To­tally dif­fer­ent role

Jonathan Groff plays an FBI agent

Cape Breton Post - - Arts/Entertainment - BY JO­CE­LYN NOVECK

His TV fans know him as Pa­trick in HBO’s “Look­ing’’ and as Jesse St. James in “Glee.’’ His movie fans know him as the voice of Kristoff in “Frozen.’’ And his the­atre fans? They know him as the pouty, thor­oughly an­noyed King Ge­orge in “Hamil­ton.’’

This week, fans will see Jonathan Groff in an en­tirely new sort of role — as an FBI agent, try­ing to get into the mind of se­rial killers, in the new Net­flix se­ries “Mind­hunter.’’

The se­ries takes place in the ‘70s — think Son of Sam and Charles Manson — and is pro­duced, and di­rected in part, by David Fincher, who knows his way around a gritty crime story, hav­ing di­rected “Gone Girl’’ and “Zo­diac.’’

It’s based on the book “Mind­hunter: In­side the FBI’s Elite Se­rial Crime Unit’’ by John Dou­glas, who spent many years de­vel­op­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­fil­ing to probe the minds of the country’s worst killers.

Based on the early episodes, it will pull no punches: Some­body’s head gets blown off in the first, and in the sec­ond, a se­rial killer de­scribes truly un­speak­able (even for ca­ble) crimes.

“It’s not easy butcher­ing peo­ple,’’ the killer notes drily.

Groff’s char­ac­ter, Holden — based loosely on au­thor Dou­glas — is a fresh-faced new­comer to the FBI, and Fincher says the ac­tor’s nat­u­ral sense of cu­rios­ity was ideal.

“I met Jonathan when we were cast­ing for ‘The So­cial Net­work,’’’ Fincher said in an email mes­sage. “Part of what makes a great per­for­mance is there has to be an in­her­ent thing in the ac­tor that you know is al­ways un­der­neath the sur­face. In the case of Jonathan, (it’s) cu­rios­ity and de­cency. With Holden Ford, it’s a hunger to be bet­ter, a hunger to un­der­stand, and Jonathan nat­u­rally has that. He’s a great stu­dent.’’

Groff sat down re­cently to dis­cuss the part, and work­ing with Fincher (the in­ter­view has been edited for length).

A P: This char­ac­ter’s a de­par­ture for you. Had you ever won­dered what it was like to be in law en­force­ment?

Groff: No. Be­ing an ac­tor and artist feels like the op­po­site. We’re emo­tional, we’re ex­pres­sive, we’re em­pa­thetic, and play­ing some­one in law en­force­ment seems like the an­tithe­sis of that — which made it re­ally ex­cit­ing. Also the char­ac­ter of Holden is in­quis­i­tive, re­ally in­ter­ested in bring­ing psy­chol­ogy and so­ci­ol­ogy to law en­force­ment. He’s kind of the New Age FBI agent.

A P: You come from the­atre. What’s the dif­fer­ence in the two types of act­ing?

Groff: It’s true that in the­atre, you get adrenaline from the crowd, but I’ve found that on TV, par­tic­u­larly some­thing like “Mind­hunter,’’ there’s a level of adrenaline that hap­pens. When they say “ac­tion,’’ everyone’s re­ally quiet on the set . ... There isn’t a live au­di­ence, but my heart beats a lit­tle faster, and I get in­spired in that space between “ac­tion’’ and “cut.’’

A P: In the­atre, you can keep refin­ing your char­ac­ter. Can you do that in TV?

Groff: Yes, in the­atre, three months into it, I’ll think, “Oh no, this is what it’s about! If only I’d been think­ing about that dur­ing open­ing.’’ And then three months later I’m think­ing, “Oh, ac­tu­ally it was the first thing!’’ You’re al­ways refin­ing. With David, it’s much like the­atre. You’re al­ways soft­en­ing or sharp­en­ing the edges.

A P: That first in­ter­view with a se­rial killer in prison is bone-chill­ing.

Groff: It’s sort of the mo­ment ev­ery­thing comes into clar­i­fi­ca­tion. At one point, the killer asks, “Why are you so tense?’’ For two days of shoot­ing, I’d been fid­get­ing and do­ing var­i­ous things, and sud­denly David came over and said, “What if you don’t do any­thing?’’ It was ge­nius.

AP PHOTO

This im­age re­leased by Net­flix shows Jonathan Groff in a scene from the 10-episode se­ries, “Mind­hunter,” stream­ing on Net­flix start­ing to­day.

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