In a way, it’s unfortunate that the much-heralded film Mank came out when it did, limited to home screens and deprived of its rightful perch on the big screen. Here, after all, is an artful film-about-film, which also poses some major historical assertions. Primarily, Mank affirms the controversial notion that screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz essentially wrote Citizen Kane, rather than presumed auteur Orson Welles, and also that Marion Davies deserves more love and respect then she’s gotten as the paramour of William Randolph Hearst (and, by fictional proxy, Charles Foster Kane) and as a talent-challenged singer/actress.
Enter versatile actress Amanda Seyfried, whose performance as Davies has rightfully earned her wide praise and her first Oscar nomination — not to mention the celebratory hot seat of SBIFF’s Montecito Award honor. Seyfried’s new spotlight is well-deserved, for an actress, 35, whose filmography ranges from Mean Girls to flexing her singing savvy in Mamma Mia! and Les Misérables, to Atom Egoyan’s Chloe, Paul Schrader’s masterpiece First Reformed, and now the Mank award season buzz.
We caught up with Seyfried while she was decamped in Georgia, where her husband, actor Thomas Sadoski, was working (they have two children, one born last September). She admitted to looking forward to returning to their beloved home farm in upstate New York, and to Zooming in, virtually, to Santa Barbara for a night.
As for the Oscar carrot, she is philosophical: “I don’t look to the win. I look to the nod, the little tip of the hat from my fellow Academy members.”
Mank is such a fascinating and complex project, a film-behind-a-film which also readdresses history, not only Mankiewicz, but also Marion Davies, who you lend some respect. The role moves beyond the stereotype. Were you aware of that process?
Yeah. [Director] David Fincher’s father, Jack Fincher [screenwriter], captured this perspective and dimension of a woman we thought we knew. She’s not like Citizen Kane’s character, or just Hearst’s mistress. She had a lot to offer, especially as an actress. Watching her, studying her, she was formidable.
This was the most beautiful opportunity. It was just laid out in the script, and it was very clear that Jack Fincher had done all her research and really respected her. I didn’t have to do any work in terms of revamping her legacy. Love the woman. I love to hang out with her. My job is to fall in love with my characters in some way, but it wasn’t hard.
A few years ago, you made a strong impression in Paul Schrader’s Last Reformed, a wild ride and possibly Schrader’s masterpiece. How was that experience?
Thank God for the opportunity to work with him. Like Fincher, he knows what movie he’s making in his head. It’s a dream for an actor because there are no questions. It’s a great movie. I was at dinner with Paul and Ethan [Hawke], who we had seen onstage in True West. Paul was talking to Ethan about his new idea and that he really wanted Ethan to do it. And I felt so left out. [Laughs.]
Your career so far has included a great variety of roles. Is that sort of a sign of success for you that you’ve been able to be this chameleon?
I think that has been very deliberate for sure. I make the choice about how hard I’m going to work to get something; it’s like, it’s very deliberate. I always want to do something different yet. It’s important to disappear. And I think that’s another thing about Marion, is that I really got to truly disappear. Maybe you become unrecognizable and in real life. Is it possible, with social media and wanting to be open and honest about your life, but not sharing too much?
Speaking of chameleonic twists, we’ll next see you in Things Heard and Seen, a horror thriller on Netflix next month, right?
Yes. It is actually coming a couple days after the Oscars. I love the thriller genre so much. It really is my favorite. I love working with Netflix, and I love the producer and directors so much, I just had to do that. And it was a shot upstate close to where I live. So it was just a dream.
Movies all have their challenges. And then, after that, I have a movie very close to my heart called A Mouthful of Air, which we did just before that movie. That’s a tiny passion movie drama. I’m trying to keep them guessing.
There’s the headline: keep them guessing.
Yeah, that can be my motto.
Amanda Seyfried will be honored with SBIFF’s Montecito Award on Friday, April 9.
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