Boston Strangler: Alessandro Nivola shares chilling family story about killer

The actor plays Detective Conley in the new Disney+ thriller

Boston Strangler (Disney+)
Alessandro Nivola in Boston Strangler. (Disney+)

Boston Strangler, the new true crime drama starring Keira Knightley as Loretta McLaughlin, a pioneering journalist working to break the story of the notorious 1960’s serial killer, comes with a personal bent for two of its stars.

Alessandro Nivola, the brilliantly chameleonic actor from films such as Face/Off, The Many Saints of Newark and Disobedience plays Detective Conley, a comparatively modern cop working hard to catch this killer of women. Nivola is a Boston native and while he did not grow up with knowledge of the infamous story, family members were quick to fill him in on the folklore that still surrounds the case.

“I knew nothing at all about the Boston Strangler until I started asking family members if they could remember anything,” he says to Yahoo UK.

Read more: The chilling true story behind Boston Strangler

“Then all these stories came out from my dad’s sister who was in college in the 60’s and she was telling me about this time people were scared of going out alone at night and nobody would answer the door to the mailman.

"One of them said they heard a knock at the window and there was a murder in the neighbourhood at the time and she was convinced it was him.”

Watch a trailer for Boston Strangler

For the Oscar-winning Chris Cooper, who was a teenager when the murders took place in the late 60’s also lives in Massachusetts says he was “very aware” of the the gruesome stories from his then home of Missouri which was home to the infamous Clutter murders in the previous decade but had become pop culture catnip again following the publication of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood which detailed the events and people around the killings.

Cooper — who plays Jack Maclaine, the grizzled newspaper editor lets McLaughlin loose on the story — was also entranced by getting the rare opportunity to work close to home as Boston Strangler was shot on location: “I was fortunate this wonderful script came my way because I could just get in the car to go to work. Being close to home was wonderful.”

Boston Strangler (Disney+)
Chris Cooper in Boston Strangler. (Disney+)

Nivola echoed his co-star’s reasoning, intrigued by the material’s relationship to his home: “Despite being a Boston guy, I’ve never been asked to play a role in Boston and I don’t know why. It was going to film up here and I have family up here so it was something I’d been waiting for for a long time.”

There’s something unapologetically old school about Boston Strangler in the sense that it’s a pure drama without any pretensions of trying to make itself relevant to gen-z. The film follows the dogged pursuit of justice in the form of two pioneering female reporters at the Boston Record American played by Keira Knightley and Carrie Coon.

The women fought the naked sexism of their time and workplace and against the odds actually broke the story of the killer. It’s a compliment to say the film feels out of place in the 2023 movie landscape of sequels, spin-offs and remakes.

Boston Strangler (Disney+)
Carrie Coon and Keira Knightley in Boston Strangler. (Disney+)

Boston Strangler also reminded Cooper of the films that made him want to be an actor: “The films that got me interested in acting from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, they don’t involve green screen and car chases. My desire as an actor is to work person to person. These are the types of films that get me excited and this film got me excited. Just a good old timey movie.”

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The actor, acclaimed for his performances in seminal films such as American Beauty and Adaptation and a steadfastly reliable supporting performer in the likes of The Town, A Time to Kill and Little Women also has a “sense” that films like Boston Strangler and the dramas he made his name in are being edged out of cinemas by bigger, louder, dumber movies.

While Boston Strangler appeals to an old school cinematic mentality, it is a hot button film in the sense that it is a true crime story, a genre that has essentially become its own industry at this point through both documentaries and works of drama such as Dahmer, American Crime Story and The Dropout.

Photo by: NDZ/STAR MAX/IPx 2023 3/14/23 Chris Cooper, David Dastmalchian, Carrie Coon and Keira Knightley at the premiere of 'Boston Strangler' on March 14, 2021 in New York City.
Chris Cooper, Carrie Coon, Keira Knightley and David Dastmalchian at the premiere of Boston Strangler. (NDZ/STAR MAX)

Cooper thinks the explosion in true crime stories is a quintessentially American phenomenon: “We are addicted to crime and murder mysteries. It’s always been that way. Everything’s a cop show. We’re just so attracted to them.”

Nivola is the standout in a film of heavy hitters like Knightley and Cooper and erstwhile character actors such as Bill Camp, Robert John Burke and Rory Cochrane as the ennobled detective with the Perry Mason hat.

Read more: Viewers criticise Evan Peters' Golden Globe win for Dahmer

Part of what enticed Nivola to the role was the chance to play such a compelling cop: “I had this idea of him being from a family tradition of cops and jeopardising his relationships and reputation because of this obsession in trying to track down this killer. I liked the idea of him just totally having this obsession. And then he had a sort of cynical, cool attitude and I thought that was appealing.”

Boston Strangler (Disney+)
Boston Strangler (Disney+)

Though he’s a clear natural in the detective role, Nivola’s expansive CV is not going to include any additional hardboiled roles anytime soon as he’s booked out on a broad range of projects including Marvel’s Kraven the Hunter where he stars as a villain but is completely banned from saying anything else, Huey P Newton drama The Big Cigar where he plays Easy Rider producer Bert Schneider and Ethan Hawke’s Flannery O’Connor biopic Wildcat.

Boston Strangler premieres on Disney+ on 17 March.