It’s only been a week since “Mindhunter,” David Fincher’s addictive crime series for Netflix, released its second season, which IndieWire’s own Ben Travers called a “magnum opus on white guilt” in his glowing review. Season 2 finds FBI agents Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Trench (Holt McCallany) taking on the Atlanta Child Murders, which unfolded between 1979 and 1981, with 28 African-Americans slaughtered in Georgia. This season pushed Trench more into the limelight, downgrading the oft-ridiculed Ford to a supporting character. McCallany, a seasoned character actor enjoying a mid-career break, was up to the challenge.
Luckily, years of toiling in relative obscurity prepared him for the grueling process of working with Fincher, who is notorious for doing endless amounts of takes.
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“Oh my God. Many, many, many, many, many,” McCallany said of Fincher in a recent interview with Vulture. “I can’t give you the exact number, but you have to remember it’s not just the number of takes; there’s also the number of setups, you see what I mean? There’s a wide angle, there’s a wider angle, there’s a two-shot, there’s a three-shot — there’s a lot of different coverage, and then it’s multiple takes within these setups.”
The many set-ups are not merely for quick takes; the actor said Fincher shoots the whole scene every time.
“David likes to do these things properly, so you’re not breaking it up in pieces. You’re doing the whole scene every single time. And then we do it again, and we do it again, and we do it again, and again, and again, and again, and again until he feels that we have it from that angle. It does require a lot of concentration. You want to make sure that you’re super-prepared. But this is what’s so exciting about working for him. It’s because he really cares about the work.”
While that may sound exhausting to some, McCallany found it creatively fruitful.
“It’s really exciting to work with a guy who is, inarguably, one of the great directors of his generation. And it kind of spoils you, in a sense, because a lot of directors don’t work that way, you know? I mean, guys get one or two [takes] that they like and they move on. As an actor, you can sometimes say, ‘Hey, can I get one more?’ But you can’t ask for more than one more,” he said. “I’m the ‘one more’ guy. But you can’t say, ‘Hey, can I get 10 more? Because I’m used to working with Fincher and I don’t think you have it.'”
More than simply wanting to have every angle in the editing room, the filmmaker’s exhaustive process brings out infinite shades of an actor’s performance. “[Fincher] believes that the longer that an actor inhabits a particular scene, the more that he becomes comfortable in it and comes to understand it and lets go of the artifice and the preconceived decisions that he may have made in his hotel room the night before the shoot. It becomes more relaxed, and it becomes more real,” he said.
But McCallany stressed that even though Fincher encourages creative exploration, the director is extremely precise.
“Which is not to say that we’re improvising. That’s a very different thing. Because David likes things to be very precise. So we do an extensive rehearsal and in that rehearsal you’re allowed to ask questions. You’re allowed to present ideas. How would it be if I did this kind of thing, right? But once something has been set in rehearsal, then that’s it.”
Season 2 of “Mindhunter” is currently streaming on Netflix. Read the full interview with McCallany here.