"[It] stayed with me after the shoot," he said of the role. "It's sort of like PTSD"

By Jodi Guglielmi
Updated October 22, 2020 03:15 PM

Aaron Taylor-Johnson had to get into the mindset of a serial killer for his latest role.

Johnson, 26, opened up about how he prepared to play the part of Ray Marcus, a menacing thug, in the drama Nocturnal Animals. The actor, who stars alongside Jake Gyllenhaal, called the process “psychologically grueling.”

“I spent three months researching serial killers and watching psychopaths,” he said. “I barely slept. I became a creature of the night.”

Johnson said the experience became especially taxing when he would have to return home to his family and young children. He said he did his best to keep his research separate from his family time.

“I was accumulating this knowledge at hours of the day or night when my kids and family were either out or asleep,” he said. “It was such a dark energy to bring into the household.”

Nocturnal Animals tells the story of a woman (Amy Adams) who confronts the demons of her past while reading a dark novel written by her ex-husband (Gyllenhaal). As she gets deeper into its story, she wonders whether the tale actually might be a revenge fantasy that alludes to their painful real-life breakup.

Johnson said his overall look helped him transform into the role with the help of director Tom Ford.

“[Ford] straightened my hair. He even himself personally shaved mutton chops. He told me to grow my nails out,” he explained. “There was so much detail.”

Johnson said that while all of his preparation paid off in the end, it’s something that will stick with him for a long time.

“[It] stayed with me after the shoot,” he said. “It’s sort of like PTSD.”

Nocturnal Animals hits theaters Nov. 23.