If you're in the midst of watching the new Netflix series Mindhunter — or if you're coming here bleary-eyed after binge-ing it all night — you may be wondering the same thing many others are: Is Holden Ford real? We know that the serial killers Jonathan Groff's FBI character interviews are real-life murderers, so it stands to reason that Ford is too. But he's not. Well, not exactly.
The story is based on FBI agent John E. Douglas' 1995 book, Mind Hunter: Inside The FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit. Creator David Fincher had been thinking about a serialized look at criminal profilers for a while. "Then around 2009, Charlize [Theron] gave me John's book, and I just blasted through it with a sort of true-crime fervor. It supported all my preconceptions about the guys [in that unit]," he told Rolling Stone.
Douglas's life and work have inspired fictional characters before, as TV Guide points out, connecting him to the Jack Crawford character in Thomas Harris' novels (on which Silence of the Lambs, Red Dragon, and Hannibal are based) and to Mandy Patinkin's and Joe Mantegna's characters on Criminal Minds.
Just like in those other shows and movies, there's a reason Groff's character isn't actually called John Douglas. "[Screenwriter] Joe Penhall was the first person to say, 'I think I can do a better job of dramatizing this if I’m given the leeway to take some of the attributes of this person and some of the attributes of this person and create a new character,' " Fincher told Time. So while many of the interviews he does with Ed Kemper and Charles Manson were taken verbatim, and his methods are the ones Douglas pioneered, he is also a fictional creation.
That doesn't mean playing Ford is all happyfunplaytime for Groff, however. "Ultimately, we’re actors, I’m putting on a costume, so we’re playing pretend," he told The Guardian. "But then I would walk into the makeup truck and there’s a scalped woman’s head and you go, ‘Fuck!’ You think, ‘Oh shit, this really happened, this is so intense.’ Then you just kind of shake that off and have a drink or have a laugh with Fincher.”
As disturbing as it was for Groff to see those realistic props day after day, we have to wonder if it's even scarier that so many of us have become addicted to true crime stories and murder mysteries. Don't we see enough violence in real life?
"We’re very quick to judge," Fincher said in Time. "That should be looked at as a human failing. But I think at its best, people’s interest in true crime is people’s interest in trying to understand why we behave the way that we do."
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