Mindhunter expanded our minds about Jonathan Groff’s incredible talent

MINDHUNTER - Credit: Patrick Harbron/Netflix
MINDHUNTER - Credit: Patrick Harbron/Netflix /
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MINDHUNTER – Credit: Netflix /

The improbable making of Holden Ford

Kudos must be given to David Fincher and Mindhunter‘s casting directors, because Jonathan Groff was definitely the wild card choice to lead the Netflix series. Everyone knows him from his theatre work and/or his expertise in comedy; this is the actor who earned a Tony nomination for appearing on stage roughly nine minutes in Hamilton, and absolutely deserved it because he owned every one of those nine minutes. Oh, and he spent a fair amount of time talking to himself in Frozen and its sequel, two of the most popular Disney movies of all time.

Nothing about his resume says “TV procedural,” let alone “guy who interviews serial killers.” In fact, if you know the first thing about Groff off-screen, you’d be confused by this casting choice; he’s well-known for being effortlessly charming, funny and downright adorable (watch any of his talk-show appearances, like maybe this one). There is no one more full of life, or who makes people more excited about life, than Jonathan Groff.

Jonathan Groff is the anti-Holden Ford—which ironically makes him the perfect Holden Ford.

The crime genre particularly has a habit of using not only the same actors, but the same general character molds, in part because there are so many crime dramas, but “procedural” also tends to be taken as sticking to, well, procedure. Someone who plays a killer or a crime victim turns up as a witness or a cop on the same show a year or two later. And there are people who’ve played cops, or FBI agents, or other law enforcement officers over and over again. It’s not necessarily a problem but it is a pattern.

Casting someone entirely opposite as the lead is a breath of fresh air. It makes Mindhunter automatically different because Jonathan Groff brings a completely new eye to the character and to the material, and a unique appeal to the viewer because we know we haven’t seen him before. We’re not watching a familiar face play one more brooding antihero; in fact, there’s a fair amount of Groff under the surface of Holden, which is key to understanding the character.

At its most simplistic, we’ve seen this story a lot: the one in which the idealistic protagonist is exposed to so much darkness that it consumes him and he turns into an angsty, often morally grey version of who he used to be. With the rise of darker narratives over the last few decades, characters like that are more common than not (and therefore less effective as the audience is inured by their drama).

Groff’s casting gives Mindhunter an ace in the hole: an earnest foundation that immediately buffers against those usual tropes. There’s something so genuine about Jonathan Groff as a person, and in so many of those known roles, that it comes through subconsciously in who Holden Ford is both in Groff’s performance and in the way the viewer perceives him.

Watch the way he enters a room or his body language in scenes, particularly in the first part of season 1—there’s no posturing or trying to be a hardass. He’s just natural. He also has a great expressiveness, both in his face and his voice, that makes him constantly relatable. You see him and you don’t just like him; you’re disarmed by him. He has a particular tone that, even when he’s talking about the most horrific things, it’s somehow soothing. His mere presence counteracts the somberness of the rest of the show.

“Jonathan has chemistry with absolutely anything in the world,” Holt McCallany told EW and he’s absolutely right.

You can’t script that. Jonathan Groff brings all these winning qualities to Holden because that’s his natural charisma; he’s not going to get shoved into a melodramatic box. And because he’s so easy to connect with, that makes it easy to invest in Holden… and to never turn our backs on him even when he’s lost or frustrating. We want to understand him, not crucify him, because Groff has that emotional currency with the audience. You’d be hard-pressed to find another actor with the same appeal.

But all that is just the foundation of an incredibly entertaining, thought-provoking, and yes, even fun journey.