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David Fincher’s Longtime Casting Director Breaks Down Helmer’s Approach: “He Wants to Be Surprised”

The Hollywood Reporter logo The Hollywood Reporter 1/24/2021 Maya Tribbitt

When he came back for his first feature film in a half-decade, Mank, David Fincher brought his trusted casting director Laray Mayfield into the fold. Over the past few decades, Mayfield has cast nearly all of the features (and even Fincher’s foray into television, Netflix’s Mindhunter) that make up Fincher’s portfolio, including Fight Club, The Social Network and Gone Girl. The pair is quick to praise each other’s style, work ethic and personality.

“Our working relationship is amazing. I am so fortunate to have worked with Dave for as long as I have. We have been working together since 1986. It is creative, lively, challenging in the best sense of the word and warm because we are also dear friends,” Mayfield says of Fincher. “We have a shorthand that has been developed over 35 years. I do usually have an idea of what David will like because we like the same things in actors, but I try to surprise him because Dave always gives me a safe place to experiment and really think outside the norm.”

Mayfield admires how Fincher approaches the casting process and remarks on the excitement of working with him, even after three decades and change. “David is very methodical in his approach to things — which is great for me,” she says. “He is thoughtful and articulates very well what he is looking for in terms of actors for roles. He is also spontaneous and incredibly open. He does not have preconceived ideas about actors. He wants to be surprised, so he is supportive of all ideas.”

With each project comes a diverse set of challenges. “The cast [of Mank] in its entirety was daunting just in the number of roles, then the added element of being real people,” she notes. “Our shooting schedule was long, and many of the actors were working on other things and lived outside of L.A., so working out availabilities was challenging in the beginning. The roles of Ben Hecht, Charles MacArthur, Sid Perelman and George Kaufman as a group was challenging because they are legendary writers, very distinctive characters and brilliant minds with rapid-fire verbal dexterity.”

Despite those demands, Fincher has nothing but kind words to say about the casting director: “Laray is not only a hypersensitive judge of exceptional talent, she is also the ‘actors’ advocate.’ Marshaling all kinds of behind-the-scenes forces to lead a director to their inevitable ‘discovery’ of this actor or that,” he says, adding: “She’s never pushy or belligerent. She just continues to read people she’s adamant about, until you finally see a tape you can point to and say: ‘There, that’s it … why not that one?’ To which she just smiles and says, ‘Great choice!'”

This story first appeared in a January stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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