The first time Jonathan Groff found himself auditioning for David Fincher was for the role of Napster co-founder Sean Parker in The Social Network—a part that eventually went to Justin Timberlake. But Groff never forgot the experience. An audition for Fincher typically lasts hours. “He investigates until he doesn’t have time to investigate any more,” says Groff. “It’s in every aspect of his work.”
It’s been seven years since The Social Network was released, and Groff has since established his career: He starred in the HBO series Looking, about a group of young queer men living in San Francisco; played the role of Jesse St. James on Fox’s musical smash Glee; and provided the voice of Kristoff in Disney’s hit film Frozen. He also returned to his Broadway roots last year, earning a Tony nom for portraying King George III in Hamilton. Those performances might not seem like preparation for playing an FBI agent on the hunt for sadistic murderers, but when Groff read the script for Fincher’s new series, Mindhunter, he was smitten.
“I was like, Oh my God, it’s so complicated and dense and intense,” he says. “The material plus Fincher was a no-brainer.” The 10-episode Netflix thriller, already recommissioned for a second season, is a meticulous study of how the FBI responded to a wave of serial killers in the 1970s by refining the methods used to profile suspects like Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy. Groff is Holden Ford, a young agent who sees the flaws of old-style FBI tactics and sets change in motion when he asks to interview a killer—a radical departure at a time when trying to “understand” violent criminals was unprecedented.
Much like Looking, the show is measured and unhurried. “David has this theory that the filmic experience is 25 percent sound, 25 percent visual, and 50 percent audience,” explains Groff. “He wants to let the audience come to the piece and lean in as opposed to throwing stuff in their face.”
Sweater: Louis Vuitton
It helps that Netflix made the entire first season of Mindhunter available at once, a tactic that Groff feels would have benefited Looking, which was canceled after two seasons. “Looking was a huge deal in my evolution as a person and as an actor because it’s one thing to come out of the closet publicly, but it’s another thing to be so gay on TV,” he says, acknowledging that he was nervous of being typecast. Mindhunter demonstrates that such concerns are nally becoming superfluous. Holden is straight, and his evolving relationship with his girlfriend is a key plotline in the series. “His sexuality is a huge part of the story, because Holden is having his sexual awakening while talking to psycho-sexual killers, which is such a bizarre and interesting character arc,” says Groff. “I think one of the benefits of being out is that you can share your stories, be who you are, and put yourself in the work regardless.” He knows this has not always been the case. “I watched the Tab Hunter documentary on Netflix, about the 1950s actor who was gay and closeted and set up on dates with Natalie Wood. I just thought, Wow, I’m a product of my time—it’s 2017 and I can be out and playing these parts. That’s not wasted on me. We’re definitely benefiting a lot from the history and struggle of those who came before us.”
Photography: Roger Erickson
Styling: Michael Cook
Groomer: Melissa Dezarate at Art Department using Kusco Murphy
(Cover) Sweater: Bottega Veneta
Photographed at Candy Studio, New York, on October 17, 2017