Blood, lies and murder: David Fincher, takes on marriage in Gone Girl
Blood, lies and murder: this is what happens when the director of Seven, David Fincher, takes on marriage in Gone Girl. Interview by Nev Pierce.
Gone Girl is a thriller about a mystery, a murder and a marriage. At its heart Ben Affleck gives his best ever performance – frayed, angry and unflattering, as a rundown former journalist suspected of killing his wife (Rosamund Pike). It’s his first time working with Fight Club director David Fincher, a man renowned for his dark humour and desire to push actors to deliver their best, through repeated takes. ‘I pride myself on being the last man standing,” says Affleck. ‘With Fincher it’s like, “How about second to last?” I find myself being like, “Dave, it doesn’t matter if what laundry’s inside the washing machine if we never see inside the washing machine!” But it’s just a great lesson. Some people go like “Aw God, you did so many takes!” I love it. It’s a great luxury as an actor, because you just get so many bites at the apple. You get more shots to find your best version of it. That’s a great advantage for an actor, I think.’
Fincher cast Affleck for his affability and also the enjoyment to be had in seeing him put under strain on screen – how a character who tries to glide through life is slowly undone. ‘It’s the story of Nick Dunne,’ says the 52-year-old director. ‘A guy who may have been a Homecoming King, may have been a frat boy, and may have once been, you know, Mr Charming. He’s moved back to his hometown in Missouri and brought his beautiful bride with him. And she disappears on the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary. We learn about her and about their marriage through an investigation into him – and flashbacks in a diary that she kept unbeknownst to him. It’s very much about how the same circumstances can be seen by two different combatants.’
Based on Gillian Flynn’s international bestseller, Gone Girl was also scripted by the author, who had always dreamed of Fincher being the one to direct it. She was also thrilled to see Affleck cast. ‘Ben was someone from the very beginning that I had thought of,’ says Flynn. ‘I just thought he had the right qualities. I thought he could do that kind of aloof smugness that Nick needs to be able to have and again, also, he’s just so like someone you know. I felt like we all have that guy friend that we just call up whenever we wanna go out and have fun. I thought that he would be able to do both of those really well. And I remember when David first mentioned Rosamund to me I thought, that’s very cool and interesting. I like the fact that she isn’t this known quantity in Hollywood. We don’t know her back story. She’s not known for playing a certain type necessarily. And that she would be able to come to the role without any audience baggage attached to her.’
Affleck’s baggage, in contrast, worked very well for the part. He is someone who has known the strain of celebrity and knows first-hand – as his character discovers – just how the media can torment someone. But that was only part of what interested him – he was also compelled by the way the material deals with relationships. ‘Ultimately one of the most strong threads in the book is this theme of what it means to be married, what it means to be in a serious relationship, what we give up of ourselves, what we turn into ultimately – and do we recognise that? It asks some really tough questions and it’s very provocative and prickly and will, I think, elicit a lot of different reactions, because it almost asks, at some points, is marriage fraudulent? Are you always lying, in a sense, if you’re in a marriage?’ Deception, media, violence: Gone Girl grips and entertains, but it’s probably going to provoke a few awkward post-movie conversations too. As the director himself says, ‘I wanted to make a date movie that could cause divorces!’ And he has succeeded. Gone Girl is in cinemas across Dubai from October 16.
Ben Affleck talks Nick Dunne
How did get you get involved in Gone Girl?
David Fincher had another movie but he was considering switching to doing this and I knew that if he did, he was interested in talking to me. The idea of working with him was really exciting – so I hoped the other movie would fall apart!
What was your first chat like? We met at a café and talked about the book. One of the nice things about David is that he’s so smart and so verbal and so well-versed in the history and life of movies that any time conversations can just flow off in any direction, if that’s what you’re interested in, and it’s often really informative and interesting and insightful. The conversation was sort of like that, as I remember it, talking a little bit about movies and about what both of us liked and me telling him what I liked about his movies, which is a great deal. Right away it became clear to me how smart he was and just how excited I was to get the chance to work with him.
It’s hard to describe the story without revealing too much – how do you do it? A lot of people have read the book, and if they’ve read the book they don’t ask me any questions, the first thing I get is, ‘Oh, I read that book - you know what they need to do?!’ and immediately they have some negative reaction, one character they think was treated unfairly… People tend to really take sides in this book in an interesting way. If they haven’t read the book, I say, ‘It’s a movie about a guy whose wife disappears and he becomes the subject of an investigation and people become ever more suspicious of him... and it twists and turns from there’.
You delayed directing your own movie to do this – that can’t have been an easy decision… No, it was scary. But I’ve learned the lesson that it’s all about directors, it really is. There’s no substitute for a great director when you’re an actor. I guess the fear is that my movie will go away, but the people at Warner Bros seem to want the movie, so from what I can tell I’m still in good shape!
Rosamund Pike talks Amy Dunne
Why was David Fincher the right man for Gone Girl?
It was such a good book for David to adapt because it has a sort of social commentary on top of a thriller. There’s a thorniness to it. When I saw it, I thought “Oh my God: there is no human kindness anywhere!” We were talking about it to Carrie Coone, who plays Go [the sister of Affleck’s character] and she said, “Every morning I read the New York Times I think I shift my camp a bit closer to David’s”. Which is, you know, human beings are quite unkind…
The film touches on tragedy being celebrated, or victims/accused being close to celebrities… It’s a social satire in some respect. This sort of tragedy vampire tendency that we’re seeing everywhere: people who feed on other people’s pain. You know, the talk shows that deal with horrific family emotional drama and the way missing people become so celebrated. I don’t know how many people are gonna watch the film and think, “God, if I went missing, what would be, what would people do?” It’s odd, because I was filming in Missouri with people wearing these T-shirts with my face on them, with ‘missing’. It was a very surreal experience.
The film deals with perception and reality – what was your perception of Ben before shooting? I met Ben a few years ago and then life changes and he’s sort of risen and he kind of rules Hollywood now. He’s suddenly one of the kings. He has that confidence of somebody who has been celebrated amongst his peers. And it’s a very attractive quality, because it makes someone feel that they’ve earned it. They’ve paid their dues and they’ve earned their favour and they’re having the time of their life at the moment.
He seems like a genuine bloke. I thought his Oscar speech was really incredible. Especially as awards ceremonies can have very un-entertaining speeches. So I think when you really say something it’s rather wonderful. It was moving.