UF School of Theatre and Dance Assistant Professor Monika Gossmann stars alongside Hollywood actors Gary Oldman, Lily Collins, Amanda Seyfried, and Tom Pelphrey in the new biographical drama Mank. The film is based on the life of American screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz as he wrote Citizen Kane, a 1941 movie often called one of the most influential of all time. After a limited theatrical release in November, the film made its way to Netflix on December 4.
Mank swept Oscar nominations for the 2021 Academy Awards, which will air on April 25. The Netflix-original movie received ten nominations, including best picture and best director.
Prior to the release of Mank, we had the opportunity to speak with Gossmann about her research and experience with shooting a feature film and how they influence her teachings in acting somatics and performance.
Emma Friedman: Tell us the story of how you got this role.
Monika Gossmann: I got a call from my agent about a casting call for a new David Fincher movie. I put together a quick self-tape and sent it in. The next day, the casting director asked if I could have a Zoom meeting with her. Mind you, during this audition process, I was also in the process of moving. I flew from Germany to Gainesville, totally jetlagged, doing a Zoom audition two hours later. Needless to say, it was some feat. The next call back was a Zoom meeting with the director, David Fincher. When you work with him on a film, he likes to do 28 to 50 takes. However, for casting he lets actors do the material two or three times to figure out if they can hear what he's saying and take notes. I must have done an okay job because three days later I was offered the job.
Emma: Could you talk more about the filming process and working with an award-winning director?
Monika: During the filming process, we would have table reads and rehearsals with the entire cast. Now my character doesn't speak much, but David Fincher still wanted me there all the time because he wanted to create an atmosphere of the cast being a team, working as one cohesive unit. For a Fincher film, if you are in a scene, you are in the scene. It doesn't matter where the camera is pointing, if you are in the scene in any capacity, you do it as a team together.
As a film director, David Fincher is very known for taking a lot of takes. This is great if you're like me and have theatrical training because it's like being in a rehearsal space, having the opportunity to rehearse, check your inner life, as well as adjust your physical life in the environment. When you get the chance to do a lot of takes, you know how you move in the space. You know what to expect. There comes a sense of artistic freedom. I would say that if you trained in theatre, you would love to work with David Fincher.
Emma: What was it like to perform alongside some of Hollywood's biggest stars?
Monika: It was a big honor. I've watched all the Gary Oldman movies. Additionally, the female cast is very strong. They are all huge stars, but they are humans, you know, and really good colleagues. We were super aware of one another, not only while working but also while waiting in our trailers or eating lunch. You really become a little family during shooting time. I never felt like I didn't belong or the thing of like “Who are you? You’re non-Hollywood.” We are colleagues. We are friends. And we all had a collective goal. Honestly, I was most nervous about working with David Fincher. I love his way of working because he's so precise. He goes into details, he shares knowledge, and he really creates a dynamic of us doing something together.
Emma: How does performing in a movie translate to research for an academic setting?
Monika: All of what I learn from my time on set, I can absolutely bring into the teaching space. As a professor, I think it is important that I remain active in the industry so that I can better communicate what is happening right now in the business to my students. So for me, that's the direct connection because it's not like I am doing one thing and then teaching something else. I am doing and engaging in exactly what I am teaching.
Emma: What kind of movie watchers do you think would appreciate this film?
Monika: Well, I hope everyone! For sure people who are film freaks because it's about Citizen Kane. It's about that era in Hollywood. While the film is set in the 30s and 40s, it’s relevance is just as prominent in today's society and culture. It addresses topics like fake news and the structure of big systems. The topics that the film concerns itself with translate nicely into modern society and are just as relevant as ever.
Emma: What is next for you?
Monika: Well, I am working on a script. I also just finished a co-production for BBC between Ireland, UK, and Denmark. It's called Red Election, and I play a spy in that. I am also hopeful that I get to see my students live soon. With Zoom teaching, I can sort of connect with them through the virtual medium, but it just isn't the same as being together in person. I love them and miss them a lot.
This article was updated April 22, 2021, to reflect the film's Academy Award nominations.