Andrew Garfield Explains Why David Fincher Makes Actors Do so Many Takes—and Why It Works so Well

Director David Fincher is known for his many critically acclaimed movies. But he’s also known for his intense directing style. Fincher famously makes actors do lots of takes of their scenes. For example, in The Social Network, Rooney Mara and Jesse Eisenberg filmed the opening scene 99 times. The closeups alone for Andrew Garfield’s “lawyer up” scene were filmed 40 times. Garfield thinks the experience was “beautiful.” But Fincher’s directing style is often a hit or a miss among actors. Garfield explained why he thinks it works in a new interview.

Andrew Garfield and David Fincher attend the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards in January 2011. They pose showing off Garfield's cufflinks at the event, both wearing black suits.Garfield and Fincher worked together on 'The Social Network.' And Garfield described Fincher's directing style as intense, but gratifying.
Andrew Garfield and David Fincher | Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

David Fincher is known for making actors do lots of takes

Fincher directed classics like Alien 3, Se7en, Fight Club, and Panic Room in the 1990s. He also directed Zodiac, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl, Mindhunter, and Mank. And most of the actors in these projects will tell you about the many takes Fincher makes them do. Fincher explained this process to the New York Times in 2007.

“I hate earnestness in performance,” he said. “Usually by Take 17 the earnestness is gone.”

Basically, Fincher’s philosophy is the more takes you do, the more stripped back and honest the performance becomes. Zodiac stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr. found it arduous and exhausting. And after Zodiac‘s release, Gyllenhaal expressed his frustration with Fincher’s directing style. He told the New York Times Fincher “paints with people” and that “it’s tough to be a color.” He continued:

“What’s so wonderful about movies is, you get your shot. They even call it a shot. The stakes are high. You get your chance to prove what you can do. You get a take, 5 takes, 10 takes. Some places, 90 takes. But there is a stopping point. There’s a point at which you go, ‘That’s what we have to work with.’ But we would reshoot things. So there came a point where I would say, well, what do I do? Where’s the risk?”

RELATED: ‘The Social Network’: Andrew Garfield Had an ‘Altercation’ at a Golden Globes Party Because He Was Still in Character

Andrew Garfield loves David Fincher’s directing style

For Fincher, the risk is not getting exactly what the film needs when so much money is on the line. He told the New York Times in 2020:

“I don’t want to make excuses for my behavior. There are definitely times when I can be confrontational if I see someone slacking. People go through rough patches all the time. I do. So I try to be compassionate about it. But. It’s: Four. Hundred. Thousand. Dollars. A day. And we might not get a chance to come back and do it again.”

As for Garfield, he saw the value in Fincher’s intensity because he felt the results in his performance. Filming the “lawyer up, a**hole” scene in The Social Network was draining and physical. But it became one of the most memorable moments of the Oscar-winning film. Garfield told Collider:

“One of the things I understand about why he does that amount of takes is that he’s getting the actor so that the actor forgets they’re being filmed. So that that’s a part of the magic of the performances in each of his films, I think.

He’s looking for that moment where you forget you’re there, you forget what’s happening, and there’s a purity and a vulnerability and an openness, and the audience responds to that in a deeply unconscious way. Suddenly there’s no acting, there’s no performing, it’s just pure. I think that’s a part of what he’s looking for, and also, he’s very precise. He can see it. I think he said this before, I don’t think I’m misquoting him, ‘It’s like being a catcher in a baseball game.'”

Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, David Fincher, and Aaron Sorkin attend the premiere of 'The Social Network' in Paris. The men stand side-by-side in black suits and ties with their arms around each other. They stand in front of a backdrop that says 'The Social Network' and 'SONY' in white lettering. Fincher directed the three actors in the Oscar-winning movie. And Fincher is known for making actors do many takes, which Garfield found to be exhausting, but gratifying.
Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, David Fincher, and Aaron Sorkin of ‘The Social Network’ | Stephane Cardinale/Corbis via Getty Images

RELATED: Will Andrew Garfield Return as Spider-Man? He ‘Recommends That You Chill’ About the Rumors

David Fincher’s directing style is based on intuition, Andrew Garfield says

The Social Network was Garfield’s breakout role, and it undoubtedly informed his future experiences with directors. The Eyes of Tammy Faye star went on to work with directors like Martin Scorsese, who he said also works on gut instinct when directing.

“[Fincher] doesn’t know why it works, but when the pitch hits the glove just so, he can feel it,” he said. “He’s like, ‘OK. We got it. Moving on.’ So he just has an instinctive trust, and the best directors I’ve ever worked with have that. Mel Gibson’s that way. Scorsese’s that way. A bunch of other directors I’ve worked with are that way. Mike Nichols. It’s an instinctive, ‘Oh, that was it. Got it. Done.’ It’s a body, gut kind of intuition.”

At the end of the day, while Fincher’s directing style can be confusing and intense for actors, Garfield finds comfort in knowing it’s going to bring out a memorable performance.