Amanda Seyfried (“Mank”) and Vanessa Kirby (“Pieces of a Woman”) sat down for a virtual chat for Variety‘s Actors on Actors, presented by Amazon Studios. For more, click here.
Vanessa Kirby, who played Princess Margaret on the first two seasons of Netflix’s “The Crown,” has returned to the streaming service in the acquisition “Pieces of a Woman.” In the Kornél Mundruczó film, Kirby plays Martha, whose home birth ends in tragedy, upending her life. The birth scene, early in the movie, is a harrowing 24-minute single take, based on the experience of “Pieces of a Woman” screenwriter Kata Wéber (and her partner, Mundruczó). For Amanda Seyfried, whose first film role was Karen in “Mean Girls,” David Fincher’s “Mank” (also on Netflix) was “a dream come true, actually.” In “Mank,” Seyfried’s Marion Davies forges a warm bond with Gary Oldman’s Herman Mankiewicz — but that won’t stop him from betraying her as he writes “Citizen Kane.”
Vanessa Kirby: So did you do loads of Marion Davies research? Did you watch all her stuff? Because it’s weird playing a real person, isn’t it?
Amanda Seyfried: You had incredible scripts, working in “The Crown” — I can’t imagine playing that role. The writing was incredible, and I had the same quality of writing in this. I’m getting a lot from the writing, of course, and that’s where you start. Then I just had to watch a lot of her movies, to feel her — to feel like I’m in the room with her a little more. There was an autobiography that is hilarious, taken from memories. She had been interviewed much later in life, about a decade before she died, and it was just her recalling her life, which is amazing. She clearly had a good time.
You collect all these things, as much as you can find. And then you’re like, “Let’s pull the essence out of it.”
How much time did you have with all these scenes?
Kirby: For example, with the birth, we knew that we only had two days to maybe try and remotely even get it right. And we knew we all wanted to do one continuous take.
Seyfried: You had two days to shoot a 30-minute continuous take of a birth, which felt the realest I’ve ever seen? I feel like I’ve given birth in a couple movies — it is impossible to make that feel real, look real, anything. It’s so hard to do, and you nailed it. How? I want to know how.
Kirby: I think mainly massive amounts of fear, because when I read it, I realized that we see so many deaths on-screen — we so rarely see a full birth, and that’s so weird. I guess maybe because we haven’t had as many female writers, and here was Kata talking about her experience and her personal loss, as well as having given birth herself. That felt really important. I just thought, “Oh, my God, I can’t get this wrong because I don’t want to get it wrong for women.” I haven’t given birth, so that fear of needing to get it right and not knowing how to do it meant that I had to basically do everything that I could to try and understand what it’s like to do.
We had a day’s rehearsal, where we worked out the different “OK, so we’ll be in the kitchen to begin with, and then we’ll go to the sitting room. And then we’ll go to maybe the bath,” and sort of mapped it out. But we didn’t really rehearse it, and then we just had two days to try and hope for the best, really. And we did four takes the first day, two the second. I think we used the fourth take in the movie.
Seyfried: I’m fascinated. Every birth is very, very different. Before I gave birth the first time, I was watching videos all the time. I wanted to see what it was like.
Kirby: About Gary, how was it to work with him?
Seyfried: Gary Oldman is just as present as anybody can be, playing a person who is so vastly different than Gary in a lot of ways. Gary is as funny, I think, as Herman Mankiewicz. And we — myself, Amanda, and Gary — relate to each other very similarly to the Mank and Marion relationship. So that was so easy to —
Kirby: I could feel that chemistry. It felt so real between you both.
Seyfried: Yeah, you can feel us. It’s not just David Fincher, and Gary Oldman being an incredible actor. We were building on something that was already there. Gary is the perfect person to work with, because he’s not precious. If he’s feeling insecure or frustrated, or he can’t remember a line, or whatever it is that frustrates the hell out of people, it goes in and it goes out. You don’t have to touch him with kid gloves or walk on eggshells around him. He just moves on from the moment and just stays present, and it’s really amazing.
Kirby: So you knew it was black and white, presumably, and so was there any difference in filming that?
Seyfried: I would forget. I would walk off set and catch a glimpse of the monitor — it’s all in black and white, because David Fincher shot it in black and white. There was no color version of this movie, or at least not yet.
And it didn’t feel like there was anything to enhance for the sake of a black-and-white movie. I’m sure it factored more into the thinking of Trish Summerville, who did the costumes. A journalist said, “Tell me about that gold dress.” And I was like, “You don’t know it’s gold.”
Kirby: Was it?
Seyfried: It wasn’t. It was mercury. But it’s just, you forget when you’re watching a black-and-white movie that it’s black and white. It’s just as rich as color.
The last movie you did was “Pieces of a Woman,” and now you’re doing “Mission: Impossible 7,” right? There’s no other movie between?
Kirby: No, no. Just the pandemic.
Seyfried: What is it like being on set where you have all those COVID protocols?
Kirby: It’s a lot of protocols. I mean, my sister’s an AD, which I’ve loved. It’s been so amazing to just be on the set with everybody, and be with the crew, and be part of a team. I’ll never take a second of it for granted, I don’t think.
Seyfried: But do you still feel social connection?
Kirby: Yes, kind of. It’s obviously not the same, because you can’t see everybody behind the masks. But it becomes normalized so quickly. I guess like everything in the world right now, you just adjust day by day and surrender to it all, really. And so honestly, I think the feeling on set is the fact that we’re even making a film is amazing. So really, that’s my shit answer for that.
I’ve loved you so much since “Mean Girls.” It’s so iconic. And you’re so funny, and you can do everything.
Seyfried: I want to get back to Karen, is really what I want. I want to get back to Karen.
Kirby: I think everyone wants you to get back to Karen.