Amanda Seyfried is earning career-best notices for her work in David Fincher‘s new Netflix film “Mank” as old Hollywood star Marion Davies. Her performance has provided her nominations from the Golden Globes, Critics Choice and other groups recently.
Seyfried recently spoke with Gold Derby contributing editor Riley Chow about figuring out how to portray Davies, her prep work and her newfound awards attention. Watch the exclusive interview above and read the complete transcript below.
Gold Derby: We see you in the same room with your character’s partner, William Randolph Hearst, but we don’t really see you with him. Can you tell me about crafting your onscreen relationship with Charles Dance and whether that was actually important?
Amanda Seyfried: It was definitely important to feel a warm connection, for sure, because I think it’s important for the audience to see that there was truly something there beyond what Marion expresses to Mank. It wasn’t hard to connect to Charles because he’s so funny and he’s such a good sport and he’s very English, if you know what that means. He can really hang with anybody. So it was really easy to feel a sense of warmth with Charles while we were shooting, and man, he’s an incredible actor. You just see oceans in his eyes when I was connecting to him during that last, very important scene. So it was very easy to forge that relationship.
GD: And why do you think we see the two of you with such distance between you? Why do you think your characters are so distant, spatially, in the actual film?
AS: Interesting. I don’t know, actually. I don’t think we ever really held onto each other in the movie, which is interesting. That’s a David Fincher question, but it is interesting. You’re the only person who’s brought that up ever, so I didn’t really think about it. It’s an interesting point. I don’t know.
GD: We see you five times in this film at different years in Marion’s life. Can you tell me about crafting different versions of your character as she is at different points in her life?
AS: I wasn’t very conscious of doing anything too different. I think most of the scenes were just a few years apart, maybe, if at all, and then the last scene was almost a decade later. So that scene, which is set apart anyway in the script, I think it felt so different, the energy of it felt so different that it didn’t even really occur to me to do anything too different either because Marion is Marion, and a few years isn’t going to change how she behaves or how she connects with people.
GD: I understand that you didn’t watch “Citizen Kane” again because you didn’t want that to influence your portrayal. What about other onscreen portrayals of Marion Davies? Did you watch those ones in preparation?
AS: Yeah, it was very deliberate that I didn’t refresh myself on “Citizen Kane” because I’d seen it when I was 20, 21, and of course there are things that stand out because it was such a masterpiece and it was so different than a lot of the movies made back in that era. But I luckily had a few good opportunities to see some of her actual acting and the characters that she played throughout the years, and it was more fun than anything. It wasn’t as necessary for me to see her as these characters on film as it was to understand who she was and how she communicated and expressed herself in her real life, which I got a lot from her autobiography. I did really enjoy myself watching her and I do feel like I got some mannerisms and the essence of her. It’s impossible to hide how much of a life she was in her roles. That was a good education.
GD: In just the short clips I’ve seen of her acting, she seems to have this kind of kinetic energy, whereas I found your portrayal has a bit more of a melancholy quality. Can you talk about the tone of your portrayal?
AS: When I think about Marion, I think about the comedy and everything, the preparation it takes to get into a role, the cadence of how people spoke in movies. That never feels real enough. There’s an energy and a way things are shot and a rhythm that couldn’t possibly have existed in real life and creating something that feels real, that feels authentic, is making things feel as natural as possible as an actor, making things feel as natural as possible in these circumstances. It’s just so important, even if it felt like sometimes, “Do I fit in in this world? Does this make sense? Are people going to believe me as Marion sitting here in this year with this man?” And at some point, you just have to throw out the window because you want it to feel grounded in something. You just want to believe that it’s happening, so the cadence and the rhythm of how people speak in those movies, which is what I had to go by, really didn’t fit in with how I was going to fit in to create this world surrounding Mank.
GD: What do you think you changed the most from the real Marion Davies in your portrayal?
AS: Oh, I don’t think I changed anything. I think I just made her more relatable. I’m saying it as if I did it single-handedly, which I didn’t. This script was incredible and Marion was so clear. It was so clear to me what version she was in this portrayal, what she needed to be, and also I had an incredible opportunity and responsibility to show the world another side of her, another dimension that was lost over the years, over the eras, what she really was and what she really meant to people and how incredibly kind and effervescent and giving and gracious she was. I don’t feel like I made anything up. I feel like I just was able to show the best side of her and it doesn’t take away from the story. She was an incredible woman. Why not show that? Why not show the world in 2021 this 1930s, 40s-era movie star that you thought you know, you didn’t know at all, and give her the credit that she was due?
GD: Have you gotten any response from any living family members?
AS: No, not at all. I didn’t even think about that. I did play someone in real life once, Linda Lovelace Marchiano, and I was hung out with her kids. It was surreal and wonderful and I felt very supported and I felt like we were all in sync with each other, and I didn’t even consider it. I guess because Marion existed so far in the past at this point, I didn’t consider that. You’re asking really good questions! Nobody has reached out yet. I don’t know where her family is.
GD: Now, you’re getting a lot of Oscar buzz for this performance. This is not something we’re normally supposed to comment on, but Jimmy Kimmel brought it up when you were on his show that you’re the frontrunner in our odds. Is this something that you’re checking? Especially right now with the film awards season, all these regional film critics announcing their awards, their nominations every day, you’ve gotten about a dozen nominations in the last 12 days. How much are you following all this?
AS: Well, there’s a lot of it I didn’t know about because I’ve never been in this position. So I’m always caught by surprise to receive another email about a nomination and I’ll take it. I’ll take what I can get and I have to stop myself from getting too excited about it because at the end of the day, I’ve been doing this for a long time and I haven’t ever had this kind of a spotlight on an actual singular performance of mine. I never expected it and it’s totally happening. It’s a cherry on top of what I think is a really fun, great career.
I have to just make sure I’m not as aware as I could be because I would really just like to maintain this really grateful attitude right now. I’m really glad. And I don’t want to lose that. I don’t want to lose out on something and then feel really disappointed. This whole experience so far has just been worth it, because it’s nice to talk about something that meant a lot to me and it’s nice to talk about something that I feel has elevated me as an actor because I swear, I was lazy. I have been lazy at times and the fact that this is just a moment I can talk about “Mank” and Marion and have people want to ask me questions about it and want to hear my answers, it just hasn’t happened before and I’ll take it, because who knows if it’ll happen again. Riding the wave.
GD: I feel like when I talk to people, they say that they knew you had this performance in you long before 2020, and I feel like that’s something that David Fincher mentions in “The New York Times” article that he did, this big profile. I’m wondering why you feel like you are getting all this praise and why this performance came at this point in your career.
AS: I think partially, and I’m not taking anything away from me, and I hope it doesn’t sound like that, but I think it’s partly due to the fact that it’s a Fincher movie. It’s a masterpiece. It is. He creates masterpieces. Nothing is an accident. He’s incredible (laughs). I think when I hear people say, “Oh, who knew,” that’s OK, because I’ve done a lot of different movies, a lot of different genres, and I’ve had great opportunities to show my work, and I feel like I’ve shown up for them and this just came around at a time where we’re talking about old Hollywood. People who are in Hollywood, we’re into it, we’re into that stuff. It’s a flashy role and it’s a David Fincher movie and I think that part was right for this kind of attention and I’m going to bring me into it now and say I think I was up for the challenge. I think I absolutely brought my A-game and here we are.
GD: I wonder if you consider 2017 a turning point for you at all when you were in one of the most acclaimed shows of the year, “Twin Peaks,” with David Lynch and one of the most acclaimed films of the year, “First Reformed,” with Paul Schrader.
AS: I didn’t see that as the turning point at all, for some reason. I mean, working with the most incredible… I was always a fan of “Taxi Driver” from an acting point of view, not even script and direction, but Paul is very special and David Lynch, I’ve always wanted to be part of that world and I still can’t believe I did “Twin Peaks.” I think that was just a year I got to coincidentally work with two of the best directors of all time and I didn’t really see that as a turning point. I had a kid. I think my perspective changed a little bit. I think I stepped back a little bit in 2017, generally stepped back and looked at my whole life as opposed to just my career. That’s what happens when you make children.
GD: And when you heard that David Fincher was considering you for this part, what was the pitch to you and what was the process for actually getting the role?
AS: The pitch was he was considering me to play Marion Davies and I was like, “Marion Davies? That’s incredible! Marion Davies! What has she been in? I know her name.” It was one of those. A lot of people don’t really know who she is and “Citizen Kane” is way more famous than any of the movies that she’s ever done, so that makes sense. I ended up talking to David. I ended up having to read a script and then talking to him that night. It was very late. I was in New York and it was in the midst of a very intense movie and really late I spoke to him and he spoke for 45 minutes about how he was going to shoot it, what it was going to sound like. He played me an audio recording of Gary with the Herman [J. Mankiewicz] voice, and it just got me really excited and I didn’t know if I had actually gotten the role at that point. I just kept listening to him and then I had some thoughts about the script and about Marion and about the politics involved and it was just a really long conversation about it, and when we got to the end talking about schedules, I was like, “I guess I have this movie now. Is it mine? I don’t really know what’s happening, but it seems like we are going in that direction.” And then I get it.
GD: How did you work in her Brooklyn accent?
AS: Oh, Brooklyn accent to me is the closest thing. For some reason, I’m just very comfortable with it. I’m very comfortable with the Brooklyn accent. So I knew that I was gonna do it subtly because she had had elocution classes and she did have a stutter, but that wasn’t something we were gonna even journey into for this specific movie, because it’s not “Marion,” at the end of the day. So I think that’s why we chose not to tap into that but she had an accent. She came from a working-class family and it seems perfectly fitting to use a slight Brooklyn accent and as much as I worried about how it came across, it was never distracting to anybody on set and especially to David. So I figured it was fine.