In Conversation with Thomas Francis Murphy

Davina Baynes
November 23, 2018
Absolute Music Chat

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 SlaveFree State of JonesMindhunterThe Walking Dead and 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.

Read the full interview

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

In Conversation with Mindhunter’s Jonathan Groff
An Interview with Mindhunter’s Holt McCallany
In Conversation with Mindhunter’s Cameron Britton
In Conversation with Cotter Smith. Actor (MindhunterThe Americans)
Jack Erdie: Actor (MindhunterBanshee) & writer
In conversation with actor Adam Zastrow (MindhunterHigh & Mighty)
In Conversation With Alex Morf: Actor (MindhunterDaredevil)
In Conversation With Tobias Segal: Actor (MindhunterSneaky Pete)
Spotlight Interview. Chris Dettone: Actor (Mindhunter), Stuntman/Coordinator

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In Conversation with Mindhunter’s Cotter Smith

Davina Baynes
September 14, 2018
Absolute Music Chat

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.

Read the full interview

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

In Conversation with Mindhunter’s Jonathan Groff
An Interview with Mindhunter’s Holt McCallany
Jack Erdie: Actor (MindhunterBanshee) & writer
In Conversation With Alex Morf: Actor (MindhunterDaredevil)
In Conversation With Tobias Segal: Actor (MindhunterSneaky Pete)
Spotlight Interview. Chris Dettone: Actor (Mindhunter), Stuntman/Coordinator