Bill Tench looks like he has the world weighing on his shoulders in season two of Mindhunter. The hunch, the looks of worry and distress, you can feel the restrained F.B.I. agent often coming so close to breaking, especially during a stunning scene in which he confronts, not questions, Charles Manson. The character remains endlessly fascinating to watch, as does the rest of Mindhunter.
Season two marks another one of the many collaborations between actor Holt McCallany and director David Fincher, which is a relationship going back to Alien 3. In-person, McCallany is just as captivating as he is on screen. He has such a great voice, so after hanging onto his every word during our interview with him, I left the Mindhunter junket thinking, “No wonder David Fincher loves filming this guy.” Today, he’s perhaps the closest we have to old school actors like, to name an example, Burt Lancaster, sharing a similar combination of authority and vulnerability. McCallany looks and sounds like a movie star straight out of the ’50s, making him all the more perfect for Bill Tench.
I only saw a handful of episodes before speaking with the actor, hence no questions about the scene with Charles Manson, but he discussed with us the Son of Sam sequence, his longtime collaboration with David Fincher, and Bill Tench’s worldview.
Now whenever anyone asks me my favorite show on right now, I say Mindhunter.
Oh thanks, man. I appreciate that. Well, you know what? All the credit goes to a guy named David Fincher. It’s really been an incredibly fortunate experience for me and for Jonathan, for all of us, because he just demands a level of excellence from every department that makes you really motivated to go to work in the morning because you know you’re working with one of the great directors of his generation. And it doesn’t really get better than that in television.
Obviously, you worked with them on Alien 3.
Not the best circumstances for him, but can you see a lot of similarities between the guy he is now, the filmmaker he is now, versus then?
It’s a great question. People have asked me that before and to me, honestly, he’s the same guy. He’s got the same personality, that same keen intelligence, that same dark sense of humor. The difference is that now he’s tremendously accomplished. And when I first met David on Alien 3, it was his first movie and I don’t know that people understood who David Fincher was going to become.
For season one, you were working 10 months straight, six days a week. Did you have a similar schedule for season two?
It was a tough schedule. We do often work a six-day week, you’re right, because we have to do, sometimes we have to do reshoots and different things. And so it’s long hours. My days start very early, but even on the days off you have a lot of preparation to do. And the reason for that is because it’s really a dialogue-driven show. So many of the scenes are long and complicated. Some of the interview scenes might be ten pages or more. And David likes to shoot them all the way through from beginning to end. And then he likes to do a lot of setups and many takes within each setup. So it demands a high level of concentration.
He’s also a director who likes, he prefers once something is set in rehearsal… And mind you, in rehearsal, actors are permitted to present ideas, whatever those may be. He may not embrace them, but you’re always allowed to present them. But once something is set, then that’s what it is. So he doesn’t want you doing something completely different in take 30 than you didn’t take three. It’s the same performance and he’s going to give you small adjustments between takes and you kind of massage it and it continues to get better and better and better.
But yeah, it’s a very challenging way to work. But I find it very exciting and frankly, when I work with other directors who have a much more kind of run and gun type of a style, I always worry that you didn’t get enough coverage. You didn’t do enough takes. You’re going to get into the editing room and you’re going to be missing something that you really wanted and it’s because you didn’t spend the time. On Mindhunter, we spend the time.
I heard David Fincher say in a commentary once, “You fly all of these actors to a location, you’ve got all these cameras, why stop? Why not get as much as you possibly can?” People talk about all the takes he does, but it makes so much sense.
That’s absolutely correct. The expensive part is not doing another take. The expensive part was getting us all here. Do you know what I mean? Getting the train rolling down the tracks. Now that we’re rolling, let it go. So, no, it’s a real privilege and look, you don’t need to talk to me to know that this guy is one of the truly exceptional directors in American cinema. You can ask anybody and they’ll all tell you that. I’ve just had the privilege of working with him very closely over the past couple of years and it’s been a real transformational experience for me in my career.
He can even make a scene with Bill grilling during a BBQ filled with so much tension. The way he cuts, the heat intensifying, you can just feel the tension rising in the guy. How much does David Fincher talk to you about the psychology of his shots?
Well look, I try to learn a lot from David by watching him as he sets up a shot and trying to identify the things that are important to him and trying to just soak up as much as I can in case one day, I may attempt to direct something myself. You never know. But even though I try to watch closely, I’m always continuously surprised when I see the final product because it might be a simple thing like every time that Bill shakes hands with somebody, you see a little… [reaches out his hand for a loud handshake] There’s a little sound effect. Do you know what I mean? Which is a tiny little detail, but it’s meant to convey, that Bill is a powerful presence. Do you know what I mean? And that his handshake is a firm handshake. And it’s a tiny little thing that you add in post, but when I see it, I notice it like, “There’s one of David’s touches.” This is the attention to detail that separates him from 99% of the directors in the world.
How specific is he about hand gestures and movements? The way he shoots, body language looks like it heavily influences the way he moves the camera and cuts.
Yeah. No, let me say this to you, David will sometimes give very precise pieces of direction and that can absolutely include the position of your head, the moment that you’ll choose to avert your eyes, the way you take a drag of your cigarette. It’s very easy to put your trust in somebody like David Fincher because there’s one thing that you can be absolutely certain of, when David Fincher steps onto the set, you are no longer the smartest guy in the room, if you were before.
[Laughs] I’ve heard that from a lot of people.
Right? And it’s also exciting to work for David because he’s actually, I think, much more collaborative than people might imagine. Yes, he’s meticulous and precise and with great attention to detail. But he has this mantra that you hear him say frequently, “The best idea wins.” And I’m an actor who likes to come with a lot of ideas. Doesn’t mean that he’s going to embrace them all, but I’ll present something. “I’d like to do this. What about this?” And he’ll either say, “Yeah, we can try that.” Or he’ll say, “No, that’s not going to work for this reason,” or whatever. And, but you never are made to feel like, you’re just there to hit the mark and say the line. He wants you to be engaged.
Continue Reading Holt McCallany >>
The post ‘Mindhunter’ Star Holt McCallany on Working With David Fincher and His Standard for Excellence [Interview] appeared first on /Film.