Making a ‘Monster’: Behind Evan Peters’ Physical Transformation Into Jeffrey Dahmer

TheWrap magazine: Hairstylist Shay Sanford-Fong recalls working closely with the actor to chart the serial killer’s descent

Evan Peters in "Dahmer—Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story" (Netflix)
Evan Peters in "Dahmer—Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story." (Netflix)

A version of this story about the hairstyling of “Dahmer—Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” first appeared in the Limited Series/Movies issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.

One of the great ironies of Jeffrey Dahmer’s existence is that while his apartment stank of, in his words, “rotting meat” (we all know what it really was), his physical appearance was initially anything but shabby. He even had a tidy blond hairdo, which Evan Peters wears as the cannibal serial killer in producer Ryan Murphy’s “Dahmer—Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” for Netflix.

“If you look at a lot of pictures, there were times where Dahmer had darker hair and times that he had these blond highlights and you’re trying to figure out where did these highlights come from?” hair department head Shay Sanford-Fong said. “But a lot of it is in Ryan’s research: When he was in jail, he was able to go outside a lot and it became that summery blond.”

She worked closely with leading actor Peters on how the look should progress through the episodes, as his tale becomes more and more depraved. “Jeffrey’s first attack was in 1978 and then he didn’t attack people for nine years,” says Sanford-Fong, “so in the late ‘80s, he was still quaffed, very handsome looking. And then after more and more attacks, Evan said, ‘You know, I should be a little grungier and a little more unkempt.’ So, you can see within the series, he started out with very clean, fluffy hair and towards the end, he was very greasy and not bathed-looking.”

Sanford-Fong has been part of the Emmy-winning hair teams of the first two “American Crime Story” seasons about O.J. Simpson and Gianni Versace, so she absolutely knows her way around controversial ’90s figures, right down to the violent, unseemly stuff. “I feel that I always end up with these blood-and-guts type shows. But I just have to go in knowing that these are not the real victims, we’re just telling the story. They’re not real people that are being hurt right now. This is what I signed up for.”

Sanford-Fong estimates they used about 30 wigs for the various cast members, which included a lot of incredibly iconic women, such as Niecy Nash-Betts, Molly Ringwald and Penelope Ann Miller, who play Dahmer’s neighbor, stepmother and mother, respectively.

Dahmer. Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story. Niecy Nash as Glenda Cleveland in episode 107 of Dahmer. Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story. Cr. Courtesy Of Netflix © 2022

“In the ‘90s, a lot of African American women did a lot of relaxers or would press their hair, because a lot of women didn’t wear their natural texture at that time. So, we ended up just getting a textured wig for Niecy, and you do little, little things to her and she’s gorgeous, right? So were trying to play that down.”

Adds Sanford-Fong: “Molly was always known as the redhead, right? But she is naturally brunette and what she told me she dyed her hair red in the ‘80s to be different. So, we probably tested about five or six different red tones on her because Shari Dahmer had a color that is not very glamorous on anybody. And then for Penelope, she wears a lot of wigs in a lot of stuff that she does, but Ryan didn’t want everybody to be wigged so we ended up just doing blonde extensions for Joyce Dahmer.”

And what is Shay Sanford-Fong’s fail-safe for recreating these looks of the 1980s and 1990s? Yearbooks and Sears catalogs.

Dahmer. Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story. (L to R) Richard Jenkins as Lionel Dahmer, Molly Ringwald as Shari, Penelope Ann Miller as Joyce Dahmer in episode 108 of Dahmer. Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story. Cr. Courtesy Of Netflix © 2022

“I love to buy old yearbooks,” says Sanford-Fong, who recently styled Murphy’s film version of “The Prom,” adapted from the stage musical. “I’m from Illinois, so when I go to the Midwest, I have all these yearbooks that show what the looks were. And Sears catalogs, nobody has them anymore, but I remember as a kid the big thing was going through old Sears catalogs, seeing the whole spreads where they had their makeup and hair done and you saw exactly what you were going to look like.”

Read more from the Limited Series/Movies issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine here.

Photographed by Jeff Vespa