While Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane is not absolutely required viewing before seeing David Fincher’s Mank, there is nobody that would argue that the former doesn’t enhance the latter. Knowing more than just the plot synopsis for the 1941 classic allows for a greater appreciation for all of the details that Fincher bathes his film in (both in the story and aesthetically), and you simply leave the experience with a better understanding of what’s being said.
This in mind, it’s easy to believe that the entire cast of the Netflix movie did a Citizen Kane refresher before the start of production, but one actor who didn’t partake in that particular exercise and went a different path than her co-stars in preparation was Amanda Seyfried – who plays the key role of Marion Davis in Mank.
As captured in the video at the top of this article, I had the wonderful pleasure of interviewing Amanda Seyfried last month during the virtual press day for Mank, and my first question linked her part in the movie to Dorothy Comingore's Susan Alexander Kane in Citizen Kane. Given that Marion Davis was married to William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper magnate who served as great inspiration for the character Charles Foster Kane, I wondered if Seyfried used anything from Comingore’s performance to inform her own. As it turns out, the answer was “no” as a result of her not revisiting the Orson Welles film prior to production, which was a decision inspired by a particular superstition:
I did not because I'm very terrified of absorbing anything that might be unhelpful, especially when you're embodying somebody that really existed. So that was my first choice.
In Mank, one of the key conflicts that emerges in the story comes from the friendship between Gary Oldman’s Herman Mankiewicz and Amanda Seyfried’s Marion Davis. During the various flashbacks to the 1930s, Mank is anything but shy when it comes to demonstrating the contempt he has for William Randolph Hearst (played by Charles Dance), but his appreciation for Davis as a person is entirely genuine.
As alluded to earlier, the problems in their relationship stem from his work on the screenplay that is eventually brought to life as Citizen Kane. In the Oscar-winning film, Susan Alexander Kane is an aspiring opera singer whom Charles Foster Kane provides tremendous resources to further her career – but the problem is that she is not exceptionally talented, and the public perception is that she only gets opportunities because of her husband. Obviously this is something that doesn’t reflect well on Marion Davis well at all, though Herman Mankiewicz insists that the character isn’t based on her.
Reflecting on the relationship between the two characters and her discussions with David Fincher in the making of Mank, Amanda Seyfried told me that while there were clearly challenges in their friendship, she also felt it was ultimately strong enough to surmount suspicion. She explained,
I do believe that she wasn't offended by his... I think she was actually honored to have been portrayed in some way, to have been the inspiration behind something, because she's smart enough to know that she's not Susan Alexander and he doesn't see her like that.
The evolving and wonderful friendship between the two characters over the course of Mank is one of the many reasons why it is one of the best films of 2020 – and if you haven’t had the chance to see it on the big screen, your opportunity to watch it at home is coming up very soon. The Netflix film will be dropping on the streaming service this Friday, December 4, at midnight PST, so get ready to watch, and stay tuned here on CinemaBlend for more from my interviews with the movie’s cast!