Interview: Amanda Seyfried on Marion Davies, Old Hollywood and ‘Mank’

Amanda Seyfried is ‘Marion Davis’ in MANK — Courtesy of Netflix

Amanda Seyfried has enjoyed a remarkable career in her first twenty years on screen. The actress got her start in soap operas before landing her breakout role in the 2004 hit Mean Girls. Before long, she was starring in such beloved movies as Mamma Mia!, Jennifer’s Body, and the HBO series, Big Love.

Seyfried has been a consistent presence in film and television over the years. Last year alone, she lent her voice talents to the role of Daphne in Scoob!, an update to the classic Scooby Doo cartoon. She also starred opposite Kevin Bacon in the horror film, You Should Have Left. And she had the opportunity to play legendary actress Marion Davies in David Fincher’s latest film, Mank.

Mank tells the story of Herman J. Mankiewicz, a talented writer who shared credit and eventually an Oscar with Orson Welles for writing Citizen Kane. Seyfried’s role works to set the record straight on Marion Davies and the belief that she inspired the role of Susan Alexander.

We spoke with Seyfried about working with director David Fincher, her co-star Gary Oldman, and the glamour of working in 1930s Hollywood.

(L-R) Amanda Seyfriend and Gary Oldman star in MANK — Courtesy of Netflix

Karen Peterson/We Live Entertainment: It’s so nice to talk with you about your work in Mank. How has this journey been for you?

Amanda Seyfried: Bananas. It’s bananas. I got a call from my agent when he was casting Marian. And she was like, “David Fincher is doing a new movie.” And I was like, “Oh, that’s awesome!” “And it’s about Herman Mankiewicz. And he’s considering you for the role of Marion Davies.” And I was like, “Oh, my God, Marion Davies. Wow, that’s like a role of a lifetime. I don’t know who she is, but I definitely have heard her.” (laughs)

And then a couple days later I was on the phone with [David]. I was on Zoom. It was the first time I ever downloaded Zoom. I thought it was some weird filmmaker chat thing. And we talked about it. I’d read the script just before that, and he made me feel like he cared about my opinions. jAnd he tried to sell it to me as if I needed to be sold on working with him. I would’ve played a fly on someone’s head, you know? I really would have done anything to be a part of his world, obviously. There’s a handful of directors that I I would’ve done anything to work with, and this opportunity just came out of nowhere.

And then all of a sudden I was on set, and he was making the schedule. They were making it work with another movie. And I was rehearsing and I had all this time, this luxurious amount of time to find this character, to play with these actors in these huge set pieces with these incredible, very authentic costumes and makeup and the wig. Everything just really couldn’t have been better. The experience couldn’t have been better. And I was I found out I was pregnant right at the end. And then the pandemic happened like two weeks after we finished filming. So strokes of luck at every turn.

And now I’m talking about it, and I can be home. I’m home right now. I can see my house. My son, who I had in September, I can see. I know they’re there, and I can just walk over there when I’m done. It’s just silver linings.

KP: Yeah, this has been a tough year, but there have been some things that have also been good opportunities, I think, for a lot of us.

AS: Yeah, we adapt. We’re human beings. We adapt, we want to survive, we want to thrive. We want to do more than survive. And when you don’t know what to do, and you’re controlled by Mother Nature or whatever, you have to you have to adapt. And I think we’ve all done a really good job of that in this world. I’m looking forward to the end of it, but still, some good has come out of it, and we have to embrace it.

KP: Speaking of someone who adapted to her environment, Marion Davies is certainly one of those people. Can you talk a little bit about getting to know her and and some of the things that you really wanted to make sure shined through in your performance?

AS: I wanted it to be very clear that she was never going to screw someone over. She didn’t have a vindictive bone in her body. She saw the good in everybody. From what I gathered in the script and what I’ve gathered in her life, and from interviews and just pieces of information that I’ve gathered throughout, she was a good person. She was a charitable person. She just wanted people to know who she was because she knew who she was. And she just didn’t want to be misunderstood.

I get an opportunity to explain that in the scene, the walk and talk with Gary [Oldman]. And, and I think that’s what I needed to come across. That’s what I loved about her. That’s how I felt I related to her. And it didn’t feel so far away. Because I had a hard time imagining myself in her shoes, fitting into that world. I was scared that I wouldn’t fit into the 30s. That people wouldn’t believe me because I felt like I was too modern. I was too contemporary. There’s a cadence to how I speak. I say “um,” and “you know” a lot and I’m reading someone else’s lines. I know the dialogue is already there, but it was tough. It was tough to leave myself that much for a role, but that’s also what I was looking for because you need that challenge to grow.

I watched the movie and I can see how I’ve made her fit in, and I’m really proud of that. And it didn’t happen alone. I mean, obviously. David Fincher got me there, but I had enough in me to get there. And I was excited to give a different perspective on somebody that people think they know. And they don’t. She’s not Susan Alexander, she’s Marion Davies. The role is based on their relationship, not actual Marion Marion Davies, because she was, in fact, very talented. And for people that actually have seen her movies, she was really talented. Her legacy is a little off. And I hope, God, I hope enough people see this movie and understand that there was that other dimension that we got to portray for both of these characters.

KP: There is a bit of justice for Marion Davies.

AS: Playing Marion Davies is to help tell the Herman’s story, to help tell the story of what happened, how this movie even came to be, how the script came to be. And it’s a device, but with that I get my own chance to bring her to life.

KP: Can you talk a little bit about working with Gary Oldman?

AS: He’s a very playful actor. He’s a very playful human being, he’s really funny. And he doesn’t take anything too seriously, so it’s really easy to be with him. It’s really easy to relate to him on set, off set, whatever it is. And so with that easy rapport, it’s just translated onto set and onto the screen. What you see is half Marion and Mank and the rehearsal that we did with David, and the other half is Gary and Amanda who communicate in a very similar way. I know he’s a heavy hitter. He’s a legendary actor. He’s gonna be known forever for being one of the best actors ever living, you know? And it isn’t like that for me, thank God, because that would have been a hurdle I would have taken a little longer to get over. But he’s not that guy. He’s so warm. And the key word is playful. He can find laughter in everything and that’s that’s all I ever want in a partner, a scene partner, a partner in life.

KP: You mentioned the costumes and and the amazing sets, so what was it like to get to go into the world of the 1930s?

AS: Well, I would tell you it’s not black and white! (laughs) Do you know that these guys aren’t living in black and white? There’s, like, color. I’d forget. I’d walk past the monitor if I’m leaving set for a break, and I’d see the monitors and he’d be watching playback — David and Erik [Messerschmidt] the DP — would be watching playback and it’s all black and white. (Whispers: “Oh my god, it’s so cool!”) For anybody who watches black and white movies, you forget immediately that it’s black and white.

But the sets I recognize from old movies. I’m touching them and I’m wearing these costumes that I’ve never worn before. I look at myself in the mirror and I’m not me and I’m as close to Marian as I can get. I don’t look exactly like her and none of us look any like exactly like our characters, or these real people, but we got really close and that’s enough to feel like you’ve been transported. So weird. So I I wish we had black and white lenses that we could have put on our eyes. Could you imagine? This is what happens when you’re in a movie with David Fincher or someone who’s really committed to telling the story as authentically as possible. Everything just becomes as real as it can be without it being real. And it’s a luxury that a lot of people don’t get anymore with budgetary restraints and people wanting to churn out product, content all the time. This really is unfortunately not as common as it should be.

We would like to thank Amanda Seyfried for speaking with us.

Mank is now streaming globally on Netflix.

 

Written by
Karen Peterson is the Awards Editor for We Live Entertainment. She previously worked as the Assistant Editor at Awards Circuit, now owned by Variety. Her work can also be found at Citizen Dame and at the Watch and Talk podcast. Her non-awards season hobbies include Angels baseball, taking pictures of other peoples' pets, and tweeting about The Bachelor franchise.

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