When Ross Lynch first got the call to play one of the most notorious serial killers of the 20th Century, he was intrigued – even though he'd never heard of him. Lynch, best known as the star of Disney's Austin & Ally and as singer for the band R5, was on tour when his agent called to see if he'd be interested in checking out a new script. "They were like, 'Hey, do you know who Jeffrey Dahmer is?'" he tells Rolling Stone. "I had no idea."
But jumping into the unknown has been Lynch's modus operandi for his entire life. At 11, he and his family moved from Colorado to Los Angeles so he and his three siblings – brothers Riker and Rocky, and sister Rydell – could pursue acting. They took it seriously, being home schooled so they could make it to the auditions, but spent their spare time listening to everything from INXS to the Beatles to Elvis. Within a couple years, they'd started a family band, asking their friend Ellington Ratliff to join in on drums.
Even with the band, Lynch still wanted to be an actor and auditioned as much as he could. He wasn't picky, taking any job he could get from Kidz Bop to an episode of So You Think You Can Dance. "I did pretty much anything that could keep the family afloat," Ross, now 21, recalls. "There were seven of us and we were living in a motel – after that, we lived in a two bedroom apartment in Culver City."
In 2012, not long after Riker, four years his senior, won a recurring role on Glee, Ross was called in to Disney and landed his gig on the show. He'd never really acted before – or even done a table read for that matter – but he was a quick study. "I just soaked it up like a sponge," he says. "I love all that stuff. I love learning new things, and Austin & Ally honestly was probably the best foundation for the acting side of me, just cause I learned so much."
Around the time he landed the role, R5 signed to Hollywood Records, and in 2013 they released their first album, Louder. Disney didn't seem to mind promoting him as a star and a musician – after all, Austin was an outgoing singer on the show, too. "They kind of featured us on Disney Channel a few times just cause like, if I'm on Disney Channel, they're like yeah we might as well just put your music up here."
A few months after Austin & Ally wrapped for good in early 2016, Lynch got the call about appearing as the title character in the adaptation of the best-selling graphic novel My Friend Dahmer – a true account of cartoonist Derf Backderf's brief high school friendship with the serial killer, before his first kill.
He went to meet Marc Meyers, who'd adapted the screenplay. "Marc told me, 'If you end up doing this movie, that's a bold move – and I like that,'" Lynch recalls. He liked the idea, too. A pop band as a follow-up to a teen musical was one thing, but playing the high-school version of a man who would become known as the Cannibal of Milwaukee was something quite different. He auditioned and got the part leading him, like so many Disney stars before him, to be noticed by the non-tween set for swiftly exiting his comfort zone.
"I thought it was awesome to just be unpredictable," Lynch says. "Hopefully my next role could be something that most people won't expect from me."