HOLLYWOOD – For the second year in a row Netflix has set up a unique space for Television Academy members to screen episodes of numerous contenders with star-filled Q&A’s following. Over the past month, they have held events for “Black Mirror,” “Queer Eye,” “13 Reasons Why” and “Jessica Jones,” among others. On Friday evening it was time for the critically acclaimed “Mindhunter” to have its moment in the spotlight.
Director and executive producer David Fincher was joined by many of his behind-the-camera colleagues as well as stars Jonathan Groff, Holt McCallany, Anna Torv and Cameron Britton. Fincher doesn’t necessarily have a reputation as being an actor’s director, but Groff shared an anecdote from the production that showed he certainly has a sense of humor.
“Remember we were in front of that green screen doing that photo shoot,” Groff recalls. “And David was joking that it looked like I was in some weird regional production of ‘Waiting for Godot’? I said, “Well if this show doesn’t do well, will you come and see me in Illinois doing ‘Waiting?’ Are we still going to be friends?”
The two-time Grammy Award winner (really) gives a slight pause adding, “And he said, ‘No, I love live theater. I just hate being there when it happens.'”
That earned a loud round of laughter from the audience on hand who had just finished watching the incredibly tense season finale, “Episode 10,” of the show’s inaugural season. As the conversation continued it became clear Fincher is a director who likes to do a lot of takes (75 is not out of the question), but McCallany, who has starred in Fincher’s “Fight Club” and “Alien 3,” knew what to expect when he came on board.
“I didn’t mind. I find that when you do something over and over again, you discover things,” McCallany says. “When you get to take 15 or take 20 and suddenly something sort of becomes apparent to you that you hadn’t really realized. Not that we’re making huge changes, but even subtle adjustments that you make, or small adjustments that David will give you can make a big difference in the way a scene plays out.”
Groff is best known for his Tony Award-nominated roles in “Spring Awakenings” and “Hamilton,” but he’s also developed a following for his run as a fumbling San Francisco gay man looking for love in all the wrong places on HBO’s “Looking.” His role as the introspective and clinical special agent Holden Ford is something of a departure for him. Inspired by renowned FBI agent John E. Douglas, Ford is an investigator in the agency’s Behavioral Science Unit that investigated notorious serial killers and child molesters to determine how their backgrounds and mental capacity could help them solve other cases.
“I think the thing that was one of the most interesting psychological things for me was can you have empathy for someone that is so disgusting and horrible and such a terrible person and give them the space and the stage to talk,” Groff says about his character. “Is it worth it, and what can you glean from that, and what can you learn from that. And the depressing thing about the show, not to bring it down…[but] it’s a bottomless pit in the end. I think that’s one of the overarching themes of the show.”
He continues, “This idea that human evil is truly unknowable in a certain way. We’re seeing these people in the late ’70s, early ’80s in this very early, you know, they’re coming up with the term serial killer, and all the stuff that we’re so familiar with now. And they really think, okay, we’re going to start to figure this out and put this together. There’s an innocence about that, that is noble and worthwhile and complicated and I think ultimately kind of depressing.”
It’s the actions of these characters that Fincher sparked to admitting he doesn’t like characters in dramas that are “obviously patently wrong.”
“I don’t like J. Jonah Jameson saying something stupid because we need an adversary or we need conflict here,” Fincher says. “I prefer having an argument between five people who are all right from their perspective they passionately believe that what they are doing is the right thing. Because I think it’s just more interesting.”
Fincher also loves Ford’s partner Bill Tech (McCallany) who has been around the FBI much longer than his colleague. The “Social Network” helmer says Tech is based on one of his uncles that he remembers “vividly.”
“He was probably at one point very much like Holden in his embracing of what the FBI could be,” Fincher says. “But he’s seen that it’s a glacial bureaucracy and he’s now escaping the country club. It’s good to be in road school and playing golf on the weekends and being an expert, you go into these small towns and all the local sheriffs hold you up at this ideal, you know, the G-man, Melvin Purvis kind of idea. But there are real compromises that he’s made in his own life. I think everybody can relate to somebody who’s trying really hard within certain boundaries and within a certain space to do what’s right, even when they kind of roll their eyes, and go ‘My God we’re going to give this nutcase our entire afternoon so he can tell us this…’ I mean that seemed reasonable to me.”
“Mindhunter” is currently in the middle of shooting season 2, and while neither Fincher nor the cast shared any details about the direction that the series would go in, he did provide some insight into what sort of dramatic tension he continually looks for with his characters.
“I’m always interested in an argument where I can go, ‘Yeah, he’s got a point. Oh, she’s right about that,'” Fincher says. “That’s always the more interesting drama than somebody needlessly creating conflict.”
“Mindhunter” season one is currently available on Netflix.