Who's that girl?

David Fincher, Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Gillian Flynn, Tyler Perry and Neil Patrick Harris on Gone Girl.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

David Fincher's Gone Girl New York Film Festival World Premiere:
David Fincher's Gone Girl New York Film Festival World Premiere: "I'm not convinced that CNN and The New York Times are in the flowerbeds at the Dunne house." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

David Fincher's Gone Girl, starring Rosamund Pike, Ben Affleck, Tyler Perry, Neil Patrick Harris with Lisa Banes, Carrie Coon, Emily Ratajkowski, Kim Dickens, Casey Wilson, Lola Kirke, Sela Ward and David Clennon, and based on the novel by Gillian Flynn, had its world première on the opening night of the 52nd New York Film Festival.

For Nick Cave in Jane Pollard and Iain Forsyth's documentary 20,000 Days On Earth and Stanley Kubrick with Errol Flynn in Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland's The Last Days Of Robin Hood, Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita played a principal role. In David Fincher's case, it was not Humbert Humbert or Lolita but the unknowable Clare Quilty who made him understand an aspect of character development.

Ben Affleck raises smiles from David Fincher, Gillian Flynn, Rosamund Pike on the Gone Girl pet:
Ben Affleck raises smiles from David Fincher, Gillian Flynn, Rosamund Pike on the Gone Girl pet: "Best acting cat you'd ever have." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Gone Girl starts out as a missing person police investigation. Amy, who had moved from New York City to small-town Missouri with her husband Nick, disappears the day before their anniversary. He is a suspect.

Nick's face is illegible, a cryptogram of guilt and complacency, anger and ennui. His voiceover starts the story, soft in tone as it is violent in vocabulary. He says he wants to crack open his wife's skull to understand what she really is thinking. He does not seem to know that she aspires to have her mind and actions resemble Swiss clockwork, maybe cuckoo clockwork. His desire of spousal understanding informs the twists and turns a long the riverrun of Gone Girl.

Desi Collings, Amy's boarding school suitor, presumably turned stalker with a restraining order, has plans for a lake house love story. Defense attorney Tanner Bolt enjoys the games of fame and justice. He practices his client's TV appearance in the dressing room by throwing gummy bears at him whenever he detects a note of weakness in words or demeanor. The staging of a media circus, in full swing with candlelight vigils and comments on the missing by the stupidest among the neighbors, obviously gave great joy to Fincher.

The first question from the press and industry audience was on velvet paws.

Anne-Katrin Titze: The only really stable character in this house is the cat.

Ben Affleck: You haven't met the cat!

AKT: Could you talk a little bit about this very prominent cat in the movie?

David Fincher (to author/screenwriter Gillian Flynn): That was you.

Gillian Flynn: There's a screenplay book that is called Save The Cat and it's all about make your character likable. In the first ten minutes you should do something that makes you like them. And so I enjoyed the fact that in the first ten minutes he literally saves the cat.

Rosamund Pike with Ben Affleck:
Rosamund Pike with Ben Affleck: "I did win him over in the end with the crêpes."

Ben Affleck: And yet you still don't like him.

David Fincher: That's your gift.

Gillian Flynn: I like him. I love that he is so devoted to the cat. I love, you know, the cat was really hard to get. He was really hard to cast, he was very difficult on set. And I know you guys had a ...

Ben Affleck: A half-dead cat. The cat would not move. We'd drop it and he was like [Affleck grimaces]. Best acting cat you'd ever have. Five days with that cat at the bottom of the stairs. He did not move.

Rosamund Pike: I did win him over in the end with the crêpes [in Gone Girl].

Gillian Flynn: Which I don't actually like. I feel like Amy was playing Cool Girl again at that point and shouldn't have let him up on the counter.

Here are some of the non-feline related highlights of the discussion moderated by Director of Programming and Selection Committee Chair Kent Jones. Throughout the conference, when a question or an answer gave away too much of the story, David Fincher went "Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding" like a train crossing signal at a rural road marking a spoiler alert.

Director David Fincher with Gone Girl author/screenwriter Gillian Flynn:
Director David Fincher with Gone Girl author/screenwriter Gillian Flynn: "You have the media as this Greek chorus, blown up large to really magnify it." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Tyler Perry (Tanner Bolt): The character for me was so rich. And it was all about ease, he's got it all together.

Neil Patrick Harris (Desi Collings): I was just fascinated and loved the book and script. All of the characters were relatively suspect throughout. Everyone's character really. It was intentional that we would have to play people that couldn't reveal too much. That was an interesting conceit. I was over the moon to be a part of it but I liked the element that I'm not just creepy in the movie, that there's pathos to it.

Rosamund Pike (Amy Dunne): We really dissect, we put a marriage under the microscope, don't we? It's all about intimacy, really, and the wonderful things that can come with intimacy and the treachery that can come. When you know someone so well that you can screw every little nut. On set we'd go from early romantic scenes when we're having a laugh to barely speaking when we got into the more toxic stages of the movie.

Ben Affleck (Nick Dunne): That's a good assessment. It was very easy to play opposite her. The book asks really hard questions about marriage and relationships. It didn't gloss over things that we don't like to look at about others and ourselves. Sometimes you find out ugly things when you ask hard questions.

Roz [Pike] definitely had the courage to go towards that and give truth to Gillian's really dark look at marriage and David's subversive take on the dark look at marriage… David is also, despite his reputation, a very funny and nice guy. Not just a demon.

Pike plays this cracked concept to the fullest with more than a change in hair color.

Ben Affleck with Rosamund Pike on Nick Dunne:
Ben Affleck with Rosamund Pike on Nick Dunne: "What I found is that men and women have very different reactions to this character." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Rosamund Pike: [Amy] is playing different things to different people and to the audience too. In the beginning it was terrifying. We did jump back and forth a lot. Obviously a lot was dictated by the weight fluctuations that had to occur. I got heavier and slimmer in all the different locations.

Ben Affleck: I just went heavier.

Rosamund Pike: Well, Ben was becoming Batman. The scene in the shower, I was with Batman.

Ben Affleck (about his character Nick): What I found is that men and women have very different reactions to this character. Most of the women journalists are like, what was it like playing a dick? Most of the men were going [he gives a big sigh] yeah.

Gillian Flynn: It's a movie about storytelling. It's about the stories we tell ourselves and tell other people. Also you have the media as this Greek chorus, blown up large to really magnify it.

David Fincher: I don't think we're talking so much about The media as we're talking about a very narrow bandwidth of a sort of tragedy vampirism. I'm not convinced that CNN and The New York Times are in the flowerbeds at the Dunne house.

Gillian Flynn: It's the idea that we are consumers of tragedy when we tune in to those shows.

Tyler Perry: The level of brilliance about [Fincher's] eyes. He does a lot of takes but what I realised early on was that he is seeing everything at once. The level of genius and brilliance was so impressive to me.

Gone Girl director David Fincher with Kent Jones on Desi Collings:
Gone Girl director David Fincher with Kent Jones on Desi Collings: "He sounds like Clare Quilty in Lolita." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Neil Patrick Harris: David demands a high level of excellence. Everyone on set is very quiet and very focused and yet the way he communicates with people is calm and confident. It's not demanding excellence and ratcheting up the stress level.

Rosamund Pike: He taught me a tremendous amount about the connective tissue of the film which is mostly silent. I learned an awful lot about character in the silences… I think you probably have pre-and post Fincher in your work.

David Fincher: I don't pretend to be really good at knowing where music should go. I kind of live with it for a while, I play with certain things. On this movie, I said, I hear those ambient loops that one hears over and over and over again at a spa. When you get a back rub what you want to hear - it's that kind of reassuring persuasion.

Gillian Flynn: I see Amy as someone who knows all the tropes. She's seen the Lifetime movies, she's seen everything that investigates what it is about being a woman and she is not afraid to use that to her will. From the Cool Girl men want to hang around with to a woman that men are very afraid of. And she's willing to kind of go there.That was what was at the center of Amy. It's basically nothing. It's someone who is made of a bundle of stories pulled together over the years.

Rosamund Pike: A woman with a very fragile sense of self. She's got a very very good idea about all the different selves she could try on. It was really fun to be that kind of woman. You can put her out there and know that she is alluring, unpalatable, compelling, confounding, all those things. For me it was not the question do I like her. I understand her. I don't think she could have been a man.

The director's tales about his casting Tanner Bolt, Desi Collings, Amy and Nick Dunne.

David Fincher: I met Tyler [Perry] and I was really taken by the fact that he was so calm and calming. He had an incredible apparatus for making you feel like you're heard. I needed [Tanner] to be somebody who is going, I hear you, I understand your pain, now you really need to step in front of the truck. I wanted that kind of thing.

David Fincher's Gone Girl world premiere:
David Fincher's Gone Girl world premiere: "I was amazed at the through line, the power that the story had that related to this idea of narcissistic armour." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Neil's [Patrick Harris] character was somebody, I honestly didn't know when I read the script who he was. He sounds like Clare Quilty in Lolita (Nabokov's novel) - I had no idea. I never met this person before. Once we paint ourselves into a narrative corner, we had to have Desi come in and save the day, and he'd better be amazing.

Roz was somebody I had seen in four or five different movies over ten years and I never got a bead on her. I never got a sense of who she was. And I pride myself on being able to watch actors and sort of know what their utility belt is. I didn't have that for Roz.

I met her and we talked for about three hours when it dawned on me. I asked her, do you have any siblings? She told me she was an only child and I realised the person who played Amy had to have that. This hermetically sealed socialisation different thing.

And Ben was available. He just had to shut down his movie at Warner Bros. and send all the people he had hired home.… Just because it's perfect casting doesn't mean you shouldn't do it.

I was amazed at the through line, the power that the story had that related to this idea of narcissistic armour. The vision of ourselves that we project, that we construct for out parents, our teachers. Until we go out into the world and try to mate and then you enter into a contract with somebody and three years down the line they are saying to you, "I can't live up to be that person, your soulmate, anymore" and the resentment that that might engender in you.

Gone Girl will open in the UK on October 2 and in the US on October 3.

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