort of therapist on set to help with the actor’s mental health?
Oh sure! And in this job, she had advice available. It was the same way when I did “When They See Us” (about the Central Park Five). You always had access to a counselor.
Do you think the Glenda Cleveland story could have any impact on police officers creating more black women and women in general?
Good… (sighs) The thing about this particular story is that this could have happened today. Some of the themes of this have not been exhausted yet: disadvantaged communities are being over-policed, black women are not believed about health care, regarding domestic violence, regarding rape. These things are still happening right now and there is still work to be done.