There are few directors as infamously meticulous as David Fincher. Amanda Seyfried – who appears in Fincher’s upcoming movie Mank, about the writing of Citizen Kane – previously revealed that one scenetook around 200 takes to capture properly. For the latest issue of the magazine, Total Film asked the team behind Mank about working with Fincher, with the director himself being the first to admit that he can be quite demanding.
“It was exhausting in the beginning, I think, for him,” Fincher says of leading actor Gary Oldman. “Because I’m fairly didactic about, ‘These are the things that the scene needs to accomplish for me, and we will continue to play, to look for ways to underline these ideas that are as subtle as we can make them.’
If you asked David Fincher about the childhood years he spent in San Anselmo in Marin County during the 1960s, the topic that would undoubtedly pop up would be that of an infamous serial killer who, in the director’s eyes, was “the ultimate boogeyman.” For it was precisely that time and that general area that saw the rise of the Zodiac, a murderer who frequently wrote letters and sent coded messages to local newspapers, gleefully taking credit for the gruesome killing sprees that would inevitably trigger waves of paranoia across the West Coast. As Fincher recalls: “I remember coming home and saying the highway patrol had been following our school buses for a couple weeks now. And my dad, who worked from home, and who was very dry, not one to soft-pedal things, turned slowly in his chair and said: ‘Oh yeah. There’s a serial killer who has killed four or five people, who calls himself Zodiac, who’s threatened to take a high-powered rifle and shoot out the tires of a school bus, and then shoot the children as they come off the bus.’” Fincher’s fascination with the mystery man who wreaked havoc in Northern California during the late 60s and early 70s, claiming to have taken the lives of thirty-seven people (out of which only five were confirmed as being his victims), ultimately resulted in the director gladly accepting to work on Zodiac, a 2007 movie written by James Vanderbilt. The screenwriter had read a 1986 non-fiction book of the same name while he was still in high school, years before pursuing his eventual career. After getting into screenwriting, he had the chance to meet Zodiac author Robert Graysmith, a cartoonist who had been working for one of the newspapers the killer wrote to during the 1960s, and decided to make a screenplay based on the information-packed book. Having creative control over the material was of the utmost importance to Vanderbilt, given the fact that the endings of his previous scripts had been altered. Together with producers from Phoenix Pictures, Vanderbilt bought the rights to both Zodiac and its follow-up, entitled Zodiac Unmasked, after which the Seven director was asked to come on board.
Apart from having a personal attachment to the story of the notorious serial killer who was never brought to justice, what drew Fincher to work on the project was also the fact that the ending of Vanderbilt’s script was left unresolved, thereby staying true to real-life events. But Fincher’s perfectionism and his wish to depict the open case as accurately as possible led to him asking that the screenplay be rewritten, for the wanted to research the original police reports from scratch. He also decided that he, Vanderbilt and producer Bradley J. Fischer should personally interview the people who were involved in the case so that they could discern for themselves whether the testimonies were to be believed or not. The people they spent months interviewing were family members of suspects, the Zodiac killer’s two surviving victims, witnesses, investigators both current and retired, as well as the mayors of Vallejo and San Francisco. As Fincher elaborated: “Even when we did our own interviews, we would talk to two people. One would confirm some aspects of it and another would deny it. Plus, so much time had passed, memories are affected and the different telling of the stories would change perception. So when there was any doubt we always went with the police reports.” They also hired a forensic linguistics expert to analyze the killer’s letters, with the expert’s focus being on how the Zodiac spelled words and structured sentences, as opposed to the emphasis that was put on the Zodiac’s handwriting by document examiners in the 1970s.
Joe Tuttle is well known amongst the fans of David Fincher’s Netflix show Mindhunter, for his role as FBI Agent Gregg Smith in both seasons 1 and 2. He has also appeared on other top-rated shows such as The Blacklist and Unforgettable. Joe and I had an in-depth conversation discussing his influences growing up, his career, and so much more.
JT: My secret weapon is my wife, she’s not an actress but she does have a writing background, so sometimes I think I can get caught up looking at these scripts as an actor like, ‘Oh this could be a really beautiful moment,’ but my wife is always about the writing, sort of, ‘Don’t forget these are human beings.’ It’s nice to have your moment as an actor, but don’t forget, are you really serving the story?
PC: And from speaking to many of the actors on Mindhunter that’s exactly what David Fincher wants when he shoots take after take of the same scene, for you not to play them out as an actor but to be, or react, as you would naturally in real life, and that really ties in to what your wife is saying.
JT: I think that’s part of it… I wish just for one day I could get in the head of David. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone like him before; I probably won’t meet anyone like him again. He’s sort of brilliant at all these different things. I think that’s true he does a lot of takes for a lot of different reasons. One of them is certainly because it’s, ‘Okay let’s make the performances kind of finely crafted in a way, sort of uncrafted in a way. We don’t want to see the actor, we want to see a human being having the experience’.
PC: Yeah exactly!
JT: Also another reason David Fincher does a lot of takes is because I think he has a vision and he wants it to be exactly how he visualises it. It’s not always about the actor, sometimes it’s: we are slightly out of focus; it’s the wrong moment; actually I want to change one word, or the lightning is slightly different, or l want to frame up the camera in a different way, or I don’t like the coffee cup you are using, or that chair, we need to switch that out, or the background actors weren’t perfectly in sync. He notices everything, things that no one else would notice!
PC: In shooting numerous takes he wants the scenes to be the best of the best and to be fair it pays off doesn’t it.
JT: I think so. I don’t think David is making movies or TV shows for the 95%. I think people universally love his work and for good reason. He’s not making them for the 95%, he’s making them for that top 5, that top 2% even, who are going to notice these kinds of things. They are going to say, ‘That cup doesn’t make sense in this world. The lighting was a little bit off in that shot,’ or, ‘that background actor didn’t see his mark exactly.’ He’s making it for people like him, who are going to really notice that stuff. And when you do notice a glaring error or mistake, or something that doesn’t seem right, it takes you out of the story. I think he just wants a total immersive experience. He wants you, I presume, to be so involved that you almost forget, so that you really do feel like a fly on the wall, watching these people having these experiences.
PC: I have just interviewed Garry Pastore and his other job, when he’s not acting, is as a set dresser (leadman). He said he notices stuff like a blank wall behind a person which would clearly have a piece of art or a photograph on it in real life.
JT: The trouble with David is it means we notice that stuff now too; he’s sort of a force of nature; he raises everybody’s game. I’ve really noticed that about him – and not just with the actors, but the cinematographer, the technicians, the dolly grip, the sound folk – because he’s operating at such a high level you have rise to the occasion. I think that’s why people are drawn to working with him and will pass up other job opportunities, just to be able to work with David.
PC: I have arranged to have an interview with a guy called Dwayne Barr who operates the A camera dolly grip, because I’m just as interested to get his take on the technicalities of Mindhunter and Fincher, not just actors. I would love to talk to Erik Messerschmidt about cinematography.
JT: He’s a talented guy. It’s the first time in my working life as an actor I’ve been like ‘Wow!’ I wish my education had included more about cameras, editing and lighting. We touched on a lot of that stuff in acting school but wow, the technical aspects of making a TV show or film is frankly probably more important than some stuff we were taught. Just being able to ask the DP or the cinematographer why this, why now? Because I’ve had this work opportunity, I’ve started to notice.
Jesse C. Boyd has graced our screens playing roles such as Frank Janderman in David Fincher’s Mindhunter, the lead role of Jake in Day 5, a Queen’s Ranger in TURN and a wolf in The Walking Dead. We had an in-depth, and really fun conversation, about his childhood in rural North Carolina, his career and roles, upcoming projects, music, his love of hot sauce and lots more besides.
JCB: For Mindhunter I auditioned for it for, I think, a year – it was really long time. I remember I did my first tape when I was at a film festival in Idaho and, I think, while I was there I found out that I got Day 5. Then when I was filming Day 5 season 1 I got my second audition and they added another 8 pages to it. That was just ongoing and ongoing over time until, finally (and I think I was wondering whether it was actually happening) they were like, ‘They want you to come in to the office and do another read.’ I went in for another read. I think that Laray Mayfield (who does the casting) she actually does prefer self-tapes because she wants to weed through and see what she gets. They did just such an incredible job with that casting. When I saw it myself I just thought, ‘Wow! This is just so authentic and good!’ Laray is so talented too. Getting finally into the room you’re like, ‘Don’t screw this up!’
DB: When you were in the room was it just one or two run-throughs, or did she tweak how she wanted you to play it?
JCB: She did tweak. I know she did a version where she wanted it really fast. You’ve got to realise we’ve been doing these auditions over a year and the names are changing and the dialogue changes so you are consistently reframing what you’ve already learned. And then you’re finally going into the room and they’re like, ‘Can you do a fast version?’ (I think they want to see how [actors] can be on their feet, because of the way they filmed that show. When I ended up filming it they had so many different versions that we did of dialogue, I think they wanted to see whether you could handle these quick switches). There was one take that was super-fast and one that was more slowed down.
DB: How did you prep for that role? For who Frank Janderman actually is.
JCB: First of all I [had] spent a lot of time in Pittsburgh which was great (I did work and lots of things there), so that Pittsburghian accent was all around me. Then I just saw Frank as just like so many people that I feel that I already kind of know in life. This ‘nobody-fucking-asked-you’ kind of guy, but also he believes he’s a hotshot. He was accessible to me through so many other people I had met in my life that I know, that I think are really so much about the façade of not showing who they really, truly are – some of that, broken-downness in them.
DB: There’s a long interrogation scene and then a shorter one: how many takes did they do?
JCB: Oh my God! I wish I could tell you! Can I say a million takes? They did that big interrogation scene – we had three cameras running at all times – I think we filmed it for 12 hours the first day (it’s a 9-and-a-half page scene) three cameras, so you’re getting every angle on either side, and you’re doing it over, and over, and over, and over, and over… and just when you’re done, you’re doing it over, and over, and over again. Then I think the next day we went back and did another 6 hours. So it was a really long time of doing which is, I think, what makes it so great. First of all you’re breaking down a lot; you’re coming back; you’re refreshing with new things; you’re constantly finding new things to play with; and also you have so much coverage that when he [David Fincher] chooses what he’s going to put together he really has every colour of the box to paint his picture with.
I recently had the enormous pleasure of interviewing the actor Thomas Francis Murphy. Thomas has worked on movies and shows such as 12 Years a Slave, Free State of Jones, Mindhunter, The Walking Deadand American Horror Story. We talked about his unconventional path towards taking up acting in his mid 30s, Dayton, Ohio, his career, music and much more besides.
DB: Mindhunter, Detective McGraw, you were in the first episode which is the one that David Fincher actually directed. How did you get that role?
TFM: I taped for it when I was in Louisiana. Then I came out for the first full out LA premiere I had ever done, which was for the Free State of Jones, and then auditioned here for it, in person, with Laray Mayfield who was casting out here and from there I went to New York to audition with David [Fincher] and Julie Schubert– so there was quite a long audition process for that.
DB: What was your experience on-set of Mindhunter?
TFM: Well again, I didn’t know until we started shooting, that it was a re-shoot. They had shot that whole thing and then came back at the end of the season to re-shoot that [whole] section. The actors, by that time, had been acting together for a whole season so it was like coming into the lunch room mid-semester of the senior year.
DB: There are three big scenes: the one where Tench and Ford do that slightly disastrous presentation in front of everyone; then there’s another one in the diner where you are talking to them; and the final one where you show them the photographs. With that scene, where you are back at the station and are showing them the photos, when did you, and when did they, first see the photographs that you were using?
TFM: Then. I’m sure they saw them before, but I saw them then.
DB: So, they had already seen them because of the re-shoot, but that was the first time you had seen them, because they are pretty gruesome.
TFM: That is an interesting question. That’s really an interesting question, you know – because I had never really thought of it before, kind of shame on me, but that’s alright. Even if I had thought of it, just letting this thing come over me…
DB: Did you have to smoke on set?
TFM: Yes! And that was a bitch when it came to continuity. You do it and then the next take you get, ‘No, your hands were like this!’
DB: No one else has mentioned that and it’s really interesting because I had never thought of that.
TFM: If you are a smoker, right, you don’t do it… I mean that’s the whole point of it. If you’re a smoker it just let it flow through you and proceeds according to your internal state. So to come back on a scene and go, ‘No your hand was just like that!’ That’s what I’m hired to do. I’m not hired to think about it. I’m hired to smoke!
DB: But you wouldn’t have felt quite so ill as the ones who don’t normally smoke who said they would smoke some real cigarettes!
What was it like working with Holt and Jonathan?
TFM: Well I had a high regard for both of them, but you know David does a lot of takes, everybody knows that, right. So again, you’re the new kid, that scene in the diner… that was us meeting each other as actors. I got their attention (laughs) and then we did the scene. That’s how often actors meet each other, as actors, and then you know that you’re going to be able to do the scene.
DB: Was that the first scene then, the one in the diner?
TFM: No. The first stuff we shot was the meeting. We shot that particular thing in chronological order.
DB: So, what is David Fincher like working for when he’s directing?
TFM: Well he’s obviously a guy who knows what he wants. Clearly. So that’s always good! I guess the thing you know is that, if he didn’t get what he wanted, you’d still be shooting! (Both laugh) You take your gratification where you can. My comparison that I have in my mind is that now you’re working with an NBA coach, you were in college basketball, it just has that kind of feeling to it. I’d certainly seen his films and I had certainly paid attention.
Again, it’s another story about having lived through that time, having lived through a period of time where the political colouration of the country, the kind of cultural colouration of the country that went along with that storyline. When I went back and watched Mindhunter I was just completely amazed at how it caught the spirit of that particular, in small ways, period of time.
Emmy-nominated actor Cameron Britton mesmerised us all with his portrayal of serial killer Ed Kemper, on hit Netflix show Mindhunter. In this interview we discussed everything from romance to his preparation for the role and working with director David Fincher, the real Ed Kemper and so much more.
PC: When you were sat in that room with Fincher, was it hard not to show your nervousness, what did you do to combat those feelings or were you not nervous?
CB: It was back and forth that I thought, ‘Oh I’m doing a terrible job, he’s going to fire me,’ and Jonathan would talk me down from the ledge. There were days when we had done 50 takes – let’s do 50 more, 70 more I don’t care, I’m having a blast, I’m just lost in the moment, because it’s not just the takes it’s how quickly we get back to the top of the scene. Often when someone says ‘Cut!’ you know you don’t actually get to start the scene again until 10 minutes later, with him it’s 15 seconds! We are back in it. I’d never done that in my life before and that in character, for that long for a whole day of, since you’ve been awake you’re in character. It just starts becoming this sort of spiritual experience where you kind of forget what you planned on doing, you’re surprising yourself, you’re going, ‘Oh oh God! I’ve never delivered it that way before! Where did that come from?’
PC: I was talking about that with Adam Zastrow and he said by the time you do the 50th take you feel like it’s going through the motions, you don’t have to think about it but by then you are delivering something that is more natural, or organic, and that is what Fincher is looking for: that very moment when you are not acting, you are being it, doing it, aren’t you?
CB: You are! And day one I thought, ‘Are they going to fire me? Am I going to get too tired to do this?’ And that is just not the case. I met a few people playing killers who were nervous – anyone who’s worked on Mindhunter and worked with Fincher – they all think, ‘Ah, they’re going to fire me!’ But when you are in there, man you just keep going. Being fired is the last thing you’re thinking about, you are just alive. It’s a hell of an experience and honestly is moving forward my career. I’ve been fortunate enough, because of my character, to get to do bigger projects now, like that’s sort of my standard. When I go to other projects now I go, ‘Okay, are they living up to what Mindhunter taught me and are they making good art?’ And if they are not then I sort of politely find a way to come off what’s going on.
PC: What about learning your lines: how easy is that for you? Obviously you had quite a bit of dialogue: how do you make it stick?
CB: There’s knowing all your lines, that’s fine and that comes really quickly, what really takes repetition is to do it enough so you don’t need to think about them. There just coming out and that is so necessary to me, if I’m just thinking about the line then I’m not living ‘in the moment’ and that’s just the kind of acting that I do. I need to have nothing happening to distract me. I just take every opportunity to be where I need to be ‘in the moment’ because I’m still working on it. If I don’t feel connected to the scene, or ‘the moment’, I can kind of panic and then you can sort of see me acting. Some actors, they are able to go, ‘Well I’m not connected right now but I can sort of fake my way through this,’ and that’s just part of life: if you have a job there’s some days you are just not feeling it even if it’s your favourite job in the world. I’m still working on that but no matter what, I have to know the lines backwards and forwards.
PC: With regards to David Fincher’s style of directing, is there any room for a bit of give? Do you feel you could suggest to him that perhaps you’d like to try something different or is it all very controlled by him or the other directors?
CB: With David there’s a line here, a line there, in this big, giant script where he says, ‘I want this to be arrogant,’ or, ‘I want this in a form of a question.’ And I think, when he says ‘arrogant’ there are many, many, many ways to do that so it’s up to you how you want that to be conveyed – the rest of the script is all yours. And maybe that’s just my experience. David puts you in: he guides you in the right direction. So if an actor strays too far this way or that way he’ll sort of put you back on track, but the point of all those is not to do anything you’ve prepped and just be truly alive ‘in the moment’. If you’re over-directing somebody then it won’t be that: then you’re just using all those takes to get this exact delivery or performance out of them, which is fine, but it’s not allowing… like he’s so trusting that inspiration will come; you know if he has too much vision for a moment he’s not allowing for a better vision to show up. If he’s saying it has to be this way then how do you know if something better wouldn’t have come along? He’s very trusting and it empowers you; you can tell [when] your director is letting you do your job. There’s been times he’s had to put me back on track: the hospital scene in the final episode when I stand up and turn around he let me go two or three takes where I just went ballistic. When we first started shooting that part I stood up like a maniac and then by the third he said, ‘I can’t think it up with the rest of that part of the scene. You can’t do that’. It needed Kemper to stay calm and collected but, in a way, I needed to go crazy for a second, I needed to really feel that wild, impulsive energy, that’s sort of Kemper though isn’t it: even when he’s calm you can feel his urge to hurt; he’s almost masking a lot of violence, no matter how mellow he looks.
I had the pleasure – and a lot of fun – interviewing actor, Adam Zastrow, who recently excited us playing the role of Darrell Gene Devier on Netflix’s hit show Mindhunter. During our conversation we talked about Adam realising his dream of becoming an actor, the shows he was part of leading up to Mindhunter and what it means when David Fincher says, ‘Take 50!’
PC: Getting back to David Fincher. I was reading the other day someone saying the reason he shoots a scene 70 times is because he suffers from OCD but that isn’t the case at all is it. He wants to get the best possible scene, it’s not because he has perfectionist issues.
AZ: I hate when people use the word ‘perfectionist’ when they are talking about David and the amount of takes he does because I was told about that – I don’t want to say ‘warned’ but I was ‘told’. Before going out I was told be prepared for long days Fincher likes to do a lot of takes. After having done it – those 70 takes fly by, it does not feel like you are doing 70. Fincher himself addressed this in an interview – he really hit it right on the head – it’s not that he’s a perfectionist (that’s not the issue at all) it has more to do with your pre-production staff. The guys will build sets for months, the art guys, you have all these people spending the better portion of a year just to make sure a scene looks the way it’s supposed to or to just make sure the drinking fountain in the back works even if nobody is using it. All these people put all this time and effort into this production and how dare you rush through shooting! It’s almost like a slap in the face to all these people. It’s like, ‘Okay, you spent 6 months building this scene and we’re going to come in and just shoot three takes in 12 minutes, now we are going to walk away and ask you to tear the damn thing down.’ No. No. No. I think it’s as much trying to find the best performance as it is taking the time to finding the best performance. You owe it those people not to rush through anything. When I heard that I thought, ‘Oh my God! That makes so much sense.’
PC: It’s like when you spend hours making dinner and someone wolfs it down in like 5 minutes.
AZ: Yeah exactly, exactly. I 100 per cent agree that you find stuff on take 70 that you did not even think about. As someone who’s never experienced that kind of dedication to the shoot, you get to take twenty or thirty and you’re like, ‘Okay. I rehearsed this for months. We rehearsed this together for a week. We’ve gone through this thirty times, there’s nothing else for me here to find. I’ve giving you everything that there is.’ Also from take 30-45 they are all the same, they are kind of all blah, because at that point you’re either over-thinking or under-thinking your character and you really feel like there is nothing else to give. And then, right around that point, there’s a weird moment that happens where you just stop thinking about it at all: you’re no longer under- or over-thinking it, you are just doing it because you are just going through the motions. And you’re like, ‘Okay, let’s just do this because I have to,’ and then this beautiful, beautiful thing happens where, all of a sudden, as soon as you stop thinking about it, all of this shit comes out of you that you never even knew was there! I think that’s what he’s going for. He does it enough times to where you are so used to it that you are not thinking about it, and that’s where the best stuff comes from. If you film a scene where you come home from work, you throw your keys on the table, you take your jacket off and you put it on the hook, you take your shoes off and you walk into the kitchen and you do whatever it is you do. If you were to film that scene, every single one of those moves is going to seem so cold and so calculated because it’s written in the script and you know what you are supposed to do and it’s fine, and most of the audience are not going to notice how calculated it looks – but a good audience will – and that’s what separates great shows from okay shows, and amazing shows from really decent shows, amazing directors from half-decent ones – it’s that kind of thing that half won’t notice but the ones that do are going to call you out.
PC: That’s a great explanation actually.
AZ: It’s one thing to say you shoot a scene 70 times and it looks more ‘natural’ but what does that mean? That exactly what ‘natural’ means. You are putting your keys on the hook because you’ve done it a million times, it’s like getting all of your emotion to that point where you forgot that you did it, like when you leave the house and get half-way down the road and have to turn back because you don’t remember if you have locked the door. It’s that exact thing. Fincher wants your emotions and everything on camera to be stone natural – that you are not even 100 percent sure that you did it.
That’s what I think makes all of his stuff so, so good. I’ve heard so many people talk about the 70 takes thing and how it’s unnecessary, but after doing it I’m almost wishing everyone would do it: because everything looks so much better, and so natural and yeah, you might not see it, but those that do, it makes that difference.
Cotter Smith was born in Washington DC, the son of a federal judge. He is an actor with a stage and screen presence spanning over 40 years. Most recently he can be seen on our screens as Unit Chief Shepard in David Fincher’s Mindhunter and as the Deputy Attorney General in The Americans but his on-screen career stretches back to Hill Street Blues (1982) and Blood Feud (1983) when he played Robert F. Kennedy. I was recently very privileged to talk with Cotter about his life and career in both acting and teaching, working with David Fincher and Steven Spielberg and much, much more.
DB: When you actually got the call from David Fincher: how did that come about?
CS: It was a call from my agent, initially, saying, ‘There’s interest. Would you be willing to read for David Fincher, for this series?’ And I said, ‘Absolutely. I’m a big fan.’ They said, ‘Well, first of all, let me tell you, it’s a guaranteed ten episodes already ordered for Netflix, but it would be a required eight months, in Pittsburgh.’ So I called my wife and said, ‘So here’s the deal, there’s this possibility, it’s not an offer but they’re interested in me, to come in and audition and we would be eight months in Pittsburgh.’ And she said, ‘Cotter, go get it, and get me out of here!’ (Laughs)
DB: She was packing her bags!
CS: She was so keen to leave New York. (Both laugh) So I auditioned. Then the wonderful casting agent, Julie Schubert, who was so helpful to me – she is really lovely, a casting agent who really loves actors and believes in the whole process – we had prepared, I think it was, these three or four scenes (I never met David) it was all on tape, that third one went off to him. She said, ‘You know, he takes a very long time to cast, so just relax. Everything he does he takes a very, very long time: from casting to shooting.’ So I said, ‘Okay,’ and a week later my agent called and said, ‘You got the job.’ I said, ‘What?’, ‘Yeah, you got the job!’ That was the first time it was ‘real’. I didn’t honestly believe I was going to get the job: I knew many, many, many people would want this job and, as an actor, you do these auditions and you don’t actually put much on them because it’s too heartbreaking if you don’t get them. I was so thrilled, and stunned. It’s exactly the kind of work that I want to do, with a kind of director that I want to work with: I love serious drama; he’s a master, master filmmaker. Just knowing he had cast me made me realize: ‘He knows what he’s doing, so this is going to be good.’ And it was. He’s so fun to work with. He’s challenging. He’s tough. He’s fast. He’s improvisational and you’ve really got to come with your A-game – which I like. He does endless takes: 30, 40, 50. My record was 64 takes on one scene. Endless shooting: we took eight months to shoot ten episodes. That’s a long time! Usually a director will be given eight days for an episode so that’ll be three months – he had eight months. But he’s David Fincher.
DB: And aiming as near to perfection as you can get?
CS: He’s a perfectionist. When you look at his work the proof is in the pudding.
DB: What about marks for the camerawork, are they really rigid?
CS: They’re necessarily rigid, at times, but it changes. On the spot, he will change things, change intention, change everything. It was fun.
DB: You don’t have to smoke as a character, do you?
CS: Thank God no! They sent out notices and said: ‘It’s the ‘70s, so who among you would be willing to smoke?’ And I just wrote back and said: ‘Absolutely no.’ And poor Holt McCallany said ‘yes’ and I think he regrets it to this day. This season he’s going to taper off. He really smokes.
You can’t always pinpoint exactly the moment when a show makes its big qualitative leap, but with Netflix‘s Mindhunter, it’s easy. Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff), an FBI agent experiencing frustration at his colleagues’ antiquated approach to murder investigation, goes to prison to visit a notorious killer and comes face-to-face with Ed Kemper (Cameron Britton).
Towering in stature, soft-spoken, viewing the world inquisitively through thick glasses, Kemper is intellectually vicious, yet unfailingly polite. By the end of one 10-minute conversation, we understand completely why Holden has been pulled into Kemper’s gravity and how this giant has instantly transformed his worldview.
It’s a show-changing character and a career-changing performance for Britton, making his first major TV role and earning his first career Emmy nomination. The actor talked with The Hollywood Reporter about his approach to the real-life killer, director David Fincher‘s notoriously exacting standards and more.
When Netflix’s Mindhunter premiered last fall, critics and audiences alike approached the dramatic series with respect and awe, thanks to the influence of the great director David Fincher. But everyone, literally everyone, was talking about Cameron Britton. His take on infamous serial killer Edmund Kemper captivated audiences. If you were talking about Mindhunter, then you were talking about Cameron Britton’s brilliant performance.
Here, Cameron talks to Awards Daily about how he wrestled with Edmund Kemper. He dove so deeply into Kemper that it took time to exorcise the role from his system. He also talks about what the role meant for his career and how he prepped for it by running lines with his close friends. It’s a fascinating conversation with an actor clearly on the rise in Hollywood.
Ted Sarandos (Netflix Chief Content Officer), David Fincher (Director/Executive Producer), Anna Torv, Jennifer Starzyk (Costume Designer), Steve Arnold (Production Designer), Erik Messerschmidt (Director of Photography), Cameron Britton, Laray Mayfield (Casting Director), Holt McCallany, Jonathan Groff. (Frazer Harrison / Getty Images)