David Fincher’s journey into the minds of serial killers

The ‘Fight Club’ director – who grew up under the shadow of the infamous Zodiac murders – tells Nev Pierce about his new Netflix series

Nev Pierce
12 October 2017
The Telegraph (The Daily Telegraph)

“I love Hannibal Lecter,” says director David Fincher, referring to fiction’s most infamous serial killer, from The Silence of the Lambs. “But he doesn’t exist when you really look into serial killing. He may actually be destructive to the understanding of who these people are.”

Few film-makers have “looked into” serial killing with the intense interest of this wry 55-year-old. His breakthrough picture Seven, which announced this one-time music video maestro as a major cinematic force with a flair for an indelible visual image, featured a serial killer (Kevin Spacey) who slaughtered people according to the seven deadly sins and a notoriously shocking ending that left police procedural clichés decapitated.

His best film is arguably Zodiac, a meticulous account of the frustrated attempts to catch the real life titular killer who terrorised California in the late Sixties. You could even argue – though this would likely bring a raised eyebrow from the director who also counts Gone Girl, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Fight Club on his CV – that the predatory Xenomorph from his ill-fated debut, Alien 3, is more dangerous even than Lecter, or that the reverse-ageing romance The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is really about the ultimate serial killer, Death himself.

His new Netflix series Mindhunter, however, is more grounded in reality than any of these projects. Yes, it deals with killers, but these aren’t gourmets or masterminds. Instead, inspired by the memoir of FBI agent John Douglas, it follows two agents (Holt McCallany and Jonathan Groff) as they interview convicted killers for insights to help them capture active murderers.

“I thought it was more interesting to see what makes a serial killer in real life, rather than turning him into a comic book supervillain,” says Fincher of the 10-part show, which is really about the birth of psychological profiling. “I thought a show based on conversations with the monster could be compelling, maybe in a new way. I was interested in the idea of not imbuing these creatures with a mythological power over us.”

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Highlights from “The Killers Inside” (Empire)

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.”

Read the full profile on the October Issue of Empire, now on sale: Print, Digital, Subscription

Previous profiles and interviews with Fincher by Pierce at nevpierce.com

Empire Issue Preview: Star Wars, Mindhunter, Mother

John Nugent
6 Sep 2017
Empire

Now, witness the power of our fully operational movie magazine! It is once again that momentous moment when a Star Wars movie graces the cover of Empire – and this time, we’ve gone fully holographic, depicting Mark Hamill and Daisy Ridley in all their shimmering glory. Here’s a little taster of what you can find in the October 2017 issue of Empire, on sale Thursday 7 September.

MINDHUNTER

David Fincher’s next project, the furiously-capitalised MINDHUNTER, arrives on Netflix in October, and Empire was on set to get under the skin of the serial killer mystery, and why “pervs” keep him in business.

Read the full preview

2017-09-07 Empire (341) - Cover

David Fincher will present Mindhunter at the BFI London Film Festival

Reported by Joe Frady and Zelig

1. LFF Connects Special Presentation: Mindhunter. Episodes One and Two

David Fincher returns to television with a Zodiac-style police procedural, based on the men who first coined the phrase ‘serial killer’.

BFI London Film Festival
Tuesday 10 October 2017 18:15
BFI Southbank, NFT1

Tickets: Sold Out!

CREDITS
Dir: David Fincher
Exec Prod: David Fincher, Josh Donen, Charlize Theron, Ceán Chaffin
With Jonathan Groff, Holt McCallany, Anna Torv, Hannah Gross
USA, 2017
Total running time: 107min
UK Distribution: Netflix

Son of Sam is on the cover of TIME Magazine, Talking Heads’ ‘Psycho Killer’ is on the airwaves and FBI Agent Holden Ford is troubled. Policing used to be a matter of establishing the three basics; motive, means, opportunity. But it’s the late-1970s and politically unstable times can produce chaos. A new breed of killers have emerged whose motives are ambiguous. Holden’s (Jonathan Groff) hunger for innovation leads him to Bill Tench (Holt McCallany), a seasoned if skeptical agent of the Behavioral Science Unit. Together they tour regional police stations, like a pair of criminal psychology-totin’ Bible salesmen, preaching Freud to officers whose approaches are resolutely Old Testament. Their cross-country motel-safari soon gives them a glimpse into the depths of the violent and sexually depraved crime that cops are ill-equipped to deal with. A new method is called for, but it will bring them unsettlingly close to murderous minds. David Fincher returns to episodic drama, with this sharply scripted Zodiac-style procedural, based on the men who first coined the phrase ‘serial killer’. As the opening two episodes show us, this is invigorating, witty and meticulous storytelling, from the typography to the impeccable music cues. Crime drama at its most addictive. Kate Taylor

UPDATE:

These members of the filmmaking team are expected to attend the festival:

David Fincher, Director; Jonathan Groff, Cast; Holt McCallanay, Cast

2. LFF Connects: David Fincher

The internationally acclaimed director and creative force behind the new Netflix drama MINDHUNTER talks about his work.

BFI London Film Festival
Tuesday 10 October 2017 21:00
BFI Southbank, NFT1

Tickets: Sold Out!

Director David Fincher, whose films Zodiac and Se7en explored the psychology of serial killers, presents another probing look into the psyche of some of America’s most infamous sociopaths with his upcoming Netflix series MINDHUNTER. One of the most revered filmmakers of a generation, Fincher began his career making pop promos with some of the world’s most influential artists, from Madonna to Michael Jackson. He has also directed a series of iconic ad campaigns for major international brands. As a feature filmmaker he has few peers, with a back catalogue including Fight Club, The Social Network, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. MINDHUNTER marks Fincher’s return to the small screen after overseeing House of Cards for Netflix. We’re delighted to welcome Fincher to the BFI London Film Festival to discuss MINDHUNTER in the context of his career and the recent boom in long-form episodic drama.

UPDATE:

Nev Pierce sits down with David Fincher to discuss Netflix’s Mindhunter

Mindhunter News‏: Twitter / Facebook
August 12, 2017

Nev Pierce sits down with David Fincher one more time to discuss Netflix‘s Mindhunter. The September issue of Empire Magazine offers a “First Look” at the conversation.

Click to enlarge

Previous profiles and interviews with Fincher by Pierce at nevpierce.com