Tale of Zodiac killer consuming: author



Mark Ruffalo stars in Zodiac, which opens in theatres today.


Zodiac isn’t a movie about a serial killer. It’s about obsession — and the slowly consuming fall into it.


Nearly 40 years ago, mysterious murders sprang up in and around the San Francisco area and, behind them, an even more mysterious man who called himself Zodiac. He taunted the police and press alike through handwritten letters and encrypted messages in code, some of which have never been deciphered, and claimed the bloodied bodies as his own.

The terrifying-but-tantalizing killer seized the public eye and ensnared the lives of three men — a reporter, a cop and a cartoonist, all of whom suffer when they became consumed by the case.

These are the pillar characters of Zodiac, David Fincher’s latest film and one that would have never been made if it wasn’t for Robert Graysmith.

Graysmith was the San Francisco Chronicle’s cartoonist who took the case into his own hands, producing two thick volumes on the killer after interviewing witnesses and compiling an enormous wealth of police reports.

“Anybody could get into this case, there’s something about it,” he says. “There’s so many clues ... it’s so tantalizing.”

But while Graysmith worked on the books — which he hoped would engage the public in the search for the killer — his marriage was falling apart.

Zodiac is about obsession and how it consumed the lives of three men, including a reporter played by Robert Downey Jr. Mark Ruffalo took the role of homicide inspector David Toschi and calls the film “the perfect snake eating its own tail.”

“It’s the perfect snake eating its own tail,” says actor Mark Ruffalo, who took the role of homicide inspector David Toschi, the cop whose career crumbles around him. Ruffalo visited San Francisco to spend a few days with Toschi himself, calling his research for the role as “the most procedural work I’ve ever done. I feel like I owe it to (Toschi) to be as honest about who he really was — what it cost him and what he went through — as I can,” Ruffalo says.

“This was a career-defining moment for him. And when it all blew up in his face, it destroyed him.”

Perhaps ironically, “obsessed” was a word that surfaced again and again about the filmmaking process itself.

Absolute accuracy meant interviewing witnesses and surviving victims, researching police reports, filming at real locations and creating sets right down to the same brand of pencils in the drawers. Oak trees were flown in by helicopter for one murder scene by a lake — simply because reports detailed that the killer hid behind them for a few moments. And whenever personal accounts conflicted, the script stuck with official police reports.

“We had the resources, we had the people, we had the technology,” Ruffalo says. “We probably came closer to solving this case than anybody else.”

  • Zodiac opens today.