a manda Seyfried has racked up a wide assortment of credits during her two decades in the business — from crowd-pleasers like 2004’s Mean Girls and 2008’s Mamma Mia!to award winners like 2012’s Les Misérables and 2018’s First Reformed, not to mention four seasons on HBO’s Big Love. The 35-year-old is now garnering the best reviews of her career, and supporting actress Oscar buzz, for her portrayal of actress Marion Davies opposite Gary Oldman’s Herman Mankiewicz in David Fincher’s Mank.
Where were you born and raised and what did yourfolks do for a living? I was born and raised in Allentown, Pennsylvania. My father is a pharmacist, and my mother was an occupational therapist. Before acting, you were modeling. You’ve gotto picture a 10-year-old wanting to be Cindy Crawford. I didn’t know whatthat meant.
I just knew it seemed very glamorous and fun and people made you look nice and you gotto wear pretty clothes. I also did local theater. New York was only really an hour and 45 minutes from Allentown on a bus, so I ended up being thrown into audition rooms. You appeared in soaps during high school. Then you graduated and were aboutto start at Fordham when — I got fired from All My Children. I auditioned for Mean Girls within weeks of that firing.
And just when I was about to start at Fordham, I got Mean Girls. It was yourfirst movie, and it must have feltlike a very big deal. It was epic. My expectations have been low my entire life, for good reason: I don’t want to be disappointed. In December, just after finishing Mean Girls, I turned 18. And in January, my boyfriend at the time and I drove out to L.A. That week, I got Big Love and Veronica Mars. No one had seen Mean Girls yet, so that felt really good. Mamma Mia! was obviously the game-changer. They weren’t really looking for star power — they already had Meryl Streep, ABBA and the business behind the show. I think my casting had to have been based on work ethic or something, or being able to trust me, because Playtone — Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman’s company — produced it, and Big Love was their baby. The movie did really well. How did yourlife change? More people stopping me on the street. More press. More opportunities. More parties. Just more of the Hollywood thing. And I definitely got more opportunities in movies.
People knew who I was. I got a big beauty campaign. I started being more financially secure. I was starting to feel like a true adult. The next year, you were in Karyn Kusama’s horror-comedy Jennifer’s Body and played a call girl in Atom Egoyan’s Chloe, quite a bit differentfrom Mamma Mia! It was about getting out of my comfort zone, playing people that I didn’t relate to as well. It was just a departure. And Atom Egoyan? Oh God, it was the first time I ever felt like I was a real collaborator, that I was a peer. This was followed by several studio films. With Red Riding Hood, Leonardo DiCaprio’s producing it, Catherine Hardwicke’s directing it, it’s a big, huge Warner Bros. movie, and I’m offered the lead and don’t have to audition for it. You had me at Leonardo DiCaprio.
Letters to Juliet? That was my first big paycheck, plus it was with Vanessa Redgrave, produced by a lot of cool people, and I got to go to Italy. It was scary because that was the first time I was number one on the call sheet. Before that was DearJohn, and I wanted that because The Notebook was such a huge thing for Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams — plus it was a sweeping romance, and I love sweeping romances. Tom Hooper asked you to sing again in Les Misérables — this time in close-up, live and alongside such people as Hugh Jackman. That was really stressful. I have to preface this by saying that I auditioned six times for it. I was told “no” right off the bat by the casting director — my agent was told that — and I said, “Trust me, I am Cosette. I can do this.” And luckily, I got it. But I can’t even watch it because I sound so shrilly and weak. I went back into training with a voice coach in August of 2011, and we started shooting I think the beginning of 2012. It just wasn’t enough time. Overthe pastfew years you’ve been busy starting a family, but you found time for Paul Schrader’s First Reformed and another Mamma Mia! in 2018. And then Fincher called. I was at Penn Station getting the train and my agent calls and says, “David Fincher’s doing a movie called Mank about Herman Mankiewicz.” And I was like, “That’s great.” And she says, “They’re asking about your availability.” And I was like, “He knows me?!” And I cried. It was a very teary train ride. It seemed like the possibility came out of nowhere, and I couldn’t have felt more passion for something I didn’t know anything about because it was him and because, again, no expectations. But you hear that and you can’t help but think, “What would that mean for me? That would mean that somebody I truly have looked up to as a master for so long would allow me to enter his world.” To be even considered for something like this was a big deal. What was yourfamiliarity with Marion atthat point? I’d heard of Marion. I’d seen Citizen Kane when I was in my early 20s, getting into films, educating myself. I didn’t know who Herman Mankiewicz was. I knew the name Mankiewicz because Josh Mankiewicz [Herman’s grandson] is one of the Dateline anchors, and we watch all the Datelines in this household — there’s not one we haven’t seen. Marion was generally described as a pretty, young actress but didn’t getthe opportunity orrespect she wanted and deserved. Have you feltlike that? From the movies that I saw, she was effervescent, the girl you wanted to know more about. And she was hilarious. She reminded me of [Mean Girls’] Karen — you have to be smart in order to play somebody like that. The thing that I related to most about Marion was that she’s brutally honest, and I too cannot tell a lie. Fincher wanted Mank to look like it came outin the same period as Citizen Kane and to be performed like a movie from that period. I actually thought I was way too modern to play Marion. My biggest fear was that I wasn’t going to fit into this world. I’ve been skating through my career trying to be as natural as possible, as realistic as possible, trying to find the honesty in everything. Fincheris famous for shooting dozens oftakes. I got to a point at times where I was like, “I really don’t know what else I can do. I hate myself now.” But that doesn’t stop you or him. Of course I got tired. Everybody would get tired. But to know my lines that well, and to really feel like I’m sitting comfortably into this role? Here, we just didn’t ever run out of time. It was maybe eight days altogether that we shot the scene where the audience meets Marion and [William Randolph] Hearst and L.B. [Mayer] and [Irving] Thalberg. The response to your performance has been tremendous. What’s next? My next move is going to be the most deliberate move I’ve ever made. I’m really hoping that I’m considered first or second for things that I never was considered for before. There are directors I’ve been dying to work with for years and never got the opportunity because they have their favorite collection of actresses. But now I’m that much closer to being in the handful, and I feel like I’m in David’s handful now. I don’t want to work all the time, but when I work I want it to be fucking good. I want to work with a director who knows exactly what they want and I never have to worry about anything but my performance.