The goats didn’t want to go out in the morning, Amanda Seyfried said. There was one in particular that was giving her trouble, the one Seyfried described as the “God-knows-how-big-she-is goat.” This one was spoiling for a fight. This one could not be moved.
So what did Seyfried do? She got in that goat shed, planted her feet and pushed.
The goat pushed back, of course. That’s the thing about goats: They’re stubborn. They also have horns, and Amanda Seyfried, a 34-year-old actress, does not.
It was frustrating. It was exhausting. It was also, Seyfried hastened to add, completely awesome.
And that’s one of the primary reasons Seyfried lives on a farm in the Catskills instead of in some overpriced condo on the Sunset Strip: A morning tussle with your goats has the ability to put just about everything else into perspective. “It’s insane how much I can feel so accomplished and successful here without having to be in a successful movie,” she said.
Seyfried shares the farm with several chickens, horses of wildly varying sizes, a donkey named Gus, those goats, her actor husband, Thomas Sadoski, and their two children. That last bit somehow proved the most surprising: During a week of conversations over Zoom, Seyfried wore no makeup and looked scarcely older than the breathy ditz she played in “Mean Girls” (2004) or the singing bride from “Mamma Mia!” (2008). But she is a mother now, a farmer and, for the first time in her career, a significant Oscar contender.
In Netflix’s new drama “Mank,” directed by David Fincher and due Friday on Netflix, Seyfried plays Marion Davies, the 1920s and ’30s screen star better known today as the mistress of the newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. It’s a relationship that would be fictionalized for Orson Welles’s roman à clef “Citizen Kane,” and “Mank” chronicles that process, as the screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) reminisces about the years he spent partying at Hearst’s San Simeon estate, a glittery Shangri-La where Davies became a confidante with whom he could share gossip and gin.
Seyfried has just a handful of scenes in “Mank,” but she still walks away with the movie, playing Davies as gratifyingly sly and self-aware, a brassy, no-airs girl from Brooklyn who has been plopped into a castle by Hearst and is determined to make the most of it. Davies throws parties, drinks too much and often says the wrong thing, but when you say the wrong thing in upper-crust circles, it just means you’ve told some wealthy men the truth, and the girl can’t help it.
When Marion’s not onscreen, you wish she was, but Seyfried is not used to being deemed the standout: When reading the rave reviews for “First Reformed” (2018), in which she played a pregnant widow beseeching Ethan Hawke’s conflicted pastor, Seyfried was happy just to get an honorable mention. She has found that most of the time when critics name her, it’s in a parenthetical telling you who played the daughter or the girlfriend. “Skating through like that has been my experience, mostly,” she said.
This sort of disarming frankness comes naturally to Seyfried, whose big blue eyes get even wider when she reminisces about making “Mank” but narrow slightly whenever she makes a self-assessment. She can’t help but wonder if directors wrote her off after mainstream romantic dramas like “Dear John” or “Letters to Juliet” (both from 2010), and she often derides herself as “lazy” for playing a version of herself in those movies. It’s important to Seyfried that an audience likes her; she is working on liking herself.
Despite her fair share of hits, Seyfried was still shocked when she ran into Quentin Tarantino at the airport recently and he knew who she was. “Keep your expectations low,” she told me, “and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.” Last fall, when her agent relayed that Fincher had her in mind for “Mank,” Seyfried’s eyes filled with tears. “It’s really nice to be respected by somebody that you think is just a one-of-a-kind master of his domain,” she said.
In a phone interview, Fincher compared Seyfried to Cameron Diaz — a mainstream comedienne who was always capable of giving more, even if she was rarely asked for it.
“We all knew that Amanda was luminescent, we all knew that she was effervescent, we all knew that she was funny,” he said. “We all knew that she understood how to parse or set up a joke, and we all knew that she could be moving. I think the thing that was ultimately surprising was the mercurial nature of how quickly she could scramble through those things, because it gives Marion this whole other dimension.”
Fincher is famous for shooting dozens upon dozens of takes, a process that can frustrate movie stars who are used to nailing their lines and moving on. Seyfried found his method to be a dream. She wasn’t rushed, she wasn’t discounted. Finally, she had the space to see what she was made of. “It was my turn,” she said. “It was me.”
WHAT MADE SEYFRIED pursue acting in the first place? “I’m still sorting this out with my therapist,” she said. But she sees a lot of herself in her 3-year-old daughter, Nina, who is creative, quick to express herself and eager for affirmation. Becoming a mother has often prodded Seyfried to look back on the arc of her own life, and from her vantage point in the Catskills, things play a little differently now.
After a pleasant childhood in Allentown, Pa., where her film-buff father got Seyfried hooked on Laurel and Hardy comedies and classics like “Nosferatu,” she spent her teenage years commuting to New York City to film episodes of the soap operas “As the World Turns” and “All My Children.” Some actresses take forever to land their first breakthrough credit. Seyfried’s first movie was “Mean Girls.”
That’s a pretty heady beginning for someone who’s still trying to figure herself out. All Seyfried knew back then is that she loved the attention, loved earning a laugh, and loved making people feel something. And when she was young, she was eager to use all of herself in every role.
Maybe that’s why she was successful so early. Blessed with those big eyes and an intimate, immediate connection with the camera, it wasn’t hard for Seyfried to convince you she was feeling something: She really, really was. “I don’t think I’ve ever unpacked what that did to me emotionally,” she said.
Her tendency to burn brightly and her lifelong eagerness to please has sometimes made her an easy mark, she knows now. “If you don’t have boundaries, then you’re screwed in this industry,” she said. “That is a scary place for a young person, somebody who doesn’t have a backbone — which was me. And I paid for it.”
She recalled a job she booked when she was still a teenager, where the director asked her to appear nearly nude onscreen. Without anyone else on set to advocate for her, she reluctantly agreed to take her clothes off.
“I have been put in very insane positions,” she said. “I was walking around with no underpants on and a T-shirt, and I didn’t want to be, yet I didn’t feel like I had any power to say, ‘No, this makes me uncomfortable.’” (She wouldn’t name the project.)
That’s part of why at 22, Seyfried began looking at houses outside Hollywood. As her career kept heating up, she needed to her draw her own boundaries, to remind herself that a set is not home, that home is home. Seven years ago, coming off roles in “Les Misérables” and “Lovelace,” she finally happened across the farm in the Catskills and knew it was what she had long been searching for.
Her business manager demurred, but Seyfried put her foot down: “I was like, ‘No, Mark! I’m telling you, this is where I’m going to die.’”
Later, she met, married and moved in Sadoski, and children would eventually be added to the farm’s menagerie, including a son born in September. Spending the last few years in the Catskills has “solidified my need to be out of the game when I’m not working, to be in nature and to refresh,” Seyfried said. “Everybody needs a center of gravity. Somewhere to feel safe.”
Safety is a priority for Seyfried, and she wants it to be a priority for Hollywood, too. She was reminded of this over the summer during a contentious vote to ratify the new Screen Actors Guild contract. “There was a lot of infighting, and it was really hard to know where I stood,” she said. Ultimately, Seyfried voted no, because she felt the contract didn’t do enough to protect actors who are shooting intimate scenes: “I just feel like really, this industry is not as safe as it wants to be.”
Ten years ago, Seyfried might have been too afraid to go against the grain, especially because her fellow actors still voted overwhelmingly to ratify the contract. But it can be a good thing to take a righteous stand: It means you know yourself and your own priorities, and finally, Seyfried thinks she does. No matter how her “Mank” performance fares this awards season, all the time she has spent on her farm this year has given Seyfried the ability to see these things much more clearly.
“This movie is definitely the best opportunity I’ve had in my career, and it is absolutely shifting my career for the better,” she said. “But without it, I was just as happy, because I’ve made space for myself to feel accomplished in my own world.”
Later, Seyfried would text me a photo from the shed where she’d had her morning clash. I could see most of her goats milling around in the distance, but one had gotten right up in the lens, defiantly staring the camera down with wide-set eyes. It looked stubborn as hell. It looked like it wouldn’t be easily led. And I knew why Amanda Seyfried had loved the fight.