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Billy Zane Unpacks ‘Trauma Drama’ Behind Portraying Real-Life Ex-Convict Larry Ray in New Lifetime Movie

Billy Zane
Billy Zane / Depositphotos

*We caught up with versatile and dynamic actor Billy Zane to discuss his latest compelling role as real-life ex-convict Larry Ray in Lifetime’s “Devil on Campus: The Larry Ray Story.”

Known for his chameleon-like ability to immerse himself in diverse characters, Zane takes on the complex and disturbing persona of Ray, whose manipulative actions and sinister influence over a group of young college students left a chilling mark on those affected. 

The Lifetime production is based on the real-life case of the Sarah Lawrence College cult led by Larry Ray. On January 20, 2023, Ray was sentenced to 60 years in prison on charges of extortion, forced labor, sex trafficking, racketeering, money laundering, tax evasion, and violent assault.

Here’s the synopsis for the Elisabeth Röhm-directed movie: When ex-convict Larry Ray (Zane) unexpectedly moves into his daughter’s dorm, he enthralls her friends with conversations and promises to help them with personal transformations by preying on their insecurities and fears. Under Ray’s influence, the students uncover false memories of childhood trauma that Ray uses to further alienate them from their families. As the students continue to fall under Ray’s control, he begins to target their friends and family, extending his reach of emotional, financial, sexual abuse and mental manipulation. As the students get pulled deeper into the cult, Ray’s control moves from emotional and mental to sexual as well, creating a web of lies and deceit.

The cast includes Tedra Rogers, Frankie Warren, Alexis Sides, Erin Walsh, and Elizabeth Röhm. 

During a recent virtual press conference, we asked Billy about the most challenging scenes he faced while filming and how he prepared for them.

“The interrogation scenes, and the ones that required levels of where he touched upon, he went from beyond emotional abuse to physical abuse, were unnerving and disturbing to me,” he stated. 

“Actors in general, I think, should have emotional stunt pay because I do believe the secondary experience encroaches on the primary, for audiences and actors alike,” Zane continued. “Whenever we try to make something real, and we fire off all these same chemicals and the dopamine, serotonin, and adrenaline. Our bodies are taxed as if these things are primary and really happening. So it’s a lot,” he explained. 

“It’s a lot for the actors you work with, it’s a lot for yourself, and it’s a lot to impose upon another in the interest of art or storytelling,” the veteran actor said. “So drama, trauma drama, is hard work any way you slice it, especially if you’re doing it well and believably because it requires complete biological conviction, and fooling your body, that you are actually experiencing these things.” 

Regarding “trauma drama,” Zane said actresses “catch the brunt of it.”

“Women, just the amount of young actors who have to undergo such horrible journeys. The hardest part was having this philosophy and engaging in the practice. That was the hardest thing, was unpacking that.”

Billy Zane stars in the Larry Ray Story
Poster for ‘Devil on Campus: The Larry Ray Story’ / Credit Lifetime

Röhm added, “Billy was so great with all of these kids, and took it upon himself to just be there, a source of support, and make it something that they could be excited about, as opposed to intimidated by him,” she explained. 

“He really reached out to them. There was a lot of safety, a lot of nurturing from him to them, and they felt it,” she added, “It played well into the movie because, of course, he is their pied piper. So there was a deep connection Billy maintained and created with the students, which was great.”

Billy Zane
Billy Zane as Larry in Lifetime’s ‘Devil on Campus: The Larry Ray Story’ / Credit: Lifetime

Zane chimed in to add, “They were wonderful actors. They’re just lovely people. You form that bond without the psychosis, and then we do the lines and hit them. It carried a bonding truth, which was fun.”

“Devil On Campus: The Larry Ray Story” premieres Sunday, June 23 at 8/7c on Lifetime.

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