“So everybody bitches and moans about how many takes… People I’ve never even met complain about how many takes I shoot.”
Welcome to Random Roles, wherein we talk to actors about the characters who defined their careers. The catch: They don’t know beforehand what roles we’ll ask them to talk about.
The actor: Over two decades of big- and small-screen work, John Carroll Lynch has become one of Hollywood’s consummate “that guy” character actors, capable of punching up the margins of whatever he’s in. Theatrically trained, the Colorado native made his first big impression as eternally supportive husband Norm Gunderson in the Coen brothers’ Oscar-winning Fargo, before scoring a reoccurring role as crossdressing older brother Steve on The Drew Carey Show. Since then, he’s carved out an eclectic body of film and television supporting performances, playing his imposing stature for both paternal, Gundersonian decency (such as during a moving one-episode appearance on The Walking Dead) and for supreme, skin-crawling creepiness (like in Zodiac or The Invitation). Lynch has also worked with several major directors, from Martin Scorsese to Clint Eastwood to John Woo. Recently, he’s picked up the filmmaking bug himself; his directorial debut Lucky, starring the late Harry Dean Stanton in one of his final roles, opens in New York and Los Angeles this Friday, before expanding into further markets.
Zodiac (2007)— “Arthur Leigh Allen”
First thing’s first. Is Arthur Leigh Allen the Zodiac Killer?
JCL: No, and the reason I don’t think so is twofold. First, in performing the role, David Fincher asked me to play it as an innocent man. [Pauses.] Until the end. [Laughs.]
AVC: Until that last scene with Robert Graysmith.
JCL: And then the other thing was… and this is going to sound like a weird defense, but… Arthur Leigh Allen was a pedophile. To get to be a pedophile, to really choose to do that, consciously in your life, it’s my belief that you have to run through some really severe walls of societal norms and morals. It has to be a mania, an obsession, of such grand proportions for you to ignore the health and safety of children to do it—I don’t see how you go, “I want to sleep with children and kill people.” The only way I can think of it not being that way is if he molested children—[Aside.] this is a horrible answer—and he realized that wasn’t it. He just thought it was. But I find that hard to believe. Now, that’s a terrible defense of Arthur Leigh Allen. He wasn’t the Zodiac Killer, he wasn’t a serial killer, because he was a pedophile. But I will say that the circumstantial evidence that Graysmith presented, and that David Fincher expanded upon during the making of the movie, is pretty overwhelming.
AVC: But there have been so many suspects over the years. People have made these iron, convincing cases against several people.
JCL: Sure. That’s what the movie’s about, isn’t it? I think that movie is about the virus of obsession. And I don’t think that’s stopped. The Zodiac isn’t the first one to do that, obviously. The first one I can think of us is the guy here [in Chicago]. The Devil In The White City.
AVC: Oh, right, with the death hotel. Holmes?
JCL: Yes, H.H. Holmes. That guy may be the first recorded one. Although Jack The Ripper was before that. But it’s like the myth of vampirism. There’s just something attractive to people about these men who see themselves as above humanity. To be released from the constraints of moral society. We might be seeing that play out in other ways.
AVC: David Fincher has this reputation as an intense perfectionist, sometimes demanding 50 takes to get a scene right.
JCL: As a person who came from the theater, I love that. It doesn’t bother me at all. The fact that he wanted to do it again was perfectly fine with me. I was also aware of it, so I didn’t take it personally. I didn’t think, “I suck now” because we were on 50. I think if you get to 50 with Clint Eastwood, you’re doing something wrong. [Laughs.] But Fincher is meticulous. He’s like the other masters I’ve worked with. They understand filmmaking to a degree that I could only dream of. And they are following their passion. This is a poor analogy, but Picasso was a cubist and went through a wide variety of movements in his career. He could have drawn figures better than anyone if he wanted to. He didn’t want to. So that’s what it’s like working with David Fincher. He’s after something. And it takes him 50 takes to get it.
AVC: He knows what he wants.
JCL: He knows what he’s looking for, and he knows how to get it. I also think he likes the performances of exhausted actors. He finds something interesting about that.
‘Lucky’ director John Carroll Lynch talks Harry Dean Stanton’s final role
Podcast: 28:04 min
WASHINGTON — He’s one of the most prolific character actors in Hollywood history, from “Cool Hand Luke” (1967) to “Alien” (1979), from “Paris, Texas” (1984) to “Repo Man” (1984).
Now, just days after his death at age 91, Harry Dean Stanton gives his final performance in the indie dramedy “Lucky,” marking the directorial debut of actor John Carroll Lynch (“Fargo”).
Who can forget his suspect in David Fincher’s “Zodiac” (2007)? His acting chops are on display in two scenes: first as he’s called into the police station where the cops remark, “Nice watch.” They don’t seem to notice the clue right under their noses: the watch is a “Zodiac” brand.
“[Fincher] did a great job,” Lynch said. “That [acting] foursome — Elias Koteas, Anthony Edwards, Mark Ruffalo and I — had one of the best days on set that I’ve ever had.”
His final scene is just as brilliant, as Jake Gyllenhaal’s Detective Robert Graysmith enters Lynch’s hardware store, engaging in a silent staredown that suggests he’s the killer.
“Graysmith so desperately needs to know,” Lynch said. “The scene is written like the end of ‘Moby Dick’ where Ahab is tied to the whale. Melville writes, ‘The whale looks at Ahab, and Ahab looks at the whale.’ That’s how I saw it. They recognize each other in that moment.”
While with MINDHUNTER, David Fincher aims to get inside the minds of the serial killers, Nev Pierce tries the same with the series director.
Words: Nev Pierce
Portraits: Marius Bugge
Digital Imaging: Justin Metz
Empire (October 2017 Issue)
September 7, 2017
“I DON’T WANT WHOEVER DID THIS KILLED,” SAYS DAVID FINCHER, “BUT I DO WANT A DIGIT.”
[…] He’s brandishing his new show’s “sides” in his hand: the day’s script pages, which have been stapled together in the wrong order. “Okay, we’re almost ready,” he calls out, unpicking staples. “Bring in the master thespians!”
[…] “Cut!” calls Fincher. “Moving on!” There’s a pause, from shock. Then laughter, as it dawns upon cast and crew that their director — not exactly known for being shy of repeating takes — is taking the piss. As detail-orientated as any FBI proﬁler, Fincher is hardly going to rush through a scene as nuanced as this. Walking over to the monitor, he says, “Okay, play that back. Let me see everything that was fucked up about it.”
[…] Fincher directed four of the ten episodes, with the others shot by Dane Tobias Lindholm (A Hijacking) and Brits Andrew Douglas (U Want Me 2 Kill Him?) and Asif Kapadia (Senna).
[…] “It’s a much more theatrical presentation,” he reﬂects. “It’s a lot of sitting at a table with a guy in manacles, trying to get him to tell you what was going through his head when he did the most inhuman things to another entity you can possibly imagine.”
[…] Of course from Seven to Zodiac to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Fincher has dealt with more than his fair share of successive slaughters. The interest may stem from his youth. His dad was a journalist, his mum a mental-health nurse, and conversations about killers weren’t infrequent at home.
“There were a lot of serial killers in the ’70s,” he remembers. “And we probably talked about most of them. My mom would come down much more on the notion of rehabilitation and my dad would be like, ‘Once you understand what’s really going on, you probably have less empathy than you would going in.’ So that might have been what made MINDHUNTER appealing. Then again, whenever I can blame my parents, that’s my default.”
[…] As much as we now take the idea of psychological proﬁling for granted, back in the ’70s it was new. In that sense, while MINDHUNTER is about murder, it bears some thematic comparison to Fincher’s BAFTA-winning The Social Network, in that it is also about invention. Fincher knew Groff from that, in fact, rather than any of his TV work (“I know this is gonna shock you,” says the director, “but I’ve never seen Glee”).
[…] Visiting Quantico, Fincher walked down into a basement and came face-to-face with a life-size mannequin of Hannibal Lecter: the ultimate serial-killer icon. “The Silence Of The Lambs was a huge recruitment tool,” says the director, who, when asked by his FBI guides what he wanted to do with MINDHUNTER, told them he wanted to strip away the super-villainy of serial killers.
[…] “I feel like Dennis Rader [‘The BTK Killer’] is a lot of things, Gary Ridgway [‘The Green River Killer’] is a lot of things, Richard Ramirez [‘The Night Stalker’] is a lot of things,” he says. “But they’re not gourmands. We want to show these people as they really are, which is quite sad and human. Even though the aspect of them that they’re keeping hidden is this intensely subhuman part.”
It’s an attitude you might not expect from the man who once put Gwyneth Paltrow’s head in a box. But there’s empathy here. Recalls Fincher: “Jeffrey Dahmer [cannibal, necrophiliac and murderer of 17 people] said, ‘I’m sexually aroused by seeing people’s insides.’” He pauses, before adding wryly. “Okay, well, there’s not a lot of clubs for that… Suntan lotion and beer and bubblegum and automobiles are sold by cleavage, they’re sold by abs — there’s this commingling of our sexual impulse in almost every kind of communication. If that doesn’t work for you, what must the world be like? I mean, I’ve seen the crime-scene photographs from Jeffrey Dahmer. He was a subhuman. And yet you can’t help but listen to him and go, ‘Was there a chance had we gotten there earlier?’”
[…] Not that the empathy extends eternally. “I like to think of myself as a liberal,” says Fincher. “And yet there are deﬁnitely moments where I ﬁnd myself going, ‘Give me a backhoe and some quicklime and let’s stop worrying about the appeals process.’”
[…] MINDHUNTER is asking difficult questions. “It is also entirely salacious!” says Fincher. “Let’s not kid ourselves. But hopefully we’re going to be dealing with the things that make us similar as opposed to the things that separate us.”
[…] A resident comes over to say she’s a fan. Fincher smiles. “It’s always nice to know there are pervs out there!” She laughs. “We keep you in business!” “That’s true,” says Fincher. “Without pervs I’d be nothing.”
One of the most challenging aspects of storytelling is showing a character thinking. It might sound like a straightforward task, but think about what you look like while studying. Ever watched someone complete a puzzle? It’s a quiet, meditative task marked by trial and error. In reality, there’s remarkably little head-scratching or furrowed brows. Visually, it’s rather unimpressive.
So how does a creator reveal thinking—poring over material, investigative work, head-buried-in-clues research—without absolutely boring the audience? How does a director reinvent frustration, the false lead, the maddening search, particularly over a two-hour film?
David Fincher has made a career of chronicling that very process.
Not only has Fincher produced some of the most haunting detective sequences in film—Se7en, Zodiac, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo—but you’d be unlikely to find criticism calling his films boring. He’s a master at tension-building and unapologetic about his resolutions. Perhaps this is why so many of his characters fall prey to their own obsessive madness. The unraveling of a character is something Fincher portrays with patience and deliberateness.
The very talented and charming Carrie Coon (don’t miss her superb performances on “The Leftovers” and the 3rd season of “Fargo) offers some insights into her experience working for the first time in a film. A David Fincher film.
From minute 28:28 to 33:52:
Q&A with Carrie Coon of FARGO. Moderated by Jarett Wieselman, BuzzFeed.
From minute 21:31 to 29:51:
Emmy-nominated actress Carrie Coon stops by to talk Leftovers, Fargo, and what’s next.