Stephen Merchant refused to ‘indulge’ Grindr killer Stephen Port in new drama Four Lives

Stephen Merchant as Grindr serial killer Stephen Port in Four Lives

Stephen Merchant has said he had no desire to meet Stephen Port before playing him in the upcoming series Four Lives, and was determined not to “indulge” the Grindr serial killer.

Four Lives, a three-part BBC series which will begin on Monday, 3 January, on BBC One, follows the families of Port’s young victims – Anthony Walgate, Gabriel Kovari, and Daniel Whitworth, and Jack Taylor – in their desperate attempts to uncover the truth.

Merchant’s role as the Grindr serial killer is a departure from his previous work and, speaking to PinkNews, he explained that series creators were careful not to make Port more of a focus that the victims and their families.

“I just I think it’s a testament to [writer Neil McKay’s] script that that the the films don’t sensationalise or tabloid-ise the events,” he said.

“I think that seeing it through the family’s eyes is a very smart way of exploring this. And that Stephen Port is present but not the focus, that he is a sort of threatening shark that’s kind of circling around the story, but he’s not focus.”

Merchant explained that he and the show’s creators were “not particularly interested in the psychology” of Port, and what led him to commit his horrific crimes.

He continued: “There’s a sense that we don’t want to indulge him with that level of Hannibal Lecter focus and intrigue, you know?

“He’s a banal, scary murderer… I didn’t want to editorialise.

“Even though Stephen Port perhaps comes over as creepy, I didn’t set out to make him creepy. I just thought, ‘This seems like a very banal, slightly childlike man.”

Four Lives‘ Stephen Merchant ‘needed to keep some distance’ from the character of Stephen Port

While many of the actors playing the victims’ families in Four Lives were able to meet their real-life counterparts, Stephen Merchant said he had “no interest” in meeting Stephen Port.

He said: “I didn’t meet Stephen Port… He’s in jail, and I have no particular interest in him. But I also I didn’t meet people that knew him either.

“I think at the time, I felt I needed to keep some distance from it. In part because of trying not to editorialise too much. When you meet people that know a subject like that, they obviously have their own interpretation of that person, their experience of that person, and I was concerned that that would skew me in one direction or another.

“The only thing I really had to draw on was the police footage of his interviews.”

Merchant studied Port’s “body language and his speech rhythms”, but the real “challenge” was creating an internal dialogue for Port during the court scenes.

“I felt like what I needed to do was to construct my own internal logic about how someone like that thinks,” said Merchant.

“I mean, I don’t know how a serial killer thinks. When we filmed the court trial scenes… what is the person thinking in that circumstance? They know they’ve killed four men, but they’re not going to admit it. So do they know they’re lying? Or have they constructed a reality that they’re now living by? Are they navigating their way between truth and lies?”

Merchant revealed in Four Lives, the murders of Port’s victims are intentionally not shown on screen, adding that the series “is very much about the aftermath”.

“The incredible tenacity of these families who are confronted with this Kafka-esque, impenetrable monolith of the law and police, and just not be able to get through, that’s the thing that seemed most devastating and heartbreaking,” he said.

“You think this is something that’s going to be set in the 1970s, with the reactions of the police and the sort of hum of homophobia, but it’s 2014. It’s shocking.”