A version of this story about Niecy Nash-Betts and “Dahmer — Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” first ran in the Limited Series/Movies issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.
In Netflix’s “Dahmer — Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story,” Niecy Nash-Betts plays Glenda Cleveland, the neighbor of Jeffrey Dahmer who tried to warn the police about his killing, 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 win for best supporting actress in a limited series.
What interested you in the role of Glenda Cleveland?
When Ryan (Murphy, the show’s creator) called me, I said yes before I even knew what it was. (Laughs) But when I started to unpack the story, the thing that got me on the hook was that she went so long being unheard. I thought, what a gift it would be to finally have her at the forefront of this story.
Did you have any qualms about accepting the role out of concern for the victims’ families?
I did not because I had very in-depth conversations with Ryan and the other producers about the tone and focus and the lens we were going to experience this through. I can tell you when I showed up, I didn’t know any of the victims. They were all faceless and nameless. So when I walked away from it, I was able to finally hear from people that I’ve never known were a part of the story.
How much of Glenda not being heard or believed resonated within you as a Black woman?
I feel like there have been times in my life when I’ve been a Glenda Cleveland. I feel like we all are, and if you haven’t (been) yet, keep on living. Sometimes you say a thing and even though you say it, you’re not believed or heard or there is no course of action towards what you are saying. But despite all that, Glenda kept on fighting and trying and trying, and that reminds me of me in a way. I never stop trying. When people told me that I’m funny, to stay in my lane, I would 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 to the funeral [of one of the victims] and the mother is wailing and the father has tears in his eyes and I had to say, “I tried.” Because it’s not the natural order of things for parents to bury children. My brother was murdered in 1993, and I watched my mother at his funeral. So that scene was extremely hard for me.
Do you think with roles like Jeffrey Dahmer and Glenda Cleveland that there should always be some type of therapist on set to help with the actor’s mental health?
Oh, for sure! And on this job, I had counseling 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 Glenda Cleveland’s story could have any impact on police officers believing more Black women and women as a whole?
Well… (Sighs) The thing about this particular story is that this could have taken place today. Some of the themes of this are not exhausted yet: underprivileged communities being over-policed, Black women not being believed about health-care, with regards to domestic violence, with regards to rape. These things are still happening right now and there’s still some work to do.