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...There never was an Aaron, counselor.
~ Roy

Aaron Stampler, also known as Roy, is the main antagonist of the 1993 novel Primal Fear by William Diehl and it's 1996 film adaptation with the same name.

He was portrayed by Edward Norton, who also played Steve Frazelli in The Italian Job, Nova in Alita: Battle Angel, Derek Vinyard in American History X, and Eric Byer in The Bourne Legacy.


Stampler is a 19-year-old altar boy for Archbishop Richard Rushman, the popular Archbishop of Chicago. He appears meek and frightened, with a severe stutter, and alludes to having had an unhappy childhood with his abusive father in Crikside, Kentucky.

When the Archbishop is brutally murdered, Stampler is found nearby covered in his blood, and is arrested for his murder. Defense attorney Martin Vail takes his case, eager for the publicity. He is against his ex-girlfriend, Janet Venable, who is under high pressure from the District Attorney John Shaughnessy who wants Stampler executed. Stampler insists that he is innocent, and that he "lost time" (blacked out) and woke up covered in Rushman's blood. He then says that he often "loses time" when put under great stress.

While investigating the case, Vail finds a videotape of Rushman forcing Stampler, his girlfriend Linda and some of his fellow altar boys to have sex with each other. When Vail confronts him, Stampler flies into a rage and literally becomes like another person; his stutter vanishes and he becomes a violent sociopath who calls himself "Roy". When "Roy" tells him that he killed Rushman after "Aaron" begged him to, Vail realizes that Stampler has multiple personality disorder.

At first, Vail doesn't want to change Stampler's plea, knowing that insanity is hard to prove. However, during the trial Vail goads "Roy" into coming out; "Roy" then attacks and chokes prosecutor Jane Venable until the bailiff drags him out of the courtroom, forcing the judge to declare a mistrial. Stampler is sentenced to a mental institution rather than prison, and Vail becomes the most famous lawyer in Chicago for helping him beat the murder charge.

When Vail tells Stampler about the judge's decision, Stampler thanks him and asks him to make sure that Venable's neck is all right. Vail realizes that Stampler couldn't have known about Venable's injuries if he had "lost time" as he claimed, and confronts him. Stampler then reveals that the multiple personality disorder had been an act, and that he had known exactly what he was doing when he murdered Rushman; he also says that he killed Linda as well.

Stunned, Vail states there was no Roy, but Stampler corrects him that it was always Roy, and it was the persona of Aaron that never truly existed. Aaron gleefully brags about having gotten away with murder as a disillusioned and shocked Vail walks away.


  • Edward Norton made his film debut in Primal Fear. His performance as Stampler critical acclaim and Norton was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.