DEVIL ON CAMPUS Key Art | ©2024 Lifetime Networks

DEVIL ON CAMPUS: THE LARRY RAY STORY Key Art | ©2024 Lifetime Networks

Larry Ray, the father of a college student at Sarah Lawrence College, moved into his daughter’s dorm, presented himself as a life coach for her classmates, then began preying on them psychologically, physically and financially. The case was the subject of the 2023 documentary miniseries STOLEN YOUTH: INSIDE THE CULT AT SARAH LAWRENCE.

Now, the true-life saga has been adapted as a Lifetime telefilm, DEVIL ON CAMPUS: THE LARRY RAY STORY. It premieres on Lifetime Sunday, June 23.

Elisabeth Rohm directed DEVIL ON CAMPUS, which has a teleplay by Waneta Storms, as well serving as a producer and appearing in the production as a parent who is rightly suspicious. Billy Zane, who has almost two hundred screen acting roles to his credit, portrays Ray.

Rohm and Zane get on a Lifetime-sponsored Zoom conference call to discuss DEVIL ON CAMPUS: THE LARRY RAY STORY.

Rohm reveals that she was a student at Sarah Lawrence herself, albeit not during the period covered in the telefilm. “I think flipping it and getting to play the mother of one of these kids, who was victimized like this, gave me a great opportunity to lean in. And I have a child, so I know what that feels like and looks like. This was a bad, bad guy.”

Zane says he was attracted to DEVIL ON CAMPUS because “beyond yet another applicable cautionary tale, the fact that it was certainly a true story, the almost absurdity of the circumstance and, from a pure narrative standpoint, I found that tapping into why people would maintain and engage with this person, Lis and I have found that was the charm of this character, and his ability to have a dynamic mix, like humor. [He] and was witty. This was exciting to watch, because it created a false sense of security, and then a very exciting and terrifying counterpoint.

“So, it was just very interesting structurally and very interesting to play. But it also led into the very elements of why these kids just opted in, signed on, and were so taken by this personality. It was terrifying, unnerving and functional in its cautionary presentation. But from a purely creative standpoint, I just found it an incredible challenge. It went back to some of the earlier performances I had done and forged my way with. I haven’t played someone that unhinged in a long time.”

Zane adds that he shies away “from it personally, but I enjoyed going to that place, because it was very liberating and challenging creatively.”

Rohm is grateful that nothing like this happened to her during her college days. “I was a student that this would have happened to. Sarah Lawrence is an incredible college, and I admire the students, and the school so much, and I wanted to make sure that the kids themselves really were as they are there, which is smart, inquisitive, deep, complicated. The slogan for Sarah Lawrence is, ‘We are different, so are you.’ So, if you’re different and you’re deep and you’re seeking, that’s a Sarah Lawrence student.

“And in rolls this guy who’s so seductive, so smart, so emotionally intelligent, has all the time in the world for these kids, and you get what happens next, right? He’s the total seductor. And Billy and I were committed to really portraying not only his character, with all of those attributes that Billy explained, but also what that does then for the victims and the students. It actually shows that they weren’t fools, they weren’t foolish, [but] they were vulnerable. They were heavily manipulated by a mastermind.

“So, we were committed to telling the story for real, but also really not doing the typical sort of victim story, right? In this case, the victims were very bright, and he was really smart, and really seductive, and funny, and charming.”

“And also a victim,” Zane observes. “This is about the cycle of trauma.”

Rohm agrees. “Right.”

“So, it’s not bad for bad’s sake,” Zane continues. “That’s really what I thought was interesting, to shine a light on, how do you break the cycle of this behavior? People compensate and exert power over others, because at some point in their life, they felt powerless, or traumatized, because they were traumatized. And that was the cycle of this character. I think we need many more stories that lift the curtain on that journey, just in terms of how to perhaps break that cycle before that perpetuates yet more victims.”

How did Zane prepare to play the role of Ray? “Like most, which relies on instinct and osmosis, I suppose. You slip into it like a jacket. I really examine my first impulses, and there are some rhythms and choices that come. But it’s a very elusive and opaque process for me, and in doing so, I found choices that surprised me, and I’d check in with Lis. I’d be like, ‘What if you turn this completely on its head, like it was written to be this? What if we did that with it?’ And that would often fall into a rhythm and a pattern that was just so surprising and engaging that, when we do fall into convention, that lands in a much more effective way.

“So, there are levels of preparation. I studied [recordings of Ray’s] voice, and I put on a bunch of weight. He was a heavier man. I had just come off of this Marlon Brando project [WALTZING WITH BRANDO] – Marlon wasn’t particularly heavy, he was just not a gym rat at that time,” Zane laughs. “I quickly just carved it up and let it all hang out, which was a really nice challenge as well, with a very,” he makes a rounding gesture above his midsection. “So, I physically put on the tonnage, and felt him in my body, but then we just went for – and the voice was, again, a very specific raised pitch, affected a particular kind of lisp. So, I just loved all of those devices. I haven’t done that gauntlet like that in a while, into those many attractive elements that an actor approaches.”

Having been to college and now being a parent herself, is there advice that Rohm would give to new college students?

Rohm quips, “Don’t trust your friends’ parents.” More seriously, “I would say that this movie is a cautionary tale that, again, a lot of why we chose to explore Billy’s character as we did is because wolves come in sheep’s clothing, right? So, this was a person who had these children disarmed because he was the parent of one of them. So, keep your faculties aware, and don’t trust people until they’ve really earned your trust.

“I think that was another part of this domino effect with these kids. One of the kids really had a great relationship with Larry Ray’s daughter and, because of that, and feeling very close to Larry Ray, [that student’s] siblings put their radar down, and they didn’t really vet [Ray]. They trusted him because their sibling did. So, think for yourself, and even really vet when you’re love-bombed. Love-bombing is a big part of this kind of programming and brainwashing, and the seductive manipulations. Just take your time in getting to know people and letting people in.”

What were some of the most challenging scenes to film?

“The interrogation scenes,” Zane replies, “and the ones [where] we went from beyond emotional abuse to physical abuse, were unnerving and disturbing to me.”

Zane, mostly joking, notes with a laugh that, “Actors in general, I think, should have emotional stunt pay, because I do believe the secondary experience encroaches on the primary, for audiences and for actors alike, whenever we try to make something real.”

In playing a scene, “We fire off all these chemicals, the dopamine and serotonin and adrenaline, and our bodies are taxed, as if these things are primary, and really happening. So, it’s a lot for the actors you work with, it’s a lot for yourself, and it’s a lot to impose upon one another in the interest of art or storytelling. Trauma drama is hard work any way you slice it, especially if you’re doing it well and believably, because it requires complete biological conviction, and fooling your body that you are actually experiencing these things. I think actresses catch the brunt of it, women, the amount of young actors that undergo such horrible journeys. The hardest part was having this philosophy and then engaging in the practice.”

Rohm opines, “Billy was so great with all of these kids, and really took it upon himself to just be there, a source of support, and make it something that they could be excited about, as opposed to intimidated by him, and he just really reached out to them. So, there was a lot of safety, a lot of nurturing from him to them, and they felt it, and it actually really played well into the movie, because of course, he is their Pied Piper, and so, there was a deep connection Billy maintained and created with the students, which was great. They were all great.”

Zane concurs. “They’re wonderful, wonderful actors. And just lovely people, and so you form that bond, without the psychosis,” he laughs, “and then you just do the lines and [have] the character bonding truth.

How was it for Zane to work with a director who is herself an actor? And how was it for Rohm to direct an actor as experienced as Zane?

“I’ll jump in on this one first,” Zane enthuses, “because I can’t wait to send a compliment.”

Rohm laughs.

Zane elaborates, “Elisabeth’s one of my favorite directors I’ve worked with, and it’s because she’s an actor. It’s that simple. Actors make good directors. They just understand, they get the process. It’s in the DNA and it’s a gene, and now, to break her away from that grouping as an individual, all that has led to whatever is this wonderful woman. To collaborate with her is a great gift.”

The shooting schedule for DEVIL ON CAMPUS was fairly brief, but Zane feels, “If we had all the time in the world, and all the money, it would be a similar dynamic. She was incredibly brave, and smart. There was just an intelligence, and an emotional intelligence, and a willingness to commit to a choice, and it was playful. All of the things that needed to be said to take on the challenge and give the subject the gravitas and the respect it required, yet have the spirit of play and the freedom to propose. No idea was too radical, and then we’d find a happy medium, or challenge each other to go farther. So, it was by all means unique, in the very best sense of it.”

Rohm offers, “I would just say that it is the most dreamy thing in the world to work with Billy Zane. Tonally, we match. I get him, and I love working with him, but it is totally a collaboration, because there is much respect to Billy, too, as a great director [Zane has helmed two features], so it’s a dance that we’re doing together.

“Like [Zane] said, when you’re working with the younger actors, they’re incredible, they’re intuitive and they’re bright and lovely and wonderful, and have beautiful futures, I think. But it’s very different when you’re walking hand in hand with your star, who is a star, who’s done incredibly powerful performances, is a great filmmaker, and a great painter, just a great artist and a visionary. And I think we have the same taste in things. So, we sparked off each other, and I hope there are many more projects to come.”

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Article:  DEVIL ON CAMPUS: THE LARRY RAY STORY: Director/actor Elisabeth Rohm & actor Billy Zane on new Lifetime movie – Interview



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