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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Charlize Theron and David Fincher, ‘Mindhunter’ delves into the darker corners of the criminal mind

Meredith Blake
October 12, 2017
Los Angeles Times

To meet Jonathan Groff and Holt McCallany, stars of the Netflix series “Mindhunter,” you’d never suspect they recently spent 10 long months consumed with the darkest reaches of the human psyche.

Groff, a charmer known for playing the lead in HBO’s “Looking” and King George in the original Broadway version of “Hamilton,” laughs generously as McCallany, a seasoned character actor and gabby raconteur with a booming voice, shares a story about training to throw out the first pitch at a Mets game.

Yet given their obvious rapport, it’s easy to see why they were cast as the leads in “Mindhunter,” which debuts Friday. The psychological drama, executive produced by David Fincher and Charlize Theron, follows a pair of trailblazing FBI agents as they interrogate notorious real-life murderers in an effort to understand — and maybe prevent — the senseless urge to kill.

Groff stars as Holden Ford, a clean-cut but open-minded young agent intent on shaking up the hidebound agency, while McCallany plays Bill Tench, a cynical veteran who asks what might be the series’ central question: “How do we get ahead of crazy if we don’t know how crazy thinks?”

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Netflix debuts filmed-in-Pittsburgh ‘Mindhunter’

Photo: On the set of David Fincher’s ‘Mindhunter’ in Pittsburgh, PA (15 July 2016) (John Sant, Twitter)

by Rob Owen
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
8 Oct 2017

The first season of Netflix’s filmed-in-Pittsburgh 1970s FBI psychological dramaMindhunterhas been shrouded in secrecy from the start, but the show finally sees the light of day on the streaming service Friday.

Mindhunter” is executive produced by David Fincher, who also directed four installments in the 10-episode first season. Mr. Fincher previously brought Netflix its early scripted hit drama “House of Cards.”

Mindhunter” stars Jonathan Groff (“Looking”) as FBI agent Holden Ford, an upstanding young agent who gets partnered with a jaded veteran, Bill Tench (Holt McCallany, “Lights Out”). The pair are part of the FBI’s “road school,” traveling the country to meet local law enforcement and share details of the bureau’s latest techniques. Along the way, they are asked to consult on local cases.

But they also interview incarcerated serial killers in an attempt to understand what makes these damaged men tick as the FBI pair pioneers research into deviant minds for the bureau’s behavioral science division.

Just because there are intense interview scenes between wet-behind-the-ears Ford and these killers, don’t compare “Mindhunter” to 1991’s “Silence of the Lambs,” even though both were influenced by the work of real-life FBI profiler John Douglas. In “Silence” the Scott Glenn character, Jack Crawford, was supposedly inspired in part by Mr. Douglas; the “Mindhunter” producers bought the rights to Mr. Douglas’ 1995 book “Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit,” which inspired the Netflix series. Ford and Tench are fictional characters, but the serial killers they interview are based on real people.

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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

September 7, 2017
Empire (October 2017 Issue)

“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 in the October Issue of Empire, now on sale: Print, Digital, Subscription

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

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.

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