THE FRAME GAME
David Fincher, whose film opens next week, tells he is untroubled by his reputation as an obsessive director
(2010) and (2011), Fincher’s knack for shining a light into the darker recesses of humanity has seen him lauded as one of the greats of his generation. Yet he is not a man without reputation. Fincher, who famously cut his teeth making music videos for stars such as Madonna and the Rolling Stones, is the director fans love, but whom some actors dread. Renowned for asking actors to perform multiple takes — he has been known to demand the same scene up to 75 times — he has been described as an obsessive, a perfectionist. Yet for all he may or may not be, Fincher is unapologetic.
“I don’t really care if people have preconceived ideas of me or my work. People like to call me a cynic. What I am is a realist,” he says, smiling. “People see what they want to see.”
It’s the notion of perception, or rather misperception, that feeds broadly into why Fincher is holed up today, graciously and generously answering questions in a casual pressed white shirt and blue jeans, but looking, it must be said, as though he’d rather be anywhere else.
The director’s latest film, Gone Girl, starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, is a mystery drama that hinges on a fundamental, if seldom acknowledged, human truth: that beneath the edited projection of ourselves lies an uglier, sometimes dangerous, reality.
“Humans are always worried about what people think,” he says thoughtfully. “We edit our behaviour. We learn to charm. We learn it as students, as siblings, from our parents. We use it to attract a mate. And at some point down the road one party might say, ‘Look I can’t maintain this any more, and you’re going to have get used to that’ … I had not seen that notion articulated before. It was a new idea.”
Gone Girl, the director’s highly anticipated adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s 2012 bestselling novel, charts the psychology of a long-term relationship through the tale of a missing wife and her husband, who is subsequently fingered as the prime suspect in her suspected murder.
As with any of Fincher’s features, Gone Girl takes on a life of its own. It is in many ways a quite different beast to Flynn’s book — she also
September 27-28, 2014 DIRECTOR has to have a sociopath’s confidence,” David Fincher says, his feet swinging up and then touching down gently on a glass coffee table in London’s swanky Soho Hotel. “It’s that idea that what you’re doing is the right way to do it, and will be for all time.”
He lets the thought hang for a moment and stares out through a closed window as the rain begins to fall on the street below.
“And then there’s another part of it, which is being a trained poodle. You want to do a backflip and for everyone to applaud.”
It’s an intriguing admission from the American director, 52, who has during the past two decades established himself as one of the most creative and prescient filmmakers in Hollywood. From his seminal 1995 film Se7en, starring Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Spacey, to 1999’s Fight Club, and from thrillers Zodiac (2007) and Panic Room (2002) to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), The Social Network The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo adapted the screenplay — and Fincher admits he was conscious of ensuring the author was comfortable with the direction of the film.
“You’re talking about Gil taking 500 pages, and throwing 280 away,” he says. “That’s a big ask. So I wanted her to be happy. I felt this way about Aaron Sorkin ( The Social Network), I felt this way about Andrew Walker ( Se7en), I felt this way about Robert Graysmith and James Vanderbilt ( Zodiac). I always want the writer to be happy; I want them to be proud. I don’t want them to feel like they have to disown it.”
Fincher says Flynn intrinsically understood the fundamentals of film adaptation.
“Just throwing pages away is not the key to being a good screenwriter. It’s thinking how to use moments of described thought in the book and adapting it to dramatisable behaviour,” he says. “The book is a ‘ he said/she said’. But you can’t have two subjective points of view in a movie. The audience has to have an access point.”
Affleck, the two-time Oscar winner (best original screenplay for Good Will Hunting in 1997; and as producer on best picture winner Argo in 2012), is one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars. His pulling power has few equals. Surely, however, there was something else — some unseen intuition — in Affleck that attracted Fincher?
The director smiles. “Just because it’s great casting doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.”
Affleck plays Nick Dunne, a journalist who falls in love with city girl Amy. They marry and when Nick loses his job, the couple moves from Amy’s home city of New York to her husband’s small home town in Missouri, to be nearer his family. It’s there the pair’s marriage begins to slide. When Amy inexplicably goes missing one morning, the tide of public opinion, aided by the 24-hour news cycle, turns violently against him.
“Ben was perfect for the role,” Fincher says. “And he, more than anyone else, knows what it’s like to be in the woodchipper of the public eye. I think for me, I was most interested by how crazy smart he is, and how willing he was — if you gave him the frame and then talked about how you were going to use it — to subject himself to a kind of humiliation that only he understood.”
For weeks now in the US, the as yet unreleased film, produced by Reese Witherspoon’s company Pacific Standards, has been courting Oscar speculation. Fincher, nominated for best director on Benjamin Button and The Social Network, is yet to get his hands on an Academy Award. He was a firm favourite for The Social Network in 2011, but was pipped at the post by Tom Hooper for The King’s Speech.
Yet that hasn’t affected his fanbase, which has been growing steadily since Se7en burst on to the scene in 1995, and he seems to enjoy — or at least not to object to — his role as Hollywood’s bad-boy auteur. The director admits that he may not be the easiest filmmaker to work with. And his legendary proclivity for multiple takes has caused tension in the past.
Robert Downey Jr, who starred in Zodiac, said working with Fincher was like being in a gulag. Jake Gyllenhaal, on the same film, expressed psychological exasperation with the director’s constant reshooting and deleting of scenes. “He paints with people,” Gyllenhaal said at the time. “It’s tough to be a colour.”
Fincher shrugs. “Generally, I don’t think it’s acceptable for anyone to say ‘Well, we tried ...’,” he says. “My feeling is this: I’ll give an actor 75 bites at the (cherry). It’s important for actors to get beyond muscle memory. When you’ve thrown the jacket on the couch for the hundredth time, it’s like you live there now. You’re not acting any more. That’s what I want. That’s what the audience deserves when they pay 15 bucks to sit in the dark for an hour and a half.”
Fincher is arguably one of the most technically adept working directors in Hollywood, a legacy of his lifelong interest in the minutiae of the moviemaking business.
“I have always been really committed to the idea of being on set and watching how shit went down,” he says. “Over the years, I saw a lot of directors get rope-a-doped; spun by ‘experts’ hired by the studios. I vowed never to let that happen. I want to know what every motherf..ker in the room does.”
DAVID Fincher began making