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How Netflix's 'Mindhunter' disturbingly delves into the minds of serial killers

Holt McCallany talks to Metro about its depressing timeliness and reuniting with the legendary David Fincher.
Holt McCallany and Jonathan Groff in Mindhunter
[Image: Netflix]

The Las Vegas massacre was a harrowing reminder of the unspeakable depths that a human being can sink to. What’s most alarming, though, is that we still don’t know exactly what sparked Stephen Paddock to commit his atrocity.

While Netflix’s latest drama “Mindhunter” focuses on serial, rather than spree, killers, its exhaustive adaptation of John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker’s “Mind Hunter: Inside The FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit” still feels particularly timely and compelling in the wake of another US shooting. This timeliness was more than apparent to its lead star Holt McCallany, who plays Bill Tench, a special agent in the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit. I spoke to the actor about “Mindhunter” just a couple of days after the Las Vegas tragedy.

“This is what our show is all about. It’s about trying to understand the motivations of the men that commit these heinous crimes. And I say men, because 99% of them are males. And what exactly are the psychological underpinnings of that. In our show we are talking sexually motivated homicides. The idea is that no-one lives a perfectly reasonable life until they are 30 years old and then goes out and starts murdering people.”

“There are warning signs. There’s a whole evolution, there are earlier crimes, and it is identifying what these warning signs are. Like a kid that tortures pets, kills the family cat, or a kid that’s constantly setting fires, bed-wetting, a serial arsonist. It usually starts with an abusive mother, who abuses their son. An absent or alcoholic father. There are certain commonalities that you can identify and it’s understanding what those are that can lead you to try to understand how a guy gets to be what these guys eventually become.”

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Holt McCallany had much more to say on “Mindhunter”, and you can read highlights from our recent discussion below.

On the origins of “Mindhunter” ...

“Our series, our story begins in 79. But Mindhunter was actually written after John Douglas had left the FBI, in 1995 … This is the first of serial killer profiling. Our show is set a couple of years after Hoover died, and he ran the FBI with an iron fist, and it was an incredibly conservative agency. Trying to emphasise with the criminals, and trying to figure out the traumas that led them to commit these terrible crimes was not something that Hoover thought was a practical use of an agent’s time. It wasn’t until Hoover was gone that the agents started thinking, ‘Wait a minute. If we understand these killers maybe it will help us catch them more easily.” Also in the 60s we saw a spate of violent crimes committed against strangers. We’re also talking about straight white males committing crime against women, that’s the majority of it. It’s such a vast subject. There’s so much to try and understand, and you could spend your entire life trying to understand the sexual underpinnings of these predators. There are so many cases, many of which we explore in the show.”

On working with David Fincher ...

I have a long relationship with David. I have worked with David on and off for 25 years. I was in David’s first film, a film called “Alien 3”. Then I was in “Fight Club”, and so I was invited back for “Mindhunter”. It was a great honor and opportunity for me, because I don’t think that there’s any doubt that David is one of the great directors of his generation. I believe he will be remembered as one of the greatest of all time. Obviously he has an interest in this subject, and knows this kind of material very well. We couldn’t possibly be in better hands.”

On the challenging shoot ...

We had a very challenging schedule. It was a 10-month shoot, and most of the time we’re working six day shoots. It’s very long hours, and David is a very meticulous guy. He’s not very tolerant of mistakes, and why should he be. You had to make sure that you brought your A-game, and you were as prepared as you possibly could be, because you have the privilege of working on a great part for a great director. As the months go on the fatigue starts to set in. When you’re a lead on a TV show you have to pace yourself, and remember that you really have to rest on your days off. Because acting is very difficult to do when you’re very tired, especially because our shoot was so challenging, too.

On “Mindhunter’s” impact on him ...

Some of my colleagues have said that they suddenly found themselves being scared when walking down dark alleyways. That didn’t happen to me. But when you really look under the hood, and look at the sheer brutality of these crimes, it is truly jaw-dropping. You just think to yourself, ‘Wow!’ Especially because a lot of these people did this by charming the pants off of their victims, and yet these people are guilty of unspeakable crimes. The juxtaposition of the true sociopath is just a very fascinating and horrific guide to study.

“Mindhunter’s” entire first season will debut on Netflix on Friday October 13. 

 
 
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