Anna Torv talks about her role in “Mindhunter” with Cameron Williams in the October 23rd issue of The Monthly.
The notion of a serial killer doesn’t exist yet in the new Netflix series Mindhunter. The idea is floated for the first time when an FBI agent (Jonathan Groff) proposes that there may be “sequence killers”.
Set in America in the late 1970s, Mindhunter tells the true story of an understaffed FBI behavioral science unit (Groff, Holt McCallany and Anna Torv) that interviews serial killers and applies the knowledge to help solve ongoing cases. The series is executive produced by filmmaker David Fincher (who directs four episodes) and is adapted from the book Mind Hunter: Inside The FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by Mark Olshaker and John E Douglas.
This was a time when the FBI struggled to comprehend what motivated men such as David Berkowitz (Son of Sam) and Charles Manson. There was resistance to the idea of empathising with killers, and agents spent more time on the gun range than studying psychology. An FBI chief tells the team, “It’s not our job to commiserate with these people. It is our job to electrocute them.”
Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en, Panic Room and Gone Girl) is back in the same territory he explored with Zodiac, but this time the ’70s presents a crossroads. The aftershocks from the Kennedy assassinations and Watergate are still being felt. J Edgar Hoover, who built the FBI from scratch according to his strict vision, is recently deceased. And for Mindhunter’s investigators, men with no motive are a terrifying prospect. The bureau must adapt or be outsmarted by evil. There’s a chilling realisation that these killers aren’t the savages they anticipated; they are intelligent, articulate and manipulative. While the bureau stalls, people are dying and the wits of local police officers are being eroded by the horrors they witness.
Enter Wendy Carr, a psychologist loosely based on Dr Ann Wolbert Burgess, a trailblazer in the study of trauma and abuse on victims and perpetrators of crime. Played by Australian actress Anna Torv, she is one of few female characters in a male-dominated show, and her point of view is vital to the series, especially when most of the violence is against women. Think Clarice Starling entering an elevator full of her male peers in Silence of the Lambs.
When I spoke with Torv on the phone from Los Angeles, she was upbeat about her role as one of the small number of female characters with a pulse. “We’re in the late 1970s in the FBI and things are a little different but Wendy goes into a room and she doesn’t care – and I went with that,” Torv says. “You go in and fight your cause, not in an aggressive way but you fight for it.”