Gary Oldman on “Mank”: “One of the Best Scripts I Had Read in a Long Time”
Herman J. Mankiewicz may have cowritten what is widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest American films of all time, Citizen Kane, but he struggled with his fair share of problems, mainly gambling and alcoholism. The sad reality of Mankiewicz’s troubled life was not lost on Gary Oldman, who portrays the title character in Mank, which has already garnered six nominations at the 78th Golden Globe Awards.
“He squandered what was obviously a great, great talent,” reflected the Oscar-winning actor in a virtual interview with Gold Derby.
It was so part of the culture, wasn’t it? The booze. Well, he obviously had a problem with gambling, but he also had a problem with alcohol. And I just see somewhat of a squandered life.
Before Mankiewicz’s addictions led other screenwriters to surpass him in achievement, he was undisputedly one of the brightest that Hollywood had to offer. His natural flair for creativity and eloquence was unparalleled and shone through in the dozens of scripts that he worked on without receiving any credit in return.
People would say, ‘This script needs a bit of a spark. We need to put some fairy dust on it. Run it over to Mank and put it through his typewriter; I’m sure he can come up with some good stuff.’
The one script that Mankiewicz was eventually proud enough of to want to put his name on was Citizen Kane, which Oldman hailed as “revolutionary” for its time. The 1941 feature film was cowritten with the then up-and-coming filmmaker Orson Welles, and the development of its screenplay is recounted in Mank, along with the turmoiled screenwriter’s suffering from his alcoholism. Mank is directed by David Fincher, whose late father, Jack Fincher, wrote the script. In an exclusive Q&A session presented by Variety and Netflix, Oldman revealed that he and Fincher were long-time friends, so while he had always wanted to work with the director, he thought that that window of opportunity had long passed. When news of the biographical drama reached him, he was pleasantly surprised.
That’s the incredible thing about this thing that we do. […] One day [the gig] isn’t there and the next day it is.
Sometimes working with a friend doesn’t go well. But for Mank‘s lead actor and director, Fincher’s dedication to perfecting the film put Oldman’s worries to rest. He remembered how particular Fincher was, especially since the film comprised many deep shots to bring viewers into the 1930s.
He wants [the actors] in front of the camera, working and acting. He doesn’t want you sitting in a trailer. You begin the day early: Sometimes, we were rehearsing at 5:45 a.m., 6 a.m.. You really go in and work; he doesn’t settle. He will work on a scene, and at least at the end of the day, you come away and think, ‘Wow, we really worked that scene. We got it.’
David isn’t the only Fincher whom Oldman had high praise for. Since the film was about “a life that had been lived,” as Oldman described it, the screenwriter had to nail down all the finest details about the subject’s life with realism and accuracy while providing the actor with enough of a “psychological map” to deliver a compelling portrayal of Mankiewicz’s path to self-destruction.
Any kind of work or research or homework, whatever you were reading outside of the script, for me anyway, it matched up with whatever I was reading on the page. And I thought, ‘Yeah, wow, yeah, he’s really captured that spirit of the man.’
The shocking part about Jack Fincher is that he originally wrote Mank‘s script in the 1990s but never got the project off the ground before his death in 2003. His son spent nearly 30 years turning his father’s vision into fruition. It seems, almost, that the Finchers have channeled a bit of their inner Mankiewiczian brilliance to produce a poignant film about the man himself.
“[The script] wasn’t fully baked by the time it got to me, but it had been in the kitchen for a while, let’s put it that way,” Gary Oldman gushed with admiration and respect. “It was one of the best scripts that I had read in a very long time.”
Mank is currently streaming on Netflix.