Joe Tuttle is well known amongst the fans of David Fincher’s Netflix show, Mindhunter, for his role as FBI Agent Gregg Smith in both seasons 1 and 2. He has also appeared on other top-rated shows such as The Blacklist and Unforgettable. Joe and I had an in-depth conversation discussing his influences growing up, his career, and so much more.
PC: Let’s begin with you telling me where you were raised and what family life was like as a young boy of say, age 7?
JT: I was born in Boston, Massachusetts then we immediately moved to Seattle, Washington when I was like two or three weeks old, and we lived there until I was eight years old. I have very fond memories of running around as a seven-year-old, with my mother feeding the ducks with old stale bread in the park. Then we moved back to the East Coast and we lived in Boston. We only lived there for a couple of years and then we moved to Michigan, where I spent the remainder of my childhood and attended high school.
PC: Why did your parents move around so much?
JT: I’m not really sure – a lot had to do with my parents changing jobs. My dad is now retired but he worked in computer development companies, including Digital Equipment Corporation and IBM. My mom was a teacher and she really wanted me to go to public school, so part of it was her looking for really great public schools for me and my brother. You specifically asked about being 7, why 7?
PC: Because my next question would be what were you like as a teenager, but 7 is when you start exploring, and when you begin to find out whether you are a bookworm or an outdoor kid.
JT: Well it’s funny you asked about age 7, because 6 or 7 was about the age we start kindergarten over here in the States, and it was in kindergarten that I was in my first play. You know, the old kids’ story Three Billy Goats Gruff, and I played the ogre with my friend – we were a two-headed ogre – that was my first experience of play-acting in front of people – age 7!
PC: Did you enjoy it?
JT: Oh I loved it! I had a blast! You know costume and make up, people watching you being a crazy ogre. I had a great time. You mentioned being a teenager. As a teenager I grew my hair long and I dyed it pink; I fancied myself as a little bit of a punk rocker. I loved Nirvana and Kurt Cobain; I wore flannels and cut off jeans. I thought I was really punk and of course, being in Ann Arbor, Michigan – which is like this very quaint, comfortable college town where the University of Michigan is, very sheltered and safe – being a punk there doesn’t really mean much.
I was really into music. I played the piano for a little while but when I got into my punk phase – or my alternative phase I guess – I begged my mom to buy me a drum set for my birthday, so I started playing drums. In high school a couple of friends and I started a band. It didn’t last long; it lasted only a couple of months.
PC: Can you remember the name of the band?
JT: I do, yes. The name of the band was King Canute – he’s like this famous Viking, Scandinavian king – and I don’t know why we named it that. We actually played a couple of gigs, we wrote some songs. My parents were very generous. We had a… it wasn’t really a finished basement in our house (not like a basement you could close the door and ignore us) but me and my friends practised down there. They would come over and bring their guitars and bass, and make a lot of noise.
PC: Were you fully into the arts at that time? I presume you weren’t into sports.
JT: I played sports too. I was big into soccer for a long time and baseball and basketball, mostly because I hit puberty earlier than most kids, so I was pretty tall up until about 9th grade into my freshman year of high school. Because I was so much bigger than anybody [else], I was pretty good at sports, in baseball, and I played power forward on the basketball team, and on the soccer field I could kind of push my way round a little bit. But by 9th grade everybody else shot up way past me, so I was no longer tall, just average height. That coincided with me not playing so much sports anymore and starting to play more music and get involved in the arts.
In Michigan there is a special high school that has an arts focus called Community High School. At that time you had to apply to get in, so I did. It was a very, very small school but it had an amazing music program, and that’s also where I met a theatre teacher who had an incredible influence on me. I did a bunch of plays with him; he’s a British guy – now a professor in Anne Arbor at the University of Michigan – called Malcolm Tulip. He had an incredible effect on me, because most people, I think, have a high school experience doing plays and stuff, where they are doing standard fare – they do the productions of Oklahoma or Grease, or a standard high school musical, a big cast, and lots of people can be in it – but Malcolm was this British guy who had studied in Paris at Ecole Jacques Lecoq, the famous mime school (I think Holt McCallany actually went to the same school). Malcolm had studied with Peter Brook and other cutting edge directors, so we didn’t do musicals like other schools: we did Waiting for Godot; we did a Jean-Paul Sartre play; we did a Luigi Pirandello play. It was incredible! I was so lucky to have met and trained with him, and learned so much – he was a really big influence on me. In fact in my senior year of high school we did a production of a play, I think The Royal Shakespeare Company had made famous, called Marat/Sade (I’m sure you have heard of it). I played the Marquis de Sade and it was an incredible experience. He had hired one of his past students to come in as a professional actor and play one of the roles, and I remember talking to him, and that was the first time I was like, ‘Whoa! Maybe this is something I could do in my adult life.’ That was the first time I’d really thought about that.
PC: Were your parents supportive of you pursuing that type of career?
JT: Yes, I think more so than most parents they were supportive. They said, ‘Okay you can study acting at the university or college you want, but you have to get into a good school that has a really strong academic program,’ so I visited Northwestern University which is just outside Chicago. I loved it and it had all that: it had an incredible theatre program; amazing teachers and [was] incredible academically as well. I think initially I really wanted to go to an acting conservatoire, to only study acting all the time. It was a compromise I made with my parents but it ended up being for the best for me, because one of the things I really loved was that it wasn’t acting all the time. I would have to take classes in the Slovak Studies department, and the chemistry department, and I took Italian language classes, so I got a really rounded life experience, I think. I felt, because it wasn’t acting all the time, it made me a stronger person, so I think that helps in drawing on your own life experience to be an actor; if I was only looking at acting tech, plays and stuff and living and breathing it, then I wouldn’t get other important learning educational experiences. That’s why I really valued what I got at Northwestern because I got to join a fraternity, for example; I wouldn’t have been able to do that at a conservatoire and really have the very sort of obvious, stereotypical American college experience which was so good for me.
PC: Universities nowadays aren’t looking necessarily for the most academic of students; they want well-rounded people who have been involved in a variety of groups whether that be socially, or hobby driven etc.
JT: That’s how I felt about my time at Northwestern; I got a really well-rounded education. A job as an actor is to portray real people, flesh out these characters, make them see and feel, and be as real as possible, and because I got to have those experiences I got to have more to draw from to be able to do that in my professional life.
PC: I always like to go a bit further back when I am interviewing people and find out about their grandparents. Were yours around when you were growing up?
JT: My grandparents were around a little bit. My maternal grandmother was around, even though we were criss-crossing the country, she kind of came with us and lived nearby, and would be our baby sitter and would be pretty involved in helping out with stuff. Her name was Helen Kardos. I didn’t know my maternal grandfather (who I am actually named after), Joseph. He was an electrician by profession, he was living in Cleveland Ohio and he passed away in an electrical accident, I believe, when my mom was small. She never really knew her father, we only have pictures, but mom always says she thinks I look like him.
My father’s parents, I knew them pretty well. They were interesting folk. He was a really smart engineering guy; he’d gone to Yale; he was kind of an inventor. He worked for a company that developed the first single lever faucet – you know the ones, they have two knobs, one side for hot and the other for cold – that’s his claim to fame. He was a really interesting guy. He and my dad, when he was growing up, did all kinds of stuff: they worked on cars together; they even designed and built their own car! They called it like a ‘Scrappy’ I think. They actually got it licensed and they were able to drive it round the streets; it was made of cool wheels and from an old lawnmower engine. So that was the kind of guy he was; he was a tinkerer; he had a basement full of tools; loved building things. In his backyard he built like a little kids railroad (a mini electric railroad with the track running all away round the backyard) and kids would come over and play on it. He called it the ‘Toonertown Trolley’ – kids used to take turns taking rides on it.
PC: That would be cool! Do you have any of that in you? Do you tinker or is that not possible in your set up?
JT: You know my dad is by trade a mechanical engineer, although he never really worked as one (he was more a computer science guy) but he liked to tinker a lot himself, so we always had a garage and a basement full of tools. We worked on cars or motorcycles together, built sheds in the back yards, all that kind of stuff. I still enjoy that kind of thing but in New York… I’ve lived here for 15 years now and I live in an apartment, I don’t really have room for tools. I enjoy it and I have those working skills, I can hang shelves and put up cabinets, things like that, but there wasn’t the sort of primary thrust for me to do that. I had a lot of fun doing it with my dad when I was growing up. My younger brother was always there too helping out. In high school my dad bought us a car to share, it was a 1978 MGB – I loved that thing, it was beautiful.
PC: What colour was it?
JT: It was British racing green. It was beautiful, really fun driving around high school in that convertible. I mean give a 16 year old kid…
PC: Bet that got the girls!
JT: Yeah! We thought we were really cool.
PC: You were! I always think you take something from your parents, or grandparents, and carry it on in your own life whether that’s working hard, or a moral stance about something, or just being a good person. Was there someone you were inspired by in that way?
JT: Yes absolutely. I think there is a pretty strong work ethic, a sticktoitiveness that runs in both sides of the family. My mom’s mom, her husband died when my mom was 6 months old (so this was in the early ‘50s late ‘40s), so my maternal grandmother was a single mom before people even used that term. She never remarried and she raised my mom on her own. She had to get a job at General Motors, and she got a great job and worked her way up to being a secretary, and was very successful, but suffered through all sorts of indignities. She ended up buying a house as a single, working mom in the ‘50s – but at that time the banks wouldn’t lend a woman money – they wouldn’t do a mortgage for her – she had to get her brother to co-sign the mortgage, but she did it and bought a house. And my mom still talks about what an amazing, an exciting, time that was! They moved out of a rental apartment they lived in, to their own house with their own bathroom and backyard to play in, and my grandmother did that all on her own!
PC: That’s pretty amazing!
JT: Her strength of character, hard work and ambition – those qualities certainly got passed on to my mom and I like to think they got passed onto me and my brother. And then my dad is a very hard worker himself, but he is also sort of very smart; he’s very perceptive and well read. You know that game Trivial Pursuit? You never want to play against my dad; he knows a lot about everything; he really pursues different interests; he’s always reading a non-fiction book about history or something; he’s actively curious about the world. That was a big thing I got from both my parents, sort of curiosity and to learn more about the world – I think is so important. It’s certainly been a passion for me in my pursuits. I think I got a very strong work ethic and ambition from my parents and a certain level of curiosity and value in learning.
PC: What do you like to think you will pass onto your twins?
JT: My twins are two now, I hope to pass on the same strong work ethic and ambition, and strength of character, to really follow your interests and dreams. And just because it’s hard work doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be fun – you can choose fun in life. We all have drudgery when we have to do the dishes or bathroom but there is a way to look at it and make it fun – the game doesn’t have to stop just because it’s a seemingly unpleasant task. I think we are doing that with the twins. If anything they are teaching me. They are teaching me to be more patient and really value, even more so, the moment we are in right now, that we all get to be in the same room and breathe the same air, and really enjoy it.
PC: There is nothing that compares to that feeling.
JT: There are times when it’s the most testing ever, and certainly times that are, ‘Oh my God it’s awful!’ but that’s like anything in life, it’s a rollercoaster ride, and I’m excited to be on the journey.
PC: Talking about hard work: did you have to support yourself through your studies? Did you have the usual jobs like being a waiter?
JT: During college I worked at the library for a while – I was just checking books out and stuff like that for students – but I actually got fired from that job…
PC: Really Joe? How can you get fired from a library job?
JT: I was always happy to get people to cover my shifts because I was always auditioning for plays or rehearsing, so they said, ‘You are never really here for work, so you shouldn’t work here anymore.’ So that’s when I got a job as a waiter at a wine bar. I started as a busboy and worked my way up to being a bartender and a waiter. I did that for about three years in college and since then I have had many many different jobs to support myself.
PC: The worst being?
JT: Well it depends how you look at it. There was a famous toy store here in New York for a long time called FAO Schwarz (if you ever saw the movie Big with Tom Hanks) they used to have this job there where you dressed up as a toy soldier holding the door for people, so I did that for a while!
PC: How was that, was it boring or fun?
JT: Some days were really lovely, because some people were really nice, and some days were really terrible, especially on the holidays when it’s so busy, lots of pushing and shoving. You really see the sort of diversity of humanity in different people. Then I was a waiter and I did catering events.
Going back to your question about if I tinker: I had a job helping a guy build like Pilates equipment, it’s not Pilates it’s called Gyrotonics (it’s similar to Pilates you use machines to help you work out) so I helped make the machines.
The best paid, but hardest job I ever did – because it was so boring and lonely – was as a temp; I was a temporary employee at Goldman Sachs. At Goldman Sachs you are making a lot of money, but you don’t know anybody. You sit in a cubicle staring at a computer screen for 8 hours, not talking to anybody, it’s very lonely, so even though the money was much better than waiting tables it left me depressed for a while. I have done a lot of other white collar office work at law firms too.
PC: What would you consider was your first professional role as an actor?
JT: Before I left Northwestern I was able to work in Chicago at a theatre company called Rivendell Theatre Ensemble (they are still in existence in a beautiful place). I think they have just won an award: in Chicago they have a Jeff Award – it’s like the Tony’s and the Helen Hayes Awards – they won a Jeff Award for the past working season. Their artistic director Tara Mallen gave me my first ‘professional job’ in Chicago before I graduated. I did a play there based on a kids’ book that you may have heard of, I think it’s popular in the U.K., The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole.
PC: It was huge in the U.K.
JT: So we did a production of that and I played Adrian Mole’s best friend Nigel Hetherington. That was really fun.
PC: What was your first TV role?
JT: I did plenty of short films, not getting paid, but being involved in a project with no money changing hands. My first professional gig, where I was paid, was… There is a show that’s still on the air called Maury Povich – and I think now the show is mainly DNA tests and ‘I’m the father’, but before he got that he did shows where he would interview a peeping Tom or some kind of controversial character. During the course of the interview they showed re-enactments of the story, so that was my first paid gig, playing a peeping Tom on the Maury Povich show!
PC: Where do your parents live? Do they ever get to sit down with you and watch you on TV?
JT: They still live in Ann Arbor. They come to visit me in New York and I go back sometimes for the holidays. They are big fans. They are always happy to see me on TV, and they talk about all that stuff on Facebook with their friends. My mom is threatening to start a Joe Tuttle fan club; I don’t think there would be too many members just yet.
PC: I think you would be surprised!
JT: They are big supporters. We shoot Mindhunter in Pittsburgh and they came to visit the set whilst we were shooting season 2 in the summer – they were excited to do that.
PC: How did you find Pittsburgh? Jonathan (Groff) was saying it’s really hip and going places now.
JT: We loved Pittsburgh my wife and I. It’s a really wonderful town: diverse and beautiful museums and the people are friendly; there is a lot of construction happening and redevelopment of the downtown area. Google has a big office there and Uber. It has really transitioned from a working class steel town to an incredible technology place, and there’s a lot of money and investment pouring in. Pittsburgh is wonderful but it’s definitely a smaller town than New York. New York has all these diverse restaurants, as does Pittsburgh, but in New York, if you want Korean food, there’s like 15 different, amazing places to eat… Pittsburgh has amazing Korean and Argentinian food but it doesn’t have 15 of those types of restaurants.
PC: Unforgettable, The Blacklist, Boardwalk Empire – you have had some nice parts.
JT: Boardwalk Empire was really fun but it was the kind of role that if you blinked (and even if you didn’t blink)… The Blacklist was wonderful.
PC: Oh yes, that used to be my favourite show. I have interviewed quite a few of the cast and the writers.
JT: My scenes weren’t with him [James Spader] but were with David Strathairn. He is amazing! I was so lucky that my couple of days on that show my scenes were with him because, that guy, I learned so much just watching him. In the very short amount of time I was on set, he showed he is something else.
PC: And Megan Boone you worked with too didn’t you?
JT: Yes, she’s lovely! And then Unforgettable was a lot of fun. Poppy Montgomery is a trip; she is so much fun. I did a very short-lived series called Forever (I think it was only on for a season), I did a scene with Judd Hirsch, he was incredible.
PC: When you are in these shows do you watch a few episodes beforehand or just go in and do your thing?
JT: Prior to being on those shows I wasn’t super-familiar with them, so before the audition I watched a couple of episodes to familiarise myself with the show and what’s going on with the story. There is so much TV these days it’s impossible to keep up with everything that’s out there. Who has the time to see everything?
PC: Until last year I had watched neither Breaking Bad nor Sons of Anarchy – it was ridiculous of me.
JT: It’s five or six seasons. It’s hours and hours you can sit and binge watch for a whole week. It’s like a full-time job.
PC I’m not a fan of binge watching. I feel like I’m doing the actors and writers a disservice, because it’s impossible to absorb all the nuances when you watch episode after episode.
JT: I think some of the writing these days is somewhat designed to make you sit and binge watch. In some of the shows I think you can do it because it’s lighter, not that it’s bad, but it’s like eating popcorn, you can eat just keep eating, and it’s really delicious, but you never get full. You can’t eat pounds of steak all at once, you have to eat that much over a couple of weeks, so you can really digest it.
PC: It’s like Narcos: I want to watch lots of episodes in one sitting but because it’s subtitled it demands my full attention, whereas watching some shows I can multitask, I can’t on that one.
How do you go about learning your lines? I have asked a few actors this question, and there seems to be a few different techniques.
JT: I’ve had that question a lot but I never know how to answer it but then I saw an interview with Peter O’Toole, someone asked him the same question. He basically said, ‘You study the script’. I don’t really ‘learn my lines’. You sit in a room by yourself; cup of strong tea or coffee; you study the script and try to understand why this person says this, and the response to that is this, and it goes on like that. Once you really study the script like that – really understand the story, the connective tissue of the bones of the story, why this connects to this, connects to this, connects to this, why this person says this – you think about it in terms of not just the words but [what] the behaviour behind the words is. Then you never really need to sit down and ‘learn your lines’ because they are already in you. You have studied it in such an intense way that, once you show up on set, the story is already in you, and you can just allow yourself to be in the story – and certainly on Mindhunter that’s like a requirement.
David Fincher operates at such a high level, I think he has expectations for himself that are so high, that everybody else has the same expectations. So the expectation is, of course, you come in and be immersed in the story and know exactly what’s going on. They spend so much time writing and rewriting, and rewriting prior to shooting. I mean I’ve never had that experience before. It’s a very intensive rehearsal process before we even get to the set. Where it’s just David and the directors, actors and writers in the room, rewriting and picking apart the script, and trying to make it as close as is possible, [so] that once we get to set there are no issues to sort out.
PC: Maybe that’s part of its success. Getting back to my question of learning lines: in what environment do you personally study the script? Is it at home with music playing or away in an office without your wife and kids around?
JT: It’s a good question. I try to have as much quiet time alone in a room by myself, if I can. At the end of the day you have to come out into the world. Sometimes I will be walking around New York City, or riding the subway and looking at the script, thinking about it walking around in my life, because these are real people walking around in their lives too. My secret weapon is my wife, she’s not an actress but she does have a writing background, so sometimes I think I can get caught up looking at these scripts as an actor like, ‘Oh this could be a really beautiful moment,’ but my wife is always about the writing, sort of, ‘Don’t forget these are human beings.’ It’s nice to have your moment as an actor, but don’t forget, are you really serving the story?
PC: And from speaking to many of the actors on Mindhunter that’s exactly what David Fincher wants when he shoots take after take of the same scene, for you not to play them out as an actor but to be, or react, as you would naturally in real life, and that really ties in to what your wife is saying.
JT: I think that’s part of it… I wish just for one day I could get in the head of David. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone like him before; I probably won’t meet anyone like him again. He’s sort of brilliant at all these different things. I think that’s true he does a lot of takes for a lot of different reasons. One of them is certainly because it’s, ‘Okay let’s make the performances kind of finely crafted in a way, sort of uncrafted in a way. We don’t want to see the actor, we want to see a human being having the experience’.
PC: Yeah exactly!
JT: Also another reason David Fincher does a lot of takes is because I think he has a vision and he wants it to be exactly how he visualises it. It’s not always about the actor, sometimes it’s: we are slightly out of focus; it’s the wrong moment; actually I want to change one word, or the lightning is slightly different, or l want to frame up the camera in a different way, or I don’t like the coffee cup you are using, or that chair, we need to switch that out, or the background actors weren’t perfectly in sync. He notices everything, things that no one else would notice!
PC: In shooting numerous takes he wants the scenes to be the best of the best and to be fair it pays off doesn’t it.
JT: I think so. I don’t think David is making movies or TV shows for the 95%. I think people universally love his work and for good reason. He’s not making them for the 95%, he’s making them for that top 5, that top 2% even, who are going to notice these kinds of things. They are going to say, ‘That cup doesn’t make sense in this world. The lighting was a little bit off in that shot,’ or, ‘that background actor didn’t see his mark exactly.’ He’s making it for people like him, who are going to really notice that stuff. And when you do notice a glaring error or mistake, or something that doesn’t seem right, it takes you out of the story. I think he just wants a total immersive experience. He wants you, I presume, to be so involved that you almost forget, so that you really do feel like a fly on the wall, watching these people having these experiences.
PC: I have just interviewed Garry Pastore and his other job, when he’s not acting, is as a set dresser (leadman). He said he notices stuff like a blank wall behind a person which would clearly have a piece of art or a photograph on it in real life.
JT: The trouble with David is it means we notice that stuff now too; he’s sort of a force of nature; he raises everybody’s game. I’ve really noticed that about him – and not just with the actors, but the cinematographer, the technicians, the dolly grip, the sound folk – because he’s operating at such a high level you have rise to the occasion. I think that’s why people are drawn to working with him and will pass up other job opportunities, just to be able to work with David.
PC: I have arranged to have an interview with a guy called Dwayne Barr who operates the A camera dolly grip, because I’m just as interested to get his take on the technicalities of Mindhunter and Fincher, not just actors. I would love to talk to Erik Messerschmidt about cinematography.
JT: He’s a talented guy. It’s the first time in my working life as an actor I’ve been like ‘Wow!’ I wish my education had included more about cameras, editing and lighting. We touched on a lot of that stuff in acting school but wow, the technical aspects of making a TV show or film is frankly probably more important than some stuff we were taught. Just being able to ask the DP or the cinematographer why this, why now? Because I’ve had this work opportunity, I’ve started to notice.
PC: What was the process for you getting the role on Mindhunter?
JT: If I remember correctly it was just like any other audition. I got a call from my people and they were like, ‘There’s a show, Mindhunter, they want you to put yourself on tape,’ so I went and got a camera and prepared material and put myself on tape. We sent that in and I thought, ‘Well I did that and maybe I’m never going to hear from them again.’ A week later I got a call and was told, ‘They want to see you again for this role. They want to see you do the material you did in the self-tape again, just the same stuff.’ So I did that and from then on it moved rather quickly. I got a call the next day and I thought, ‘Okay this is getting serious now.’ I got this call at 5-6 o’clock at night and my people said, ‘They want to see you tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. Here’s the material, it’s 10 or 11 brand new pages, stuff you have never seen before, three big scenes. You come in tomorrow at 9 a.m. and you need to be completely off book.’ And I was like, ‘Okay…’ My manager said, ‘Just so you know, this is kind of the ultimate test.’ He said, ‘They like you. They like you in the scenes. You did well in the first two auditions. This is the test.’
I stayed up really past my bedtime, got help from my wife (who is amazing),I called an acting coach buddy of mine, we talked through it… I always love to get some output perspective from my wife or whoever. We worked on it and the next morning I went in at 9 a.m. The casting director, Julie Schubert, (who is amazing and I really like her a lot) I came in and she was like, ‘Hey Joe, I know it was a lot of material. Don’t worry I’ve cleared my morning for us, you and I are going to make this happen.’ Wow! That’s rare to have somebody in this business who has got that kind of wonderful attitude, so automatically I walked into that room feeling safe – that it will be my best work because Julie’s got my back. I really owe her a lot, but especially for that. When we worked through the material she helped with some adjustments until she got it to where she thought it was great. She sent it in and later that same day I get a call at 4:30 in the afternoon – ‘Joe they really like it. Come back to my office right now.’ I say, ‘Okay I will just drop everything.’ She said, ‘Come back and do one more scene and don’t worry we are just going to improvise it…’, ‘Okay, I can do that. I can make it up.’ So I go back that same day, we improvise the scene. That scene we improvised was me listening to somebody getting murdered. All I had to do was… They put a camera on me, I put on some headphones and I listen to somebody getting murdered, and they just film me, and she’s like, ‘Okay, great! That’s all we wanted you do to.’ And I was like, ‘Alright.’ I think it was the next day I got the call from my people and they said, ‘You got it.’ I said, ‘Great! How much time do I have?’ And they replied, ‘Not much. They need you in Pittsburgh in two days!’
PC: That’s quite a demanding schedule.
JT: It was lovely though! It was an exciting audition process. I never met David until I got to the set, which was kind of amazing. You meet somebody like that and you go, ‘Whoa!’
PC: What was he like?
JT: He was so… I wasn’t sure what to expect. He was incredibly friendly. He came up to me, shook my hand and said, ‘Thank you so much for being part of this project.’ I was like, ‘Are you kidding me? Thank you for inviting me to the party, man.’ But I also knew, based on his reputation, in a way I didn’t feel like the audition was really over yet. He’s the kind of guy… You could shoot and shoot and shoot, and if he looks back at the dailies – looks back at the rushes – and it’s not working, I don’t think he’d have any problem replacing somebody. I was thinking, ‘Let me get through my first couple of days of shooting that, and then, if I’m still around, I can breathe a sigh of relief.’
PC: When you were called back for season two that must have been a thrill.
JT: Yeah that was pretty thrilling.
PC: I don’t know Anna Torv, but obviously I know Jonathan and Holt, what did you make of those two?
JT: It’s a great question because I feel so lucky. Not only is it an artistic high point in my career working with David, I’m certainly biased, but I honestly don’t think there is another show out there doing this kind of level of work. Some of the scenes are 11 pages long – people don’t do that – they are usually 3 or 4 pages at most. The level of work is so high here, so high artistically, and then it’s David Fincher… Not only is he at the top of his game but then to include people like Holt and Jonathan and Anna, and the bunch of other recurring characters, guest stars and actors. Everyone is so amazing and that includes the hair and make up people, and the rest of the crew.
I know people have said this in the past, but it’s really true, and it’s just that we are a family. It’s not only so artistically gratifying but in terms of the relationships between people [they] are just wonderful.
PC: Yes and you all seem to support each other.
JT: I think they broke the mould with Holt; he’s almost from another era. He is so kind and generous; he threw a big party for the whole cast and crew, paid for it all himself. He’s such a gentleman and he can do it all too: he is an amazing actor, and he can sing (he’s a great singer); he can tell jokes; he has wonderful stories.
PC: He knows everyone in the business too.
JT: It’s almost like Holt should have his own variety show: he’d do a couple of songs; he’d tell some jokes, do some sketches and skits and stuff; tell great stories. He’s so charismatic and people really want to gravitate to him. And Jonathan… Jonathan is the kind of guy I’ve heard talk of when I was coming up as an actor through acting school. I’d never met anyone like him but I would hear people say, ‘He is such a natural’. And I was thinking, ‘I keep hearing people talk about a person like him but I’ve never really met anyone like that,’ – until I met Jonathan. He is so naturally gifted that I honestly don’t know how he does it. He can just do it! He is probably… I cannot think of a nicer person – he is just such a nice man; I have not met a nicer person.
PC: I was quite surprised at how serious he was at times when I spoke to him.
JT: He is so jovial and funny. He has such an infectious laugh. He’s wonderful! What a gift that either of them are always number 1 on the call sheet. The director on the project sets the mood of a project, but really it’s whichever actor is number 1 on the call sheet. It sort of alternates between Holt and Jonathan because they are so much fun to be around, and inspire creativity. I don’t know how they do it day after day, because those days are long and they are just so optimistic and positive. They really do a great job of leading the show and Anna is amazing – she is transformative. I mean you think Jonathan is different in his character, Holt is different from his – Anna is nothing like Wendy Carr! Oh my God! She is so warm and funny, she’s kind, there are no hard edges to her, she is soft – very, very different to the character she plays. I don’t think I’ve met someone who’s so intuitively perceptive of the script. At the script meeting she will make a comment or two about the writing or something and it’s like, ‘Wow! That’s right on the money!’ She’s so laser focused on what’s going on in a script.
All I do whenever I’m around those people… I just try to stay open, learn and observe, just watching them work.
PC: You would just go there and not even need to get paid – just turn up and watch everyone.
JT: Paula don’t tell them, don’t tell anyone, but I would do it for free. David is so crazy busy, I don’t know how he does all the things that he does, as well as he does. He always has so much energy. He does a 15-hour day over a long week and I never see him drinking that much coffee. I honestly don’t know, maybe it’s just pure excitement, that’s why he does so much.
PC: How does he project what he wants you to do?
JT: From what I’ve observed and how he’s interacted with me, he’s got a great deal of respect for all the people around him. I like to think he’s really gone to great lengths to choose the right people for the right job, whether that’s casting or crew. My sense is that he is incredibly respectful and treats everybody basically like an equal, that’s what I’ve felt. And the way he directs is: as long as you are doing what he’s asked, or what has been agreed upon, he’s cool. He likes to kind of tweak things and that, also, is why I think we do a lot of takes on the show.
PC: But how does he do that? Does he say, ‘Joe, stop right there I need you to do this…’
JT: If something is really off the rails he will stop it and start again, and he will give some notes. Most of the time we do a whole take and then he will rush in and have like a page of notes for the actor – he rattles it off in like two seconds, and then never really gives you enough time to think too much about his notes. It’s like, ‘Alright we’re back to 1. Alright… action!’ I think he does that by design, I don’t think he wants actors thinking about his notes. I think he just wants to do it because that’s how a human being would be. You would be impulsive and wouldn’t have thought about it, or mulled over the scenes you are doing, so he just wants you to impulsively do it, like for real. He tends to give (sometimes) a lot of notes, and they just sort out of bleed down into you, and you just end up sort of doing it because it’s as if you are in a flow, together in this creative flow. When you are all working together like that it’s quite a beautiful feeling, all being there together.
He will come in and say, ‘I like what you did there, keep that,’ or, ‘I saw you did a new thing. Don’t do that, go back to the other thing.’ That’s somebody who is really, really taking note of every little thing. That can… At first I thought, ‘Oh my God! I’m going to have him looking at everything. [That] makes me feel so anxious.’ But actually, what it does, because you are doing so many takes, and David is such a complete – frankly genius – you really feel very safe to try things, and just know if it’s wrong, ‘Well we are probably going to do multiple takes, so one wrong one is no big deal.’ So he really creates a very safe environment, and I think that’s so important for us to feel like that.
PC: Yes like there is no need to panic because you can do another take if need be.
PC: What did you think of how your character evolved to where it ended up in the last episode?
JT: It’s interesting, because when I got cast in the first season I’d only seen the audition material; I didn’t know what the whole season was about; I didn’t know what happened in the end to me. So that was actually really exciting when it all got revealed what Gregg did in the end. Frankly, when shooting it, I thought, ‘Oh man! Gregg turned out to be not the Boy Scout I thought he was going to be or in the direction people thought he was going.’ But subsequently, after the show came out and there was a whole bunch of buzz about it. You can go onto the website Reddit, there’s a whole sub category about Gregg Smith! It turns out I think I did my job pretty well because people really didn’t like Gregg. I’m pretty lucky to have him turn out like that in that little piece of the story in the first season. It seemed to work out pretty well in terms of the story, so I was pretty happy how it turned out.
PC: Obviously you can’t tell me anything about season two but are we in for some surprises?
JT: Oh yeah! Maybe also once it’s happened you will go, ‘Oh man! I was surprised by that,’ but it actually makes sense.
PC: Is Gregg Smith based on an original character? I have just got the book the original John Douglas book, although I haven’t yet started reading it.
JT: So Gregg Smith, I’m told, is based on a co-worker of John Douglas named Gregg who wrote his own book called (he spells Gregg in the same way as my character) The Unknown Darkness (by Gregg McCrary) because he was a profiler himself. No one told me (I wish they had) he was on set as an advisor and they’re like, ‘Here, this guy is a former profiler who worked with John for a while.’ But no one told me this guy is who my character is based on. I think they didn’t want me to get kind of changed by meeting him, and me change my character based on him. I don’t know if there is really any overlap in the things that Gregg Smith says, or does, with Gregg McCrary but they share the same name. I’m in the middle of his book; it’s really good, there’s a lot of interesting stories.
PC: I’ve asked most of the cast I’ve spoken to how they feel about the actual serial killers. How do you feel towards them?
JT: I’m not necessarily a big fan of crime or serial killers or that sort of stuff. My wife is! She loves this stuff; she eats up every true crime book and not just all the famous ones. In season 1 of Mindhunter I didn’t know who Ed Kemper was, when I told my wife she’s like, ‘Oh yeah, the “Co-ed Killer”’. She knows all these folks who are not necessarily as famous as the big names we all know. Whilst I am not begging to be in the same room as them, if I had the opportunity to do it my wife would probably make me; I’d have to, but I don’t mind either way. It’s a little bit like going to the zoo frankly. It’s like, ‘Wow! There’s a tiger!’ They are scary enough that they need to be behind bars but I feel a little guilty [that] I’m like here to stare at them.
PC: What about the empathy side of it? Some have expressed empathy in that, had they had a different childhood, maybe these killers would have went down a different path.
JT: So much of the show is like nature versus nurture. I don’t necessarily think we answer that question because I don’t think we, as human beings, will ever be able to answer it. How much of it is in-born traits – no matter what happens they are going to rise up and become some kind of monster – or how much of it is, they were good kids and some terrible abusive family member, or adult, or whoever sort of created the ‘monster’. The best comment I heard – and I think it was David who told me – he said my namesake, Gregg McCrary, said: ‘The best way to think about these killers, mass murderers and serial killers is, it’s like a cake. You make this really beautiful, lovely tasty cake but at the end, right before you put it into the oven, you pour a bunch of motor oil in it. You bake the cake and then it comes out and you serve it to somebody, and they say, ‘Wow! Pretty good cake, but can you take that motor oil out because that’s really gross!’ But, sorry, the cake is already baked; you can’t get the oil out. And that’s what some killers are. Either it’s something in-born or it’s there now and you’re not getting it out.’ I guess the point is: you’re not going to change this guy, whether the stripes were there because mommy and daddy put them there, or because they were born that way, it doesn’t matter, they are still pretty scary – and they can’t change.
PC: Now that you have worked with the best are there any other directors you would love to work for/with?
JT: Steven Soderbergh has done a lot of cool stuff. Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to work with Steven Spielberg? I also would really like to… there were these really small movies called Mumblecore, where guys just grabbed cameras and made their own movies – the Duplass brothers – I’d love to work with them. There’s a guy called Joe Swanberg I’d love to work with. They are sort of not necessarily big A-listers; they are sort of quietly making beautiful films that are really full of interesting characters, and interesting stories.
PC: Would that appeal more than being in, say, a Marvel movie?
JT: It has a different appeal. Obviously some big budget Marvel movie would be incredibly exciting. Just the technical aspects would be challenging and exciting, and the stories are so sort of… not larger than life, but actually yeah, they are larger than life, but that’s the exciting aspect of it. But then the smaller, quieter ‘sleeper’ films are really sometimes the most moving and emotional. It’s interesting because Holt has done a lot of sort of big action movies, but he also does the smaller stuff, like a French language film, smaller artistic ‘independent movies’; he’s had a really varied career in that respect. I’d really love to emulate that kind of trajectory, where I could work in both worlds. Like huge budget, car chases and explosions and stuff, but then also to go back and do these really human smaller stories. His career is one I’d love mine to be like.
PC: When you are not acting and you are not changing nappies, what kind of things do you enjoy doing?
JT: I still love music a lot. Before we had kids, one year for my birthday, my wife bought me a ukulele but it was ukulele kit where you build it yourself. It allowed me to tinker around; I glued and built it myself; I played it and I learnt a couple of songs. It was fun. Then I kind of put it down and forgot about it. Then we had the twins and in the first 3-6 months, as were just looking for anything to quieten them down to go to sleep when having their bottle of milk, I saw my ukulele and I thought, ‘They love music so I’m just going to play a couple of songs.’ As soon as I played the ukulele they quieted down, and just looked at me with these big wide eyes, and big smiles, so I thought, ‘Okay I will play more ukulele.’ I started playing some songs and now I have another ukulele (a really nice one I just got, my wife bought me it for Christmas), so I’ve really started playing a lot more. I never thought there would be an instrument I’d want to play, but it’s really fun. There are a lot of tunes, so I’m playing a lot more music now. I’m doing some writing but the twins certainly keep us busy.
PC: You have a boy and a girl?
JT: Yes, Jane is my daughter, Jane Violet Tuttle, and my son is Henry Stephen Tuttle, but we call him Hank. We brought them to the set and they ran around, they had a blast! Everybody was super-lovely.
PC: Can you recall the first record or download you bought?
JT: It was a cassette tape I bought. Oh man, it was either LL Cool J “Mama Said Knock You Out” or C+C Music Factory. Gosh, that must have been 5th grade; I must have been 11 years old. But then I quickly moved on to like Nirvana and Pearl Jam and Screaming Trees – Seattle grunge alternative.
PC: It would be cool to be in Seattle in those days.
JT: I remember getting my first CD player; I got a Sony compact disc player. Because my parents always encouraged us to have jobs to help pay for things, I was a paperboy (I delivered papers to the people in my neighbourhood) and I had a Sony Walkman, and I saved up enough money to buy a Discman, so I remember buying my first compact disc.
PC: What was your first?
JT: Nirvana – Nevermind. I had it on tape, but when I got a Discman I had to have it on disc too.
PC: How do you listen to your music now? I’m all about vinyl again but obviously use Spotify.
JT: Mostly Spotify and MP3s these days. My friend, who is also really into vinyl, invited us over to his house and put on a record, he was like, ‘Why would you listen to Spotify?’ I was like ‘Wow! You really do hear a difference…’ Spotify is lovely, and other streaming services are great and everything, but nothing can really replicate the analogue sound of vinyl. It’s happening right there in front of you, and you can just really hear… I don’t know how to describe it.
PC: You hear the richness and you can hear each individual instrument, even on a CD you can’t hear instruments in the same way you do on vinyl – I just can’t get past vinyl.
JT: It’s hard in a New York City apartment. I think, if I had more space, I would have a nice record player and nice record collection but I don’t have anywhere to store it. My parents always played records though. A couple of my favourite records when I was a kid was Fleetwood Mac, my mom played a Fleetwood Mac album over and over, and I loved it. And then The Beatles: we had Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and my dad played Abbey Road. A lot of The Beatles, Fleetwood Mac and Bob Dylan.
PC: What sort of music are you listening to now then? Now that you are older.
JT: My tastes have changed a lot. I still sometimes go back to my formative years and listen to Nirvana but most of the time, right now, I’m really into more sort of bluegrass stuff. I really like Mumford and Sons – saw them in concert not too long ago – they are amazing! You know, mostly because the kids weren’t so keen on doing bathtime together, to calm them down we played music, and nothing chills people out more than reggae music. The kids loved reggae music, they instantly calmed down and they have hooked me on it, so I’ve been listening to Bob Marley and now, because of that, I’ve been listening to some Afrobeat music like Fela Kuti and other stuff. I’m not up on what’s sort of the hit music now but somebody recommended an album by The Radio Dept. so I’ve been enjoying that; it’s pretty good. Then there are times I’m on the subway and all I want to listen to is the Bach Goldberg Variations, that always calms me down. I really love this French composer Erik Satie.
PC: Yes, yes, yes! I love his compositions. I was taking piano lessons last year and was learning Gymnopédie No 1. He is on a lot of people’s playlists now I find.
JT: I’m so drawn to that sort of thing. And then there was a period of time when I was in college, I was really into this band Godspeed You! Black Emperor which I don’t even know how to describe their music! Their most famous song is like a wall of different sounds – almost like an ocean of sound – really interesting stuff, so I go back and listen to their album. I studied jazz in high school, there are a couple of jazz albums I go back to all the time: Hank Mobley is a wonderful Saxophone player; I love his album Another Workout; I listen to Miles Davis a lot – Kind of Blue and Milestones are my two favourite albums. Another record my mom always played is Take Five by The Dave Brubeck Quartet.
PC: Did you sing at all?
JT: I do now because we are doing a lot of kids’ music classes, and playing the ukulele you have to sing. I can hold a tune, and I took voice classes in college, and before that, but I don’t think anybody would pay to hear me – they might pay to have me stop singing!
PC: You say that, but often when people say that, they are being too modest. What about a special music memory? Is there a song that evokes a memory of a particular time in your life?
JT: There’s a version of the Elvis song “Can’t Help Falling In Love”, sung by a female vocalist, it’s very slow (I’m ashamed I can’t remember her name), but we walked down the aisle to that song. Whenever I hear a version of that song it always evokes memories. There’s a song, I think it’s called “Fade into You”.
PC: Yes by Mazzy Star, love that song.
JT: That song came out in like the ‘90s. That song in particular evokes to me the middle school/junior high/high school years. I feel like it was the
last song played at the school dance, or your last chance to have that one dance, like, ‘If I don’t do it now I never am going to do it.’ A slow dance, you get kind of close. Whenever I hear that song, that’s what it evokes for me.
PC: Did you ever see Nirvana in concert?
JT: You know what? I had an opportunity to see there In Utero concert, someone was like, ‘Hey! I’ve got an extra ticket. Wanna go?’ to which I said, ‘No. I will catch them next time.’
PC: Famous last words…
JT: And of course they never had another tour…
PC: Three questions we try to ask everyone:
What is your most used word or favourite word?
JT: They are probably not the same word. I hope my most used word is ‘love’; I think it is. I tell my wife and my kids I love them all the time – it’s really important to me that they know they are loved. Probably my most used word is probably ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. I try to tell people I love them, so maybe it’s the same, maybe it’s love.
PC: How would you spend your perfect day?
JT: Well the perfect day would be waking up without an alarm, or without the kids screaming, so rise whenever you feel you are not sleeping anymore. And then my wife and kids would be there and we would have a big beautiful breakfast together, so like omelettes, bacon, potato waffles, pancakes, and strong coffee. And then I’d go to work on a TV show or a film (with maybe David Fincher), but it would be a short day, so I’d be able to come back and be able to have dinner with my wife and kids as well. Sit and play some music together and quieten the twins down before they go to sleep, kiss them goodnight and read them a story. That would be my perfect day.
PC: That sounds perfect! What couldn’t you live without?
JT: Certainly my wife and kids, other than them it would probably be… It’s this candy my wife has gotten me into, I don’t know if you have them, it’s red liquorice like Twizzlers.
PC: Vines or something.
JT: Red vines. Red liquorice.
PC: That you get in a tub from Costco.
JT: Exactly. They are. I love them!
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This interview has been edited for clarity and length. Any opinions or views expressed within the interview are the subject’s own and publication does not imply endorsement of any such opinions or views by Absolute Music Chat or its personnel.