Billy Zane Talks Transforming Into ‘Manipulative’ Larry Ray in First Lifetime Movie

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Billy Zane makes his Lifetime movie debut in the network’s new original film Devil on Campus: The Larry Ray Story, premiering June 23. The movie is based on the true story of Larry Ray, an ex-con who moved in with his daughter at Sarah Lawrence College and started a cult that included many of his daughter’s friends. Ray’s crimes were exposed in a New York Magazine article, and he’s since been sentenced to 60 years in federal prison.

Zane and director/executive producer Elisabeth Rohm spoke with TV Insider about exploring Ray’s twisted crimes and what happened to his victims. “What I really enjoyed and understood up front why this was absolutely the right place to tell this story was the restraint shown by the platform and the network,” Zane said. “Had it been in the hands of any other streamer, I think it would be too salacious, overtly sexualized, and the violence exponentially increased, thus detracting from the core and most interesting part of the story, which is the characters and motivation. I loved the censorship around and the discretion shown in the piece, which is why I made a Lifetime movie.”

Rohm is an alum of Sarah Lawrence College and admitted she was “horrified” over what happened once Ray came to stay with his daughter on campus. “We’re telling the story because of the victims and wanting to support them in their journey and portray what we hope is the closest thing to what they’ve been through as a warning tale, and to really paint a portrait of a sociopath and what that dynamic would have been like for those young people with this incredibly dynamic, manipulative, and sick person,” she said. “We really feel a sense of responsibility to the victims and that was why we wanted to delve into this storytelling.”

Billy Zane as Larry Ray in 'Devil on Campus: The Larry Ray Story'

Courtesy of Lifetime

Once Rohm learned about what happened, she did a podcast called Devil in the Dorm and soon wanted to develop a movie about it. When she thought about who could play the enigmatic Larry Ray, Rohm only had the Titanic alum in mind.

“I never once envisioned anybody else other than Billy Zane playing this character,” she said. “As luck would have it, at some Oscar party, I was leaving and he was walking in, and I said, ‘F**k it.’ I’m like, ‘I want you to star in this movie I’m making.’ And he was so nice and so polite. He said, ‘Well, send me the script.’ And of course, it wasn’t ready for quite a while. We have a friend in common, so I kind of came at him in a lot of different ways, and thankfully got him, but it was always only him.”

To transform into Ray, Zane worked with a dialect coach to perfect “his accent and his curious affliction that afforded a strange lisp and pitch. I put on a lot of weight, which was a fun task. He was certainly quite a little heavier. He had greater mass, which was very imposing over these kids, even more imposing than his height was his girth. I just thought it was really fun to be able to play someone just let it all hang out and get my Raging Bull on.”

Rohm added, “Obviously, Billy physically transformed for this role. He’s a pretty good-looking guy, and it was important that he was seductive. Billy has this really incredible dynamic quality, and he leaned into it. Although he physically transformed so he could look more like the true life person and become all of these other things that really aren’t him physically and would be perceived as unattractive, like the belly or whatever, you were still incredibly attracted to him. He was incredibly seductive.”

Zane felt a sense of trust working alongside Rohm as they mined through the difficult subject matter. “She’s a fantastic actor’s director,” Zane said. “There was such a level of shorthand and understanding and a willingness and bravery to turn things on their heads and do 180s, really mine and track logic, pivot it, and see it through the lens of the character from a twisted point of logic, then from a point of trauma, then justification, and literally find all these threads.”

After playing Ray, Zane acknowledged that this situation is a cautionary tale. “The key is to always try to maintain your agency,” Zane told TV Insider. “Trust your gut and hold your agency. Do not give your power away, even willingly, because it’s fun and all the kids are doing it. Retain and experience, but during those formative years, especially when you’re looking for experience, and perhaps guidance or stewardship, hold fast.

Devil on Campus: The Larry Ray Story, Movie Premiere, June 23, 8/7c, Lifetime

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