Ann Arbor teacher lands gig on ‘Mindhunter’
Katherine Banks has the best of both worlds as a teacher and actress.
“There’s a lot of overlap in acting and teaching. Wearing both hats, I spend all day trying to communicate ideas. They’re not so disparate for me,” said Banks, an alumnus of the Cranbrook Kingswood Upper School in Bloomfield Hills and the University of Michigan.
Banks is a drama teacher at Green Hills School in Ann Arbor. She’s done commercials, theater and voiceover work. She has a small, recurring role on the Netlfix thriller series “Mindhunter,” the second season of which is currently streaming. Golden Globe-winning director David Fincher (“The Social Network”) is an executive producer.
On “Mindhunter” – occurring circa 1980-81 and based on the true crime book “Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit” by John E. Douglas (one of the FBI’s first criminal profilers who began his career in Detroit) and Mark Olshaker – Banks portrays Joanne, the wife of Dennis Rader (Sonny Valicenti), the BTK ("Bind, Torture, Kill") serial killer.
“She’s based on Paula Rader, but (the creators) changed her name to Joanne. I don’t know why they chose to do that," explained Banks. "I know there’s very little information you can find on Paula herself; she’s an intensely private person. There’s no photographs. She was granted an emergency divorce during her husband’s hearing.”
From 1974-91, Rader, a church leader who was married with two children, murdered 10 people in or around Wichita, Kansas. His MO was tying up, torturing and killing his victims. He was arrested in 2005.
“I find it interesting how different BTK is from the psychological profiles Holden (Jonathan Groff) and Bill (Holt McCallany) spent all first season crafting of serial killers – (they’ve) had serious trauma as a child, are unable to maintain a job, are unable to maintain a significant romantic relationship,” said Banks. “So everything they’ve crafted in the first season, the BTK is not that. It’s an interesting juxtaposition to the hard work they’re doing.”
Rader’s daughter, Kerri Rawson, who lives in the Metro Detroit area, wrote a memoir called “A Serial Killer’s Daughter: My Story of Faith, Love, and Overcoming,” published earlier this year.
“She’s the only verbal member of the family; the mother and the son have totally slipped into the background,” said Banks. “I’m reading her book. It came out right after we finished filming the second season.”
So far, Banks has had three scenes on “Mindhunter,” which occur before the opening credits. She debuted as Joanne in the sixth episode of Season 1. Joanne leaves the family room with a baby(who’s assumed to be Rawson and played by Banks’ actual daughter, Allison, now 3), as Rader practices tying knots while watching TV.
Banks’ next appearance is in the first scene of the second season premiere. Joanne walks in on Rader performing autoerotic asphyxiation and runs out of the house, screaming. Her final appearance in the second season was giving Rader a book about managing sexual dysfunctions.
“She didn’t know he was BTK – I do believe that’s true. She thought there was something disturbed about her husband, but it could be healed. The sexual behaviors she saw at home – that actually did happen, she did walk in on him – she believed they could be corrected,” said Banks. “For her, it was about making sure her marriage was strong, her family was strong, and her husband was well. There was no suspicion that these behaviors could exist outside the home, nor was there a glimpse into something much, much darker.”
In all these scenes, Banks doesn’t talk. However, the actions speak volumes.
“One of the things people say about Fincher is he’s famous for doing so many takes. I will say the scene at the very opening of Season 2 that was ultimately 2½ minutes long was a 17-18-hour day and a few more hours the next day,” recalled Banks. “Everyone was so into it... The stamina you need to work those kinds of days, you have to be incredibly focused and energized to do it again and again and again and again.”
Banks said she got the role by auditioning as she would any other role. She read a two-page scene and videotaped herself at her Ann Arbor home. She also introduced her daughter in the audition because the creators were looking for a young child. When she got the role, she learned the scene and the character she read for were totally different.
“I’m guessing they just wanted to see if I could act, if I was a believable wife and mom,” said Banks. “I remember being in the makeup trailer and met (Valicenti)… I said, ‘I play your wife. What’s this about?’ And he explained everything. I really had no idea who I was playing or who I was married to until I showed up on set.”
Fincher directed all of Banks’ scenes.
“If you watch the show, those scenes are a separate storyline from the rest. Even if it’s not an episode he’s directing, he’s directing those vignettes,” said Banks. “He’s so smart and specific. So, obviously, the first time I walked in the room with him, there was that feeling of ‘Am I really here?’ I just felt so supported the entire time. He really holds your hand and guides you through everything every step of the way, so there’s no room to feel lost. There’s no room to feel anything other than what you’re supposed to be doing in that moment when playing Joanne.”
Even though Banks landed a TV role, she has no plans to move to Hollywood.
“I decided to build my life in the Midwest because it’s home. I think there are a lot of artistic opportunities here,” she said. “I’ve met some really strong actors and directors in Chicago and Michigan. ‘Mindhunter’ films in Pittsburgh. My whole career has been in the Midwest. I’ve been lucky enough to travel to (Los Angeles) for some commercial work, but I feel my home is here. My husband and I have built a life here and I feel really fortunate that I’ve been able to be artistically fulfilled here.”