Casey Affleck turns in a powerful performance opposite Rooney Mara in Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, writer/director David Lowery’s beautifully written, poetic tale of romance and crime set against the backdrop of 1970’s Texas Hill Country. The film chronicles the doomed love of an impassioned young outlaw couple on an extended crime spree and explores archetypes worn down by time as they evolve into real people who are flawed and confused and surprised to discover there are real consequences for their actions. Opening in theaters on August 16th, the film also stars Ben Foster and Keith Carradine.
At a roundtable interview, Affleck talked about what appealed to him about the project and working with Lowery, why he’s drawn to characters whose internal fantasy of themself is at odds with the reality of their situation, what he likes best about Mara both personally and professionally, how this film is different from Bonnie and Clyde and Badlands, how in real life he’s romantic like his character, and why he values his close relationship with brother Ben Affleck. He also discussed his upcoming thriller, Out of the Furnace, with Christian Bale, his love of directing, the experience of I’m Still Here, and why he wants to keep acting. Hit the jump to read the full interview.
Casey Affleck: The first attraction I had was because the script was so well written, and I liked the way that David used language. The dialogue felt unique and poetic in a way. I don’t know if it read that way to anybody else on screen, but just reading it, I could tell that he really cared about language, and I liked that. I also am drawn to characters whose internal fantasy of themself is at odds with the reality of their situation and who they are. That was true for this character for sure. But mostly, I just liked the way that David talked about film, and about this film and the story. I wish I had a formula for how I chose films that I wanted to be a part of. I just don’t. It’s still a very instinctual process. I sat down and met with David, and I knew in the first five minutes that I wanted to do it, because I just got a feeling from him that he loved movies. He loved this story. He wasn’t doing it because he just wanted to be a film director and that he really cared about this. He really listened, and immediately it was a good match for me. All the way through the process, I was glad that I had done the movie.
Do you think, given your characters in The Assassination of Jesse James and Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, that in your past life you might have played a better cowboy?
Affleck: (laughs) Maybe. I do love the Western. David is so smart that he subverted the Western genre and also subverted the lovers on the run. Anytime there was some familiar trope of some genre, he either went around it or he would find a way of making it different in some way. Someone asked me if this was similar to Jesse James. There’s really nothing at all that is similar about the two even though they had similar influences, the obvious being (Terrence) Malick. There again, it’s completely different movies and characters. It’s hard to find any movie these days that isn’t in some way influenced by the impression that Malick made in the early seventies and today.
What did you like most about your character, Bob, and his relationship with Ruth?
Affleck: Other than having this romantic vision of himself and the world and the way it should be, and that vision coming to loggerheads with what the world really is, which is an interesting conflict to play, I liked that he just had a good heart and had good intentions. I’ve played a lot of people who are assassins or murderers or just creeps this way or that, and that always feels disgusting, and it was great to play somebody who had everyone’s best interest in mind and was a much better person than anyone thought. It’s really interesting that through the whole movie, no one ever finds out that he didn’t even kill anybody and that she had shot a policeman. It wasn’t even him. He’d never hurt anybody. So, all those little things I liked about him.
We don’t see it on screen, but the two of you are outlaws. What kind of crimes did you commit and how are you different from Bonnie and Clyde?
Affleck: Well, we’re younger, for one thing. She is better looking at least. It goes back to the question about David. This was kind of the sequel to Badlands, but it’s a different way of seeing things. You don’t actually see any crimes. With Bonnie and Clyde, you see them do all this stuff. What the crimes were is left to the imagination, but it’s probably robbing banks, robbing things, stealing stuff. I think it was smart not to show that stuff because it’s so much a part of our culture. Even just filmically, immediately when you sit down in the movie theater, there are five different movies that come to mind about a young couple who are on a crime spree. So what’s the point in showing it? You don’t have to show it. It would have become redundant and sort of boring. Although David could speak better about it, I think he wanted to show the reality of that situation, when the glamor and the romance of the Bonnie and Clyde lovers wears off, and you’re left with just the reality of trying to live out a life. You’ve got a kid. She’s got a kitten. You need to marry someone who has a job. You’ve got all that stuff. When that collides with the teenage, youthful sort of idealism of being lovers on the run, then what happens? So, in that way, I think that the movie is different than Bonnie and Clyde and Badlands. And the characters are different mostly because you’re seeing her, and through her story, you get to see her mature at this really accelerated rate because of the circumstances. She has to deal suddenly with does she really want to be with somebody who’s on the run, who’s a fugitive, and doesn’t have any way of earning a living or supporting them? Or is she going to be attracted to this slightly more boring but stable guy who she never ever thought she would be with who is a police officer? And I think that seeing her come around from her love for me to just entertaining the possibility of being with this guy, not actually being attracted to him or having a relationship with him, but just maturing to the point where she can see what might be nice about him and what could be lovable about him is what separates it from those other movies.
Affleck: Rooney said that?
Yes, she did. What is it about her that you like? From what I understand, you did not know each other before making the film.
Affleck: That’s true. We didn’t know each other, but that’s often the case when you start a movie. Rooney is a very mysterious person. There are some things she plays close to the vest and doesn’t give a lot, but the camera sees a lot. She has that enviable, magical quality of being something that just comes alive on screen, and she’s very interesting to watch because there’s a lot happening in her head, and for some reason you can see it. She likes to say it’s just because her skin is so pale, but I think it’s something else. I loved not knowing what she was thinking and what she was going to do and say, even though I knew on paper what she was going to do and say. I think she’s a very brave young woman for doing all these roles that she’s doing and for jumping in the way that she has. She doesn’t have a lot of run up to movie stardom. She was doing nothing, and then she was working with all these huge directors and doing all these big parts, and they’re all very different, and she hasn’t blinked once. I know that I would have screwed that up, and so, that’s one of the many things that I like about her.
Personally, what do you like about her?
Affleck: She’s so incredibly charming and she has a very dry sense of humor. She doesn’t pretend a lot. You can imagine that if you tell a joke and Rooney doesn’t like it, she’s not going to smile. I enjoy that about her, and she’s honest. She’s brutally honest and very forthright. I like people that are a little bit too serious, so I have a lot of affection for Rooney.
Casey, you didn’t get to shoot very much with Rooney or Ben. What were your impressions when you first saw the movie?
Affleck: First of all, when I saw it, the very first scene that I saw was the scene between the two of them in her house, and I was astonished at how believable and subtle and nuanced they were. I just thought – and this is true – I came out [of the screening] and said, “There is no way that I can fit into that movie. I don’t want to see any more of it.” I really was totally blown away by it. I thought they were so present, both of them, in those scenes. I was totally intimidated, and I thought back on all the stuff that I had done. I was imagining this beautiful, naturalistic, emotional movie, and then that cartoon rooster walking into it. You know what I mean? I could feel it. That was my reaction to seeing them in the movie. I think Ben’s terrific and I always like watching him.
Can you provide some insight into your approach to your character and that scene where he gets shot?
Affleck: I love that he was this kind of guy. Like I said, he never shot anyone and he wouldn’t shoot anyone. It doesn’t even cross his mind that kind of malevolence, and violence is not something that he would [engage in]. It so takes him by surprise. I hope you see in that moment just how different he is than what people think of him. There are always people that are after him and want to kill him. People put him in jail for killing someone, but he’s nothing like that at all. In his mind, he was thinking there might be some people who are after him for this or for that. I can’t remember what the line is, but it’s something about clearly he was not expecting this guy. He didn’t even know who this guy was. It was like, “Why are you…? Who are you?” Maybe I read into it too much, but it always felt as if that moment was a little bit of a metaphor for the surprise of the young man who meets the grown-up world where there are real consequences for your actions. You stole money from people. You’re not living in Badlands. I mean, there are consequences in Badlands, but you’re not living in True Romance. There are people who you have pissed off, and this is how some people in the world get revenge.
Can you talk about how you and David developed the monologue together where you’re speaking to yourself in the mirror? He said you guys worked on it and finalized it that morning?
Affleck: That was one of the rare instances in the movie where we just did something that wasn’t scripted. It was just a moment where we wanted to show a glimpse into what was in his mind, his expectations about what was going to happen, so that you would see how they weren’t met, and so you could feel the surprise of it. The script is so well written in my opinion that it never needed anything to be added or changed. But at that moment, I wanted to try something, largely just try a couple … It wasn’t exactly improvised, but it was very spur of the moment, last minute planning, kind of what will we say? We wrote a couple quick monologues and then tried them on. That was how that happened.
Affleck: Yes, I’ve written some love letters in my life, I can say. Is that enough? (laughs) Yes, I think he’s a very romantic character, and I really liked playing that part of him. It’s always an endearing quality. My only concern was making sure that he wasn’t so familiar in his romanticism in the context of the movie that it becomes a cliché. I think all of those characters are a little bit romantic, kind of like the ones in Bonnie and Clyde, in Badlands and beyond even that. That character is someone we have seen in films because it is such a great character. But because we’ve seen it so much, you have to make sure that you find something that’s real about him and that’s different about him. Now, that said, when other actors say that, I go, “There’s no way you can ever do anything that’s like anybody else because you’re you and you’re unique, so just do it the way that it resonates for you and then don’t worry about it.” But I can’t take that advice myself from other actors. So I’m always looking for ways to make it stand out in the landscape of other movies, which I think is an aesthetic, but I do do it myself.
Your brother did so well in awards season this year. You must be extremely proud of him. Could you talk about that? Also, did you talk to him about this movie and has he seen it?
Affleck: Yes. He has seen this movie. I told him about it. We’re very close and so we talked throughout making the movie. I was very happy for him. He did have an enormous amount of success. We both started out as children doing this largely because my father was in the theater and our mother took us to the theater all the time, and we just had a lot of people around us that were in the arts, and we both had this very influential teacher in high school. We had these similar paths all the same, so it’s not a coincidence we both could have wound up doing this. But then you get out into the real world and there are all these crazy ups and downs of your own individual career paths. I did this movie when I was 17 called To Die For, and he hadn’t been in anything. I was introducing him to Matt Dillon, and he was in awe and star struck. When you’re the younger brother, usually it’s not that common that you’re having these experiences that your older brother is in awe of. And then, he took off doing Armageddon and had a lot of success and fame. It was somewhere around there. And then, he had a low around the same time that I was starting to get a lot more of the movies that I wanted to be doing like Jesse James and so forth. And then, we crossed paths again and did Gone Baby Gone together. Then, as a director, he came up again. It’s just funny.
When you’re younger, you pay attention more to every little this step, that step of your career choices, and then you get a little bit older — I’m only 37 — and you start to see more of the patterns. It’s nice to see how there are these ups and downs, and it doesn’t mean that he’s finished just because he’s unhireable for a couple of years. It’s nice to remind him of that when he’s on top and winning lots of awards. (laughs) I feel really lucky to have been able to not only have him as a brother because I love him and he’s such a smart guy and an interesting, fun guy, but also have a friend to go through and chart and navigate the waters of Hollywood which can be kind of alienating and lonely at times just because everyone is always … you know what it’s like. I’ve also been lucky enough to have been strangely really close to, you know, I grew up with Matt Damon, and then I became best friends with Joaquin (Phoenix) and all these people who have been successful and famous, many of them much more than myself. So I get a glimpse of it. I get to see and be very close to people across the entire spectrum of movies and fame and success and that has been enlightening, and it has taught me a lot when you see someone who is super famous and everyone loves him, and then he crashes and burns, and everyone hates him, and then you see other people and they’ve all had totally different careers. I think of Matt as a brother, and Joaquin as my brother-in-law, and Ben is my actual biological brother. They’ve all taken very different paths and I’ve been able to be close to all of them and learn from all of them.
What is next for you?
Affleck: I did a movie called Out of the Furnace with Christian Bale that Scott Cooper directed that is coming out in the fall.
What about Third Person?
Affleck: Third Person? No, I’m not doing that movie. I know that’s on the internet, but I’m not doing that. That’s it.
Directorially, is there anything that you’re lining up or looking at?
Affleck: Sort of. I do want to do something again because I feel like that movie (I’m Still Here) was an amazing experience for me. I love directing that way and working with Joaquin. I learned so much being in a different position and working with an actor. But it also left a bad taste in my mouth a little bit, and I would like to cleanse my palette and do something different, something that’s as different as I can find. I’m looking for something, but on the other hand, I really want to keep working as an actor. I feel like I’ve been picky through the years and would do one movie a year or one movie every two years, and I want to work a lot more. So if I can find something that just happens right away as a director, I’ll do it if I really love it, but otherwise I want to keep working as an actor and getting better.