Set in New Orleans, Contraband is Mark Whalberg’s new thriller about smuggling on container ships. He plays a blue-collar family man who’s sworn off his former life of crime, until his brother-in-law botches a drug deal and needs his help in order to repay the debt. Whalberg agrees to do one last job, running contraband from Panama on a container ship. Kate Beckinsale plays Whalberg’s wife, Ben Foster his best friend and business partner, and Giovanni Ribisi plays a New Orleans drug runner who is barely recognizable and eerily convincing.
I recently sat down with Foster in New York and we talked about the role he was initially courted for, the time he got kicked out of acting class, as well as his new production company. Hit the jump for the full interview.
Question: I know you were approached to play Kate Beckinsale’s younger brother, Mark Whalberg’s brother in law, who botches the drug deal, and that you thought the part was too young. Did they think about making the brother role older?
Ben Foster: It was nice that Balt [Director Baltasar Kormakur] and Mark wanted to see if there was a fit, so that’s a compliment, but I read the script and responded immediately to the potential of Sebastian, as something I could do something with.
Was that a role then became expanded?
Foster: It wasn’t enlarged, but it was humanized a little bit. The relationship was built where it wasn’t that way in the original script as much. So we prepped by speaking with Mark and saying ‘Ok this isn’t just a business associate, make it family’. That was very important to me, that it should feel like family.
Did you and Mark work more on the back-story together or was there any rehearsal process where you explored your history together?
Foster: We’d hang out and drink a couple bottles of wine, talk shit…like fellas. That was more important than running lines, for me at least. Rehearsal is a big word and just getting to know each other’s rhythms and each other’s sense of humor and cracking each other up felt like all was really needed to be done. In terms of prep, we talked with Balt how they met potentially. We did our backstory. That stuff came pretty quickly.
I was very struck by how violent the film is. The film is actually pretty scary, and you’re very scary in it. You’re very effective! For example, the scene where you’re drunk and you hit Kate Beckinsale… It’s so tough because it’s unintentional but it’s also… he’s wasted. How do you prepare for a scene like that?
Foster: It was a lot easier than the way it was written, which was much more sociopathic and aggressive and he’s chasing her and screaming at her. The original, what we did with the role was trying to humanize it, that he’s not a bad fella. We had to make it a bit more believable.
Baltasar was saying he came from an acting background, a theatre background and said how much he loves Shakespeare. I wouldn’t necessarily guess that having watched the movie, but what’s that like working with a director who comes from that background?
Foster: I haven’t seen the film. When an actor talks about Shakespeare, I get suspicious.
Have you done any theater or have interest in that?
Foster: Yeah, sure, absolutely.
Foster: I don’t have a lot of training. Doing. Was kicked out of my one acting class in Los Angeles, kicked off the stage by this renowned teacher. Think his words were ‘Get the fuck off my stage’. Did not like what I was doing…
Were you unprepared?
Foster: I was prepared, he just didn’t care for it. And so I didn’t care for his opinion and followed suit and got the fuck off his stage and didn’t go back.
What kind of method were they teaching?
Foster: It was like six weeks into….yeah an amalgamation. Anyone that says it’s a method class or a Meisner class, it’s an Uta Hagen class…At the end of the day, I’m gonna generalize and say.. I don’t think you need to break people down. I think everyone has a light inside them and it’s about releasing that. You don’t have to crush someone’s spirit to release it. One can be supported rather than destructed. [And also] Doing. And doing poorly. Or failing a lot and being ok with that. I mean it hurts. It’s terrible when you feel you’re prepped in work or in an audition and something didn’t turn out the way you hoped. But time goes by and you get braver I guess.
How hard is that when you work on something and it’s all working on set and it’s gelling, and then you see it and the final product doesn’t seem to reflect what you all did. Have you had any experience with that?
Foster: I haven’t been too shocked by the ones that haven’t been…I don’t regret any of them. They’re all experiences, solid experiences, and some I won’t watch. I like making them. How they turn out has not been up to me in the past. I suppose that’s why I’m transitioning. Starting this production company, it’s about how do you protect that which is most precious to you, that you’re putting your time and effort into.
How do you pick who to surround yourself with in that production team? Is it important for you to be working with people who you feel are creative and passionate, or do you more need people that are grounded in finance and are going to be able to make things profitable, so that you can make not just one movie, but more and more and more…?
Foster: Oren Moverman is my partner who did The Messenger, wrote and directed that. That’s where we met. And then Rampart is our first production company film, so I don’t know. I’m hoping there’s a lot more. We’re aiming at a few projects right now, and then it’s the game of raising money.
Can you talk a bit about the Gotti picture that you’re doing?
Foster: I’m waiting. That should go in the new year, but we’re just waiting for the “i’s” to be dotted before talking about it… other than that it would be a thrill to do.