In the Ted Bundy biopic “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile,” Angela Sarafyan is a voice of reason. The film is told from the point of view of Bundy’s longtime girlfriend Elizabeth Kloepfer (played by Lily Collins), but Sarafyan, as her close friend Joanna, is there to convince her that something is amiss with her seemingly affable boyfriend.
“That’s what was interesting for me; I thought you can be in relationships and really not know a person. I find that to be really frightening,” the “Westworld” actress says from downtown Park City, Utah, the morning after the film’s premiere at Sundance. “It was really haunting seeing Zac [Efron] as Ted Bundy. I was thinking about it this morning: he’s so similar to him. If you look at the actual footage you see such a similarity, not only in their features. It’s creepy, but it’s not a gory film, and it doesn’t glorify anything.”
The film was directed by Joe Berlinger, who’s known primarily as a documentary filmmaker; as he was making “Extremely Wicked,” he was simultaneously filming “The Ted Bundy Tapes,” a documentary on the serial killer for Netflix which was released this month.
“In the process of making [several documentaries], he’s found that a lot of people who were found guilty of crimes were actually innocent,” says the actress. “He brought me this script and I thought, ‘wow, this is the opposite of what he does as a documentary filmmaker.’ And more than just the fact that he’s doing a documentary film, but also it’s about a man who seems innocent, but he’s guilty of all these crimes. And I thought that was interesting, that among us are these ordinary people, and who knows who’s a serial killer? If Ted Bundy wasn’t driving recklessly down the street and a cop hadn’t pulled him over, we wouldn’t even know of these acts.”
The actress, herself warm and receptive, surveys the room, adding that she’s not, in fact, as cynical as that sentiment seems. Serial killers aside, there’s a lot for her to be optimistic about. Two days before flying to Park City, the actress wrapped the Annapurna Interactive narrative game feature “Telling Lies,” directed by Sam Barlow. The actress also continues her run on “Westworld,” which returns for its third season on May 1.
“I always think my roles, they come for a reason,” says Sarafyan, adding that the process of filming her “Extremely Wicked” character yielded personal insights. While Kloepfer eventually came around to Bundy’s true nefarious nature, Joanna was steadfast in her suspicions.
“Maybe there’s something in our own gut feeling. You know how sometimes you see the truths but you don’t want to believe them? That denial. I think it’s really going back to trusting that instinct. This is what I see in the script, because that’s what I’m going through in my life, where I’m trying to trust my instinct about everything. Anything even as simple as what am I going to wear tonight, and does this feel good, am I happy with who I am in this outfit today, or where I am?” she says.
“I think in my own life, I needed to be that person.”