How the Mank cast tackled the behind-the-scenes story of Citizen Kane

Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins, and Charles Dance break down their Old Hollywood epic Mank.

Devan Coggan
November 18, 2020
Entertainment Weekly

There’s a moment in MankDavid Fincher’s incisive portrait of Herman J. Mankiewicz, where the irascible Hollywood genius is weighing the task before him. Already an accomplished screenwriter, Mankiewicz (played by Gary Oldman) has been tapped to script Orson Welles’ first film, an ambitious screenplay about newspaper titan William Randolph Hearst — the basis for Citizen Kane, now widely considered the greatest film of all time. “You cannot capture a man’s entire life in two hours,” Mankiewicz muses. “All you can hope is to leave the impression of one.”

It’s an apt commentary on Hearst and Kane, of course — but it’s also a mission statement for Mank itself: How do you tell the story of one of the greatest storytellers in Hollywood history?

Fincher’s sweeping black-and-white epic attempts just that, starting with its stylistic homage to the era. The long-gestating script, by Fincher’s late father, Jack Fincher (who worked as a journalist and died in 2003), follows the acerbic and alcoholic screenwriter throughout his career. And it was up to Oldman to breathe life into Mankiewicz’s story. “There is not a lot to work with in bringing Herman to life,” Oldman, 62, says. “However, we knew two things: We knew what he did, and we knew what others thought of him. Here was a man regarded as the smartest, the wittiest, and the best writer by the most notable writers of his day.”

Mank follows its protagonist as he struggles to complete what would become his Oscar-winning magnum opus, assisted by stenographer Rita Alexander (Lily Collins). As he writes, he reflects on his career throughout the 1930s, with flashbacks detailing his meetings with Hearst himself (Charles Dance) and Hearst’s longtime mistress Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried).

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