‘Mindhunter’s Holt McCallany on Using Real Interview Transcripts in Scenes

Mindhunter - Holt McCallany, Anna Torv, Jonathan Groff
(l-r) Holt McCallany, Anna Torv and Jonathan Groff talk 'Mindhunter.'

They say truth is stranger than fiction, and in Netflix’s new hit drama Mindhunter, it also might be more terrifying. Set in 1979, the series—which is produced by Charlize Theron and Gone Girl director David Fincher—follows FBI agents Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) taking the then-innovative step of interviewing incarcerated serial killers across the country to understand how they think. We probed McCallany for more intel.

Tench and Ford are at different points in their careers upon meeting. How does their relationship unfold?
Tench has checked out a little bit. He’s floundering because he’s sort of forgotten why he wants to be a part of the FBI. Then Holden comes in, this very bright, very cocky young agent who has an idea. And what Holden does for Tench is restore enthusiasm and passion for the work. Because he sees that the kid is really on to something.

Their superiors don’t agree, initially.
When the show starts, it’s only a couple of years after J. Edgar Hoover, who ran the bureau with an iron fist. It was one of the most conservative law-enforcement agencies in the world. They weren’t interested in interviewing convicted murderers to find out how they felt about their mothers, you know what I mean?

It looks like, given history, Tench and Ford win out, right?
These guys in the behavioral science unit of the FBI [who our characters represent] recognized there was a lot that could be gleaned from talking to killers. Prior to this time period, murders generally had a motive: profit, jealousy. But when people started picking strangers up on the side of the road and killing them, it was like, “How do you catch that guy? He’s got no connection to the victim!” You had to try to understand why. It really was the beginning of serial-killer profiling. I’ve said our show will be the only one in the history of American TV that follows two FBI detectives who never pull their gun and say, “Stop! FBI!”

The murderers that the pair interview—the Coed Killer (Cameron Britton), for instance—are real. Were you creeped out by the details of their crimes?
We were working from real transcripts with them! What some of these guys have done is so unbelievable. It’s more bizarre than what a writer could concoct from his imagination. In fact, where the writers take more license on our show is with the personal lives of the detectives!

Mindhunter, Netflix