David Fincher’s Casting Director, Laray Mayfield, on How to Get Cast by the Filmmaker

Raquel Aparicio

Elyse Roth
March 12, 2021
Backstage

Nobody but Laray Mayfield could have cast Netflix’s “Mank.” She saw the first version of the script back in the late ’90s thanks to her long-standing working relationship with director David Fincher, which dates back to making music videos in the ’80s. Her work in film alongside Fincher and beyond has earned Mayfield both critical and popular acclaim. An expert at building ensembles and finding new faces, she again worked her magic on “Mank,” which chronicles Herman J. Mankiewicz’s writing of “Citizen Kane.” Here, she shares her advice for actors and illuminates how she works with Fincher after all these years.

How did the ensemble for “Mank” come together?

We spent a lot of time reading and meeting actors. Of course, we offered it to Gary [Oldman] first, and that was a pivotal piece of our casting. And then we went to Charles Dance. For everything else, we  jumped in and started doing lots of auditions, running lists, and talking to David about different actors. We did that for seven months.

“If somebody really wants to be an actor, they should take acting classes. They should go to school for it. It’s a training. It’s like dancing, it’s like painting, it’s like playing football, it’s like playing guitar. You don’t just decide one day you’re going to be an actor.”

Read the full interview

Director David Fincher discusses Mank with Aaron Sorkin

A DGA Virtual Q&A

February 6, 2021
The Director’s Cut. A DGA (Directors Guild of America) Podcast

A disillusioned screenwriter in old Hollywood gets a shot at redemption in Director David Fincher’s biographical comedy-drama, Mank.

Fincher’s film takes place as film 24-year-old wunderkind Orson Welles hires scathing social critic and alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz to write the screenplay for his masterpiece, Citizen Kane.

On February 6, Fincher discussed the making of Mank in a DGA Virtual Q&A moderated by Director Aaron Sorkin (The Trial of the Chicago 7).

During their conversation, Fincher spoke about his love for “the altar of cinema,” the communal aspect that can come through film. “For me, what I love about cinema is going into a big dark room with 700 people and through their laughter and through their surprise and through their shock and through their reactions you realize, I’m not alone. I’m the same. I’m wired into this group in the same way just organically and I’m picking up on all these other cues. That is what makes the cinema, or a great grand theater, an almost cathedral-like experience.”

Fincher’s other directorial credits include the feature films Se7enThe GamePanic RoomZodiacGone Girl; episodes of the television series House of Cards and Mindhunter; and countless commercials and music videos. He has been nominated for the DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Theatrical Feature Film for The Curious Case of Benjamin ButtonThe Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. In 2013, he was nominated for the DGA Award for Dramatic Series for House of Cards, “Chapter 1” and has twice been nominated for the DGA Award for his Commercial work with Anonymous Content in 2003 and 2008, winning the Award in 2003 for Beauty for Sale (Xelibri Phones), Gamebreakers (Nikegridiron.Com) and Speed Chain (Nike).

Fincher has been a DGA member since 1991.

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David Fincher: Maestro of Mank


Netflix Film Club (YouTube)
February 27, 2021

The cast and crew of Mank, including costume designer Trish Summerville and actors Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Tom Pelphrey and Charles Dance, speak to the focus and concentration that a David Fincher set demands. The acclaimed filmmaker himself, meanwhile, takes you through the process of crafting his examination of Hollywood’s Golden Age.

The Magic of the Movies: Behind the Scenes of David Fincher’s Mank


Netflix Film Club (YouTube)
February 28, 2021

Join acclaimed director David Fincher, actors Gary Oldman and Amanda Seyfried, and the cast and crew of Mank, for a peek behind the curtain of Netflix’s black-and-white ode to Hollywood’s Golden Age.

Mank, The Unmaking

January 28, 2021
Netflix

manktheunmaking.com

Text by:

Nev Pierce

Photography by:

Erik Messerschmidt
Miles Crist
Gisele Schmidt-Oldman
Gary Oldman
Ceán Chaffin
Nikolai Loveikis

David Fincher’s Longtime Casting Director Breaks Down Helmer’s Approach: “He Wants to Be Surprised”

Maya Tribbitt
January 23, 2021
The Hollywood Reporter

Laray Mayfield worked with the two-time Oscar-nominated director on his biggest features and has developed a great relationship as well as a shorthand with the auteur.

When he came back for his first feature film in a half-decade, Mank, David Fincher brought his trusted casting director Laray Mayfield into the fold. Over the past few decades, Mayfield has cast nearly all of the features (and even Fincher’s foray into television, Netflix‘s Mindhunter) that make up Fincher’s portfolio, including Fight ClubThe Social Network and Gone Girl. The pair is quick to praise each other’s style, work ethic and personality.

“Our working relationship is amazing. I am so fortunate to have worked with Dave for as long as I have. We have been working together since 1986. It is creative, lively, challenging in the best sense of the word and warm because we are also dear friends,” Mayfield says of Fincher. “We have a shorthand that has been developed over 35 years. I do usually have an idea of what David will like because we like the same things in actors, but I try to surprise him because Dave always gives me a safe place to experiment and really think outside the norm.”

Read the full profile

Essence and Embodiment | Casting David Fincher’s Mank

Netflix (YouTube)
January 13, 2021

The People Who Can See Inside David Fincher’s Head

The famously meticulous Mank director is surrounded by collaborators tasked with turning his most ambitious ideas into reality.

David Sims
December 9, 2020
The Atlantic

Early in Netflix’s Mank, the screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (played by Gary Oldman) ambles onto an outdoor movie set, where he bumps into an array of glamorous characters. In a scene full of repartee with real-life figures such as the actor Marion Davies, the film honcho Louis B. Mayer, and the mogul William Randolph Hearst, the visual details of the environment might seem unimportant. But to Mank’s director, David Fincher, they mattered. “The grass was not to David’s liking, and the sky was not to his liking, so all that’s been replaced,” Peter Mavromates, his co-producer, told me. When making a movie, Fincher literally controls heaven and earth.

That example sums up the capricious-sounding, godlike power of a director, especially in the age of digital filmmaking, which allows for total command of every frame. But as with all of his movies, Fincher’s vision for Mank was realized by a group of dedicated collaborators, most of whom have worked with the director for many years across projects. This film, which Fincher mulled for nearly three decades, is unlike anything he has made before. An unusual-looking-and-sounding film set in the Golden Age of Hollywood, Mank reflects the aesthetic of the 1930s with its black-and-white cinematography; an echoey, old-fashioned sound mix; and a brassy, orchestral score. But Fincher also wanted it to be a distinctly modern film, which posed many unique and fascinating technical challenges to the creators charged with bringing his lofty ideas to life.

Read the full profile

David Fincher: Hollywood’s Most Disturbing Director

With films including Se7en, Zodiac and Fight Club, David Fincher has explored the darkest edges of humanity. Yet there’s more to his unique vision, writes Gregory Wakeman, as the director’s film Mank is released.

Gregory Wakeman
December 3, 2020
BBC Culture

David Fincher fans have had plenty to celebrate over the past few months. September marked the 25th anniversary of Se7en, Fincher’s deeply disturbing psychological thriller that established the then 33-year-old as one of the most iconoclastic young directors in Hollywood. Then, just a couple of weeks later, The Social Network, Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s searing exploration of Mark Zuckerberg and the origins of Facebook, turned 10. Most exciting of all for Fincher aficionados, though, is the fact that, more than six years after the release of his last feature film Gone Girl, Mank will finally arrive on Netflix on 4 December.

Fincher has waited around 20 years to find the perfect home for the film, which was originally written by his father Jack in the late 1990s. But while most major Hollywood studios were put off by the idea of a black and white biopic of Citizen Kane screenwriter Herman J Mankiewicz, Netflix gave Fincher carte blanche to fulfil his vision.

The early reviews for Mank have been extremely positive, and Fincher has immediately become one of the main contenders for the best director Oscar. Covid-19’s disruption of the 2020 cinematic calendar means that Fincher’s competition isn’t quite as strong as it could have been. But it’s to the Academy Awards’ great shame that this titan of modern filmmaking has somehow only received best director nominations for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Social Network. Despite this oversight, Fincher’s place in the cinematic pantheon has long been secure. No other modern filmmaker has examined alienation, depression, obsession, and the dark side of intelligence like he has, while keeping a stylish, visceral, and, most importantly of all, entertaining approach. 

But what is it that sets Fincher’s work apart from that of his peers?

In Conversation with Actor Joe Tuttle

Paula Courtney
March 23, 2019
Absolute Music Chat

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.

Read the full interview

Joe Tuttle (David Noles)

Read the other Absolute Music Chat conversations with the Cast of Mindhunter (more to come):

Jonathan GroffHolt McCallanyCameron BrittonCotter SmithJack ErdieAdam ZastrowAlex Morf, Jesse C. Boyd, Tobias SegalThomas Francis MurphyChris Dettone.

In Conversation with Jesse C. Boyd (Mindhunter, Day 5, TURN)

Davina Baynes
March 9, 2019
Absolute Music Chat

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.

Read the full interview

Jesse C. Boyd (Janet Adamson / JA Images)

Read the other Absolute Music Chat conversations with the Cast of Mindhunter (more to come): Jonathan Groff, Holt McCallany, Cameron Britton, Cotter Smith, Jack Erdie, Adam Zastrow, Alex Morf, Tobias Segal, Thomas Francis Murphy, Chris Dettone.