By DAVID M. HALBFINGER
DAVID FINCHER, impolitic as ever, is ridiculing the notes he’s been getting from the studio executives overseeing his latest film, “Zodiac.”
“‘It’s easy to get lost in all the details,” he intones, reading their critique of one scene from his laptop. “ ‘Are there any trims you could make here to cut down on the information and focus it even more’ ” on two main characters?
“I love this,” Mr. Fincher says, leaving no doubt as to his sarcasm. “It’s this weird shell game where they go, ‘Can you focus it more on the people by making it be less of them?’ And of course what it really gets down to is that they want me to audition their cuts to them.”
But he won’t. Instead, he says, “you just rope-a-dope.”
That same uncompromising attitude extended to his relationship with the cast, led by Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr. and Jake Gyllenhaal, who endured multiple takes of 70 shots and beyond. Mr. Downey affectionately called him a disciplinarian, while Mr. Gyllenhaal, saying that as a director he “paints with people,” added, “It’s tough to be a color.”
At 44, Mr. Fincher remains Hollywood’s reigning bad-boy auteur, and his impatience with meddling has become as famous as his tendency to test his actors’ patience, stamina and preparation. But not as famous as his films, the most celebrated among them “Se7en,” the 1995 thriller that grossed $350 million worldwide, and “Fight Club,” his over-the-top answer to young male anomie.
“People ask me, ‘When are you going to make your ‘Amarcord?’ ” Mr. Fincher added, with a little laugh at the comparison to Fellini’s autobiographical tour-de-force. For now, he said, “It’ll have to be ‘Zodiac.’ ”
For Jake Gyllenhaal, who stars in the movie as Mr. Graysmith, Mr. Fincher’s attentiveness was a mixed blessing.
Mr. Gyllenhaal said he came from a collaborative filmmaking family: “We share ideas, and we incorporate those ideas.” He added: “David knows what he wants, and he’s very clear about what he wants, and he’s very, very, very smart. But sometimes we’d do a lot of takes, and he’d turn, and he would say, because he had a computer there” — the movie was shot digitally — “ ‘Delete the last 10 takes.’ And as an actor that’s very hard to hear.”
Mr. Gyllenhaal, 26, partly blamed culture shock; he’d just finished “Jarhead” for Sam Mendes, who gave him a much freer rein. Mr. Gyllenhaal stressed that he admired and liked Mr. Fincher personally. And he noted that other members of the “Zodiac” cast had far more experience, adding: “I wish I could’ve had the maturity to be like: ‘I know what he wants. He wants the best out of me.’”
That said, Mr. Gyllenhaal spoke candidly about his frustration with Mr. Fincher’s degree of control over his performance.
Told of Mr. Gyllenhaal’s comments, Mr. Fincher half-jokingly said, “I hate earnestness in performance,” adding, “Usually by Take 17 the earnestness is gone.” But half-joking aside, he said that collaboration “has to come from a place of deep knowledge.” While he had no objections to having fun, he said, “When you go to your job, is it supposed to be fun, or are you supposed to get stuff done?”
He later called back and said he “adored the cast” of “Zodiac” and felt “lucky to have them all,” but was “totally shocked” by Mr. Gyllenhaal’s remark about reshoots.
Robert Downey Jr., impeccably cast as a crime reporter driven to drink, drugs and dissolution, called Mr. Fincher a disciplinarian and agreed that, as is often said, “he’s always the smartest guy in the room.”
Mr. Ruffalo too survived some 70-take shots. He said Mr. Fincher was equally demanding of everyone — executives, actors, himself. “He knows he’s taking a stab at eternity,” Mr. Ruffalo said.”
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