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.