“There are all sorts of little keys that unlock the door for you to get into a character.” – Gary Oldman
Academy Award-winning actor Gary Oldman received his third Best Actor Oscar nomination for his role as Citizen Kane screenwriter Herman J. “Mank” Mankiewicz” in David Fincher‘s Netflix film Mank. It’s an extraordinary performance in a career that has been full of them. Speaking with Netflix Queue about the role (by way of the podcast Present Company), Oldman detailed the “headwork” that went into his portrayal of Mank.
When it comes to portraying a character, Oldman points to the importance of “headwork,” but also notes that it isn’t everything. He says, “The process is still a bit of a mystery. There’s a certain amount of headwork that you need to do with a character like this; you gather the information as much as you can. But I’ve also said that if you were playing Hamlet, you could read every book there is on Hamlet, you could holiday in Denmark, but on opening night that won’t help you stand there and say, ‘To be, or not to be.’ Mank was an alcoholic, and I’ve been in recovery now for almost 24 years, so in that respect I could bring a lot to the party.”
For Oldman, one of the major steps in figuring out how to portray Mankiewicz was finding the right voice — which wasn’t easy considering there are no recordings of his voice available. Oldman explains:
“There are all sorts of little keys that unlock the door for you to get into a character. With this one, it was a vocal thing. Finding the voice really got the ball rolling. There’s no recording of Mank, but there are plenty of recordings of his brother, Joe Mankiewicz [who wrote and directed All About Eve]. I thought to myself that the apple probably doesn’t fall far from the tree. I started to work on that real dry delivery, that sort of throwaway delivery, with the voice of Joseph Mankiewicz. You begin with an impersonation and then you start to make it your own. You’ve got the basic root sound and timbre from Joe, and then you add a bit of smoking and some whiskey — a lot of whiskey — on top of that voice. You give it a pinch of Burgess Meredith, and you have Mank. You feel it. It’s a sensation. It’s the muscles in the mouth. It’s the tongue and the teeth. All of that is vital.”