Twenty-two minutes into David Fincher’s masterful homage to Old Hollywood-filmmaking Mank, Amanda Seyfried appears looming above everyone as platinum blond starlet Marion Davies being mock-burned at the stake on the San Simeon estate of her lover (known to her as “Pops”), newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance). “I know you,” she squeaks in perfect Brookynese to Herman “Mank” Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman). Marion, at the behest of Hearst, is prepping “to take on the tawkies.” As the scene progresses, an instant chemistry bonds Mank and Marion, and it becomes increasingly apparent to the viewer that Seyfried possesses the charm and comic chops of a Carol Lombard or a Jean Harlow, or, yes, a Marion Davies.
Seyfried has been acting on TV and in films since she was a teen, initially on soaps until landing a few supporting roles in films (Mean Girls, Nine Lives, Alpha Dog) and then the HBO series Big Love. In 2008, she co-starred in Mamma Mia!, a game changer that would land her lead roles in major studio features including, Dear John, Letters to Juliet and Red Riding Hood. Other notable film work includes, Les Misérables, The Last Word, First Reformed and, of course, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.
In 2015, she made her off-Broadway debut in the Neil LaBute play, The Way We Get By, starring opposite future husband, Thomas Sadoski. “Every night I was terrified but I fucking loved it,” she shares about the experience. She proved to be a natural on stage.
With Mank, an extraordinary work about the process of writing of Citizen Kane (screenplay written by Jack Fincher, David’s late father), Seyfried demonstrates what many of us have long thought. She is a gifted thespian and, given a challenging script and a visionary director, a transformative one.
Awards Daily had the pleasure of Zoom-chatting with Seyfried, who just a few weeks ago had her second child.
Awards Daily: Take me through how you became involved with Mank?
Amanda Seyfried: I just heard about it. I was standing in Penn Station, waiting for my train, in the great room, and my agent called – who is also one of my closest friends—I’ve been with her since I was 16. And she was like, “David Fincher’s making a movie called Mank.” And I was like, ‘Oh, that’s exciting.’ Because he hadn’t made a movie in a while and I just, actually, finished [streaming] Mindhunter. So, I was like, ‘What do I have to do?’ She said, ‘You have to talk to him. I just have to be sure that they’re interested.’ And I [said], ‘All right, whatever, take your time.’ But the idea of it! I just took that train ride and it was just like, this would be too good to be true. I didn’t know he knew who I was. I did receive the script a day later or a couple of days later. And I read it really quickly on set and talked to him that night. Had a really long meeting about the role and about what he wanted and how he saw the story going. I felt like he wanted me to board the movie.
You have an idea about yourself. You have an idea about how people see you. And you don’t know who sees what movie…Then you talk to somebody that you’ve admired for years and you’re having a conversation about something you’re both passionate about. And everybody meets in the middle. It’s really nice. [A sigh] And then we talked about scheduling, which was really hard because I was shooting another movie after the movie I was working on. It was also a Netflix movie, and I was like Netflix throw me a bone and make this happen. And my wonderful producer, Anthony Bregman, got me off certain days to get me in the Fincher world, and I’d fly back and forth. It was a magical time for me.
AD: How much Marion research did you do? Did you watch any of her films?
AS: I did. The first one I watched was Cain and Mabel, and I was like this girl’s funny! She’s so present and effervescent. Somebody quoted in her biography, that she was very winsome. That’s the perfect adjective to describe her. Her autobiography, “The Times We Had” is really funny, because it’s her memories, her recollections of her life. That was like a bible for me. And there’s another biography that’s quite thick, but helpful. I was really lucky I had all this information. I could take some mannerisms from her as a comedienne, which was great. She’s effortless and immensely watchable.
But I was portraying her backstage life and it’s not all roses. She’s a three-dimensional human, so with that you have to just trust the script. And I had EVERYTHING in that script. In hindsight, I didn’t really need to do as much research as I did because it was all there. But it’s fun, and you want to know somebody as well as you can know them before you do it. And you also want to do justice to her. You don’t want any stone unturned when you’re playing someone like this because it’s intimidating to be part of a movie like this, to be playing a 30s movie star and to have the responsibility of trying to break open a side of her that people didn’t know. I think this does her justice. I think it’s beautifully written.
AD: That three-dimensionality is there. And you manage to bring a poignancy to, for instance, Marion’s relationship with Hearst and to her almost accepting her role as someone who would be forever misunderstood.
AS: She would do everything to protect Hearst. And that was a surprise in my research, that she loved this man. You can judge all you want, May-December relationships and young women being with older, rich men. Nobody knows. Nobody really understands what’s going on behind the scenes for anybody, and I love that we get to tell that story, too. We don’t have that much to say to each other in this movie, but that doesn’t mean you don’t understand the depth of their relationship and the depth of her loyalty to Hearst. And she understood what she was doing with her career, but that was less important than her connection to Hearst. I think one of the most poignant moments for me was when I was in my silent acting scene around the dinner table, the circus party. Charles and I got along so beautifully. He’s a really affectionate guy and he’s an incredible actor. And there was a real moment there that David captured that I think shows a lot about what they really were as opposed to the myth of the mistress.
AD: And the way Susan Alexander was portrayed in Citizen Kane.
AS: Well, Marion is way smarter and way more talented than anyone gave her credit for. Ever. Except Mank. Even though Mank wrote Susan Alexander, I feel like he must have understood that she was going to understand what that was. She (wasn’t) an idiot, and I would love to believe that they had that kind of discussion that they did when they were sitting on the log when she came to the ranch. You can portray me however you want, ‘I know who I am’ kind of thing. I know what we have, but don’t kick Pops when he’s down. And that’s beautiful. Who writes like that?
AD: Tell me about the Fincher experience. Did he leave you to your process? Was he integral in your creation of Marion onscreen?
AS: Yeah, he respects actors, more than I think most people thinks he does. And that was really thrilling to know, to understand right away, when I met him on Zoom, after reading the script. And I think he’s very respectful of everybody’s process. And it seemed that everyone on this set was very respectful to his process. Everybody wanted to be there. Even when you were tired or you thought you had done the scene enough times. I’m not a method actor. I’m very collaborative. I sometimes feel I need the director to help guide me, to be there right next to me. I like to have a little bit of freedom. I don’t like to be put in a box. He gave space, but he also guided and supported me. He was very articulate with what he wanted. And there’s a lot of sublties that he captured that we never ever have time to capture on a lot of sets because there’s always time constraints and budget constraints. And these days you don’t really get to make a meal out of something the way you can with Fincher. People trust Fincher. People trust him to a point where he can do no wrong. He really can’t for me. He showed me the way. I’m more capable than I thought I was. And I have more stamina than I thought I did.
AD: The walk-through San Simeon sequence with Mank and the animals is just breathtaking. What was filming that like and were you anywhere near any animals?
AS: Frank, I have to tell you something, there were no fucking animals! That was one of the first questions I asked him on our Zoom call. I was like, I can’t believe all these animals, how are we going to shoot that. [laughs] [Fincher’s response:] ‘I hate to tell you this, but they’re going to be CGI.’ It was so heartbreaking. I had a smile on my face but I was pretty pissed. It was wonderful shooting those scenes. We were shooting them different days. That scene was cut up from maybe five or six different scenes, different set-ups. And then we’d rehearse them separately. We had so much great rehearsal time. And it was magical. We knew which animals we were going to be looking at because there was always a pun at the end of each segment. It was fun because Gary and I had a really good thing. We’d worked together before (Red Riding Hood), and there was definitely a good spark between us naturally, as humans, that I think did absolutely carried over.
AD: How does it feel to be a part of the awards conversation?
AS: Thrilling. Incredible. I, honestly, cannot believe my luck. I never have expectations ever. Ever. I know this business is weird and who knows who will see what, but I worked really hard on this. I’m super proud of it. I think it turned out great. And the fact that people are talking about my performance, specifically, is new to me and awesome! I love it! It feels really great.
AD: Okay. Mamma Mia! Both films were so much fun to watch. Was it as much fun to make? And do you think there will be a third one?
AS: I never expected there to be a second and so yes, I do think there’s a possibility for a third. I know (producer) Judy Craymer said there were always meant to be three. I didn’t know that. Maybe it’s not true, but I know that everybody would do it. You know everybody would come back, and recently somebody (asked) what one of your movies should have a movie made (about) making a movie. And I said, Mamma Mia!, because we had more fun than you think we did. We had so much fucking fun. And doing press for those movies! We were in Greece doing a junket a year later. I mean, come on! I was 21. And then I was 31, with a kid and it was even more fun. It was Vis, Croatia, the second time. Can you picture that? Everybody coming back together? I’m glad you like it, so I’m glad to tell you that. It was big for my career. And to come back to it as more of an adult.
AD: And to show off your talents as singer and actor.
AS: I’m a better singer than I was before because I hated how I sang in Les Miz. I take voice lessons on FaceTime every week. I took 8 weeks off from the day I went into labor to last week. And that was the only time I took a break from singing because I needed to be better than Les Miz. I felt better about my singing in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. So for Mamma Mia 3, I’ll be even better!
Mank is currently in theaters and bows on Netflix on December 4th.