The Times – Amanda Seyfried’s schedule isn’t very “Hollywood”. When, long after we’ve run over our allotted time, the 35-year-old actress apologises and says she’ll have to say goodbye in ten minutes, it’s not because she’s in the middle of filming or has a fitting or urgently needs to speak to her agent. No, the light is fading and she’s on feeding duty for her menagerie, on 27 acres in the Catskills in upstate New York.
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“Six goats — some mornings there are just more goats, as you get into goats and people start reaching out to you saying, ‘Take these’ — two big horses, two mini-horses — they were a mistake, I love them, but they’re so weird — a donkey that I’m so in love with, a pony that we brought from next door who is going to die here — he’s very old, but he’s very nice — and a barn cat,” she reels off. Also resident on the farm are her husband of almost four years, the actor Thomas Sadoski, their three-year-old daughter and four-month-old son (the couple don’t publicly name their children, although Seyfried laughs at the fact that she’s on Zoom with me wearing a jumper with her son’s name on it), and Seyfried’s mother, who has lived with them since their daughter was a few days old. “She moved in after the baby was born and never moved out, and I don’t want her to,” Seyfried says. “My husband’s going to work on Sunday — he’s flying down to Georgia to do a movie for three months [Devotion, about the first black American fighter pilot, set in the Korean War] and I would be alone with two kids.” Her big blue Disney eyes widen further at the thought. “I know families do that all the time, but I’m such a momma’s girl and she has always come to my rescue.”
She bought the farm seven years ago, after a decade of living in Los Angeles and Manhattan’s West Village, where she still has an apartment. Thanks to the pandemic, though, and her son’s birth in September, the family has been ensconced at the farm since February — the longest stretch she has spent in one place for years. “I always had a lot of anxiety in my teens and twenties, but once I had kids the anticipatory dread would come from packing, leaving and going to Asia or Europe for work. Once I got there I enjoyed myself, but this year, not having to go anywhere, it’s the least uptight I’ve ever been.”
For the first half hour of our conversation she is chatty but, judging from all I’ve seen and read of her, uncharacteristically sombre. “Sorry, I keep going to the negative,” she apologises. “Why can’t I think of anything positive? What an asshole.” Asshole is a bit harsh and her negativity is not without good reason: six days earlier a violent mob marched on the Capitol in Washington, and the day after we speak Donald Trump will be impeached for a second time. “It’s frightening and unnerving right now,” she says.
In truth it’s refreshing to speak to an actress of her profile — star of the cult teen classic Mean Girls, campy musical box-office smash Mamma Mia! (and its even campier sequel, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again), Les Misérables, the HBO series Big Love and indie fare such as While We’re Young and First Reformed — who isn’t putting on a show for me. And who would seemingly rather talk about anything other than work. After several failed attempts, however, I manage to get her onto her latest film, Mank, in which she plays Marion Davies, the 1930s movie star and mistress of the publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst (played by Charles Dance), who managed her and launched her Hollywood career. The highly stylised production stars Gary Oldman as Herman J Mankiewicz, the alcoholic screenwriter of Citizen Kane (although he shared the credit, and the Oscar, with Orson Welles), whose central characters were based on Hearst and Davies, the latter’s real life and career becoming overshadowed by the characterisation of her cruel, talentless alter ego in the seminal film.
Correcting that misconception was part of the draw for Seyfried. “The script was a version of Marion that I think really does her justice and that I think most people don’t know about,” she nods. “She was hilarious and the life of the party, but she was also smart, and she did love Hearst — it was a special relationship built on trust and honesty,” Seyfried says. She also comes across as a pragmatist, albeit one in exquisite gowns, marabou jackets and majorette hats.
“In many ways she’s controlling the show,” Seyfried continues. “I think back at how I was in high school and I played the dumb girl a bit. I realised that there was a power in playing up the aloof, distracted, ditzy girl.
“I’m not very confrontational, so sometimes it’s still easier for me to pretend I’m not as smart as I am.” Especially, she says, in her industry, which has tended to prefer its women pretty and pliant. “People want to dominate,” she says, leaning into the camera with enthusiasm. “And when someone feels like they have power over you there’s less drama. I’m 35 and I don’t utilise that much any more, but I see how it comes in handy and I respect that about Marion.”
While having no more than a handful of scenes in the film, she steals the show and is, justifiably, the subject of Oscars buzz. It’s a new experience for Seyfried, who, in spite of a career spanning two decades, has never been nominated and seems sweetly surprised by the attention.
“I don’t want to be disappointed in my life, so I try not to have expectations or set myself up for disappointment,” she admits. Is that self-preservation? “Absolutely,” she says. “But I have been lazy, and that laziness comes from fear. That’s what [Mank’s director and notorious taskmasker] David Fincher taught me: I haven’t been working hard enough. I have more in me.’
Seyfried grew up in Allentown, Pennsylvania, where her father was a pharmacist and her mother an occupational therapist. As a child she trained as a classical vocalist and modelled, before acting in daytime soaps. She only decided she really wanted to act, however, when she was fired from All My Children. “I got written out at 17 and I was devastated. And I thought, ‘Shit, I love acting and I want to do it for ever.’ ” Shortly afterwards she beat Blake Lively to win the role of Karen —the “Plastic” who claims her breasts can predict the weather — in Mean Girls alongside Lindsay Lohan and Rachel McAdams.
She met Sadoski in 2015, when they starred together in an off-Broadway play The Way We Get By, by Neil LaBute — her first, having always been terrified of getting up in front of an audience — playing a couple who have drunken sex after a wedding reception. They didn’t get together immediately (Sadoski and his first wife divorced later the same year), but early in 2016, when they were both working in LA, began to hang out. “I remember thinking, this might be the first time that we never say goodbye,” she says. “And I was scared because all my relationships had lasted two years, and I didn’t want this to end.” (Her two-year ex-boyfriends include the actor Justin Long and her Mamma Mia! co-star Dominic Cooper.) “To me, the sexiest thing about him was the fact that I could rely on him. He was a really good man. Reliability — hard to find,” she notes. They married quietly in early 2017, their daughter arriving soon afterwards.
I ask about a story I’ve read, alleging that Sadoski got jealous when she was reunited with Cooper for Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. “It was absolute bullshit. I do not know who wrote that,” she says. “We’re all adults at this point. I think of Dom very fondly and Tommy trusts that.” So they’re still mates? “Yes. Ish. When we worked together again we had a ball. But when you have a family and kids, the number of people you keep close and actually Facetime is quite small.”
And she does, she admits, have a weakness for all things British, including Marks & Spencer and, randomly, “British light switches”. Her Anglophilia also extends to the tattoo on her foot — “minge” — and her Instagram handle, @mingey, neither of which, she laughs, Americans understand or ever even ask about. “And I think it’s better that way.” Minge, it transpires, is the nickname bestowed on her while filming Mamma Mia! by her British co-stars, including Colin Firth. “I had never heard the word, and I love how many names there are in Britain for vagina,” she says. Having cheered up considerably from earlier, she gleefully reels a few off for me: “Nonny, front bottom. Colin was perplexed that I didn’t know any of them.” She sighs. “I just feel like I fit in in London. I wish we had more words for vagina here, but it’s not the same and there’s nothing I can do to fix it.”
As she readies herself to head off to feed her extensive furry family, I have to remind her to tell me, as is standard interview practice, about films she has coming out soon: Things Heard and Seen should be released in April and, sometime later in the year, A Mouthful of Air, which also stars Paul Giamatti and that she is “very proud of, but it was heavy”.
“I feel like I’m in a bit of a spot because I’m wondering what I should do next and — maybe because of the pandemic and the world that we’re in right now and not working — I’m feeling a little bit lost,” she says. But she’s learning to be sanguine. If the pandemic has taught us anything, she says, it is “control — we don’t actually have it at all, so why try to chase it?”