NEW YORK - Director David Fincher is a beast of a perfectionist, known for making his actors reshoot their scenes dozens of times until he is satisfied, as he infamously required Jesse Eisenberg and Rooney Mara to do - 98 times - for a six-minute sequence in The Social Network (2010).
While this relentless approach can upset some performers - among them Robert Downey Jr, who protested by leaving jars of his urine on the set of the 2007 movie Zodiac - the madness yields magic: From Se7en (1995) to The Social Network, Fincher's movies have grossed more than US$1.5 billion (S$1.9 billion) at the box office worldwide and enjoyed consistent critical acclaim, establishing him as a cinematic auteur with a striking visual style and approach to storytelling.
Oscar-nominated for directing The Social Network as well as 2008's The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, the 52-year-old is also credited with coaxing top-notch performances from his actors - which is why many still jump at a chance to work with him, as the stars of his much buzzed-about new film, Gone Girl, attest.
Speaking to Life! and other reporters at the New York Film Festival last week, Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike flank their director and say that working with him has changed the way they see their other projects - even as they acknowledge his fearsome reputation.
In this story of a fairy-tale marriage gone wrong - an adaptation of the best-selling novel by Gillian Flynn that is already tipped as an awards favourite - Affleck plays Nick Dunne, a man suspected of dark deeds after his wife Amy (Pike) goes missing.
The A-lister reveals that he put on hold his own career as a director (Argo, 2012; The Town, 2010) just so he could learn from the director behind Fight Club (1999) and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011).
"I've definitely, at this point in my career as an actor, decided that it's all about the director, really," says Affleck, 42, who helmed last year's Best Picture Oscar winner Argo and, with Matt Damon, had won a Best Original Screenplay Oscar for Good Will Hunting (1997).
"I would have done the phone book with David… to get a chance to work with a guy I admire a great deal," he says as the bespectacled director sits next to him.
Affleck was, in fact, meant to be directing a film of his own - Live By Night - when he accepted the role in Gone Girl and, as Fincher tells it, "shut down his movie at Warner Bros and sent all the people he had hired home".
And he did as told because of his sheer admiration for the director.
"Before all my movies that I directed, I watched Se7en. It's the most perfectly, meticulously, Swiss-watch-made thing," he explains.
"And I thought, 'What kind of person makes a movie like this?'"
Fincher himself clarifies that his approach with actors is ultimately a collaborative one, even though this means far more takes - Gone Girl averaged 50 takes a scene, compared with the five to 10 that many directors typically require.
"I always feel it's a silly thing to talk about what you 'do' to actors. I don't think that you ever enter into the shepherding of something that's this expensive and this complicated without letting them know up front that we are all doing this together.
"The pressure that is on the set is there before the actors show up so that everyone is done," says Fincher, whom actor Jake Gyllenhaal has said would make him do dozens of takes for Zodiac only to delete 10 even before they left the set.