Analy grad Cameron Britton gives chilling performance on Netflix’s 'Mindhunter'
Actor Cameron Britton believes in doing his homework. After getting cast in “Threepenny Opera” as a teenage drama student at Sebastopol’s Analy High School, Britton sought out a homeless man in San Francisco and asked him to tell his story, which he did.
That kind of preparation to learn first-hand about street beggars for his role in the Bertolt Brecht Victorian-era London tale paid off then, and it has paid off ever since for Britton in his pursuit of depth for other roles.
Britton is savoring the acclaim he’s received in the past eight months for his breakout performance as prolific serial killer Edmund Kemper in the hit Netflix series “Mindhunter.”
Scripted as a guest role, Britton’s Kemper becomes an intense focal point for the 10-episode first season about the beginnings of the FBI’s behavioral science unit in the late 1970s, when law enforcement first began studying serial killers.
Vanity Fair called his performance “terrifically unnerving” and The AV Club described Britton’s take on the Santa Cruz killer as “one of the most chilling” and delivered with “effortless menace.”
“I had no idea that performance would go over so well,” the Sebastopol native said in a phone interview from Toronto, where he’s filming a new Netflix series, “Umbrella Academy.”
His creepy, yet almost likable, portrayal has “flung open” doors for the 31-year-old actor, a professional since age 18, when his mother dropped him off at Hollywood and Vine so he could try to make it in the notoriously dream-crushing entertainment business.
Britton, who graduated high school in 2004, credits former Analy drama teacher Starr Hergenrather for helping him hone his skills as a young performer and his parents for letting him run free as a child on their Martinelli family orchards and vineyards.
“When I was 11, I said I wanted to be an actor,” he said. “I moved out there for comedy. I thought I was going to be on Saturday Night Live. As life happens, I end up playing a murderer.”
After several lean years, Britton took a break from acting and joined his mother, Julianna Martinelli of the Martinelli wine family, who had temporarily moved to Tennessee.
She remembers his decision not to give up. “After a while, he said, ‘I’m going back to try it again,’” she recalled. “And then, it went from zero to 100.”
“Mindhunter” director David Fincher needed an actor who bore some resemblance to Kemper, at 6-foot-9 and more than 250 pounds, and could believably depict the killer’s intelligence and eerie calmness.
Britton, though 6-5 and about 275, still had to wear lifts to appear as tall as Kemper.
But transforming into a man who murdered his grandparents, his mother, her best friend, five female college students and a 15-year-old high school girl was more demanding.
As he learned in high school, Britton conducted extensive research on his character, whom he’d never heard of before. The real Kemper, now 69, remains locked up at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville. He has been rejected for parole several times, as recently as 2017.
“I picked up the script I was sent to read and it felt like it was a real person — something about the dialog,” he said. “When I did look him up, I sure went down a rabbit hole for a while.