‘Black Bird’ — How Paul Walter Hauser played notorious serial killer

A total transformation for 'Richard Jewell' actor

Paul Walter Hauser

Many an actor will tell you that to play a character, one has to find common ground with their subject or even step into their skin. But in playing serial killer Larry Hall in the Apple TV+ docudrama “Black Bird,” Paul Walter Hauser couldn’t stay there long.

“Not a fun headspace to stay in,” the 35-year-old star of such films as “Richard Jewell” and “I, Tonya” says. “I definitely stripped the character before I went home every day and got back to being me for self-preservation reasons. … That’s one of those characters that you don’t want the residue, you don’t want that staying with you, that sort of darkness and that warped mentality, which I think for the most part I was able to shake it off.”

The series from writer/showrunner Dennis Lehane tells the true story of Jimmy Keene (Taron Egerton, “Rocketman”), a football hero-turned-drug dealer who cuts a deal with the FBI to shorten his prison sentence if he goes into maximum security, befriends Hall and gets him to confess to the murders of at least a dozen young women in the Midwest in the early 2000s.

For the physical transformation to Hall, Hauser adopted a strict diet and exercise regimen to lose 40 pounds. And for the mental aspect, he relied heavily on the script by Lehane (“Gone Baby Gone,” “Mystic River”), which is based on the real Keene’s bestselling memoir “In With the Devil: A Fallen Hero, a Serial Killer, and a Dangerous Bargain for Redemption.”

Hauser didn’t have access to the real Keene or Hall (who is now serving a life sentence in North Carolina) during filming in New Orleans last year, and he says he’s glad he didn’t because “had I gotten Jimmy’s opinion it may have swayed my choices as an actor so it’s probably best that I didn’t do too much studying through someone else’s lens. I sort of made my focal point Dennis Lehane’s writing.”

Paul Walter Hauser

Birth date: Oct. 15, 1986

Birthplace: Grand Rapids, Mich. (raised in Saginaw)

Marital status: Married; he and wife Amy have a 1-year-old son

Other television credits include: “Community,” “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” “Key and Peele,” “Betas,” “The Night Shift,” “Superstore,” “Kingdom,” “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” “Reno 911!,” “I Think You Should Leave With Tim Robinson,” “Cobra Kai,” “The Afterparty”

Movie credits include: “Virginia” (2010), “iSteve” (2013), “I, Tonya” (2017), “BlacKkKlansman” (2018), “7 Days to Vegas” (2019), “Late Night” (2019), “Beats” (2019), “Richard Jewell” (2019), “Adam” (2020), “Cruella” (2021), “Queenpins” (2021)

George Dickie

George Dickie has been a features writer for Gracenote/Tribune Media Services since 1989, when “Hee-Haw” was still on the air and George “Goober” Lindsay was his first interview. His early interviews ranged from Jim Henson and Dick Van Dyke to Phil Collins and the Dixie Chicks.

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