Net­flix’s ‘Mind hunter’ cuts to heart of mur­der­ers

Crime drama also mines ‘broth­er­hood’

USA TODAY International Edition - - LIFE - Pa­trick Ryan

NEW YORK Work­ing on a show about serial killers, it’s only nat­u­ral that you might get a bit para­noid.

While shoot­ing Net­flix’s Mind hunter in Pitts­burgh, “I would go run­ning by the river be­fore the sun came up, and it would cross my mind, ‘Wow, some­one could just pull over right now and kill me,’ ” says ac­tor Jonathan Groff, wide-eyed. “It forced me to turn on my lo­ca­tion set­tings on my phone,” and later, “call my brother and tell him that he needs se­cu­rity cam­eras on his house.”

In the slow-burn­ing 1970s crime drama (stream­ing Fri­day), Groff co-stars with Holt McCal­lany as FBI agents Holden Ford and Bill Tench, who work in the agency’s be­hav­ioral sci­ence unit. Faced with a new wave of serial killers who rape, mur­der and mu­ti­late vic­tims, seem­ingly at ran­dom, the de­tec­tives take it upon them­selves to make unau­tho­rized prison vis­its and in­ter­view crim­i­nals in an ef­fort to bet­ter un­der­stand them.

Mind hunter is based in part on former FBI agent John Dou­glas and Mark Ol­shaker’s 1996 non­fic­tion book. The se­ries is ex­ec­u­tive-pro­duced by Char­l­ize Theron and Gone Girl film­maker David Fincher, who di­rected four episodes and worked with McCal­lany on Fight Club and Alien 3.

Hav­ing played mi­nor roles in those movies, “what was so ex­cit­ing (about re­unit­ing with Fincher)

was com­ing back as a ma­jor char­ac­ter,” says McCal­lany, 54. “Bill is a re­ally com­plex, some­times trou­bled guy,” al­though his part­ner­ship with Holden echoes The Odd Cou­ple and Lau­rel and Hardy, he says.

“There’s a sense of hu­mor and a broth­er­hood that gets more com­pli­cated as the sea­son goes along,” adds Groff, 32, who starred in Hamil­ton and voiced Kristoff in Frozen. “They both learn a lot from each other and need each other, and are put in the most ex­tra­or­di­nary ex­pe­ri­ences to­gether.”

Mind hunter’s first sea­son tracks the devel­op­ment of crim­i­nal pro­fil­ing, a se­ries of tech­niques used to help nar­row a list of sus­pects based on the crime, how it was com­mit­ted and any dis­cernible mo­tive. Ford and Tench, both fic­tional char­ac­ters, de­velop “pro­files” of real-life serial killers start­ing with Ed­mund Kem­per (Cameron Brit­ton), a necrophil­iac who butchered his vic­tims. Over the course of sev­eral in­ter­views, he freely shares de­tails of his child­hood liv­ing with an abu­sive mother and killing fam­ily cats — red flags that can pre­dict mur­der­ous ten­den­cies at an early age, Dou­glas found.

Sit­ting in jail cells lis­ten­ing to ac­tors re­count their char­ac­ters’ child­hood trau­mas, “there are cer­tain themes that ap­pear, and cer­tain dots you can con­nect,” Groff says. “(Our char­ac­ters are) just in the dark shoot­ing from the hip, fig­ur­ing ev­ery­thing out as we go along. I didn’t know any­thing about serial killers be­fore we started this, so it was a com­plete ed­u­ca­tion for me.”

As for if all that brain-pick­ing has helped Groff em­pathize with crim­i­nals, “It’s so com­pli­cated,” he says. “That’s one of the themes: What’s wrong with com­pli­cated? The show does a great job of ask­ing a lot of ques­tions with­out giv­ing a lot of an­swers.”

ROBERT DEUTSCH, USA TO­DAY

Jonathan Groff , left and Holt McCal­lany star in Net­flix’s Mind­hunter, which fol­lows two FBI agents in the 1970s try­ing to bet­ter un­der­stand serial killers and rapists.

PHO­TOS BY PA­TRICK HARBRON, NET­FLIX

FBI agent Bill Tench (McCal­lany) and psy­chol­o­gist Wendy (Anna Torv) try to get in­side the mind of psy­chopaths.

Groff’s role as FBI Agent Holden Ford “was a com­plete ed­u­ca­tion for me.”

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