From the writer/director of Crazy Heart comes the new crime thriller, Out of the Furnace. The story centers on one Russell Baze, who goes in search of his missing brother Rodney when the young man disappears and law enforcement fails to follow up. Casey Affleck (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) stars as Rodney, a veteran of the Iraq War who returns home with post-traumatic stress disorder, which complicates his search for a job.
During a set visit, Affleck took some time out of his shooting schedule to talk to our group of reporters about filming in Pittsburgh, researching for his part, and working with writer-director Scott Cooper. Also starring Christian Bale, Zoe Saldana, Sam Shepard, Willem Dafoe, Forest Whitaker and Woody Harrelson, Out of the Furnace opens December 6th. Hit the jump for the interview.
Casey Affleck: Well, I haven’t seen a lot of Braddock, but it’s a very sobering place to work. On one hand, you feel lucky that you’ve got a job being around here; on the other hand, it’s pretty depressing. I’ve been to a lot of poor places, but I’ve never been to a place where, at once, you can tell it had been a thriving city and now it’s completely decrepit. It’s weird.
The Pennsylvania mentality isn’t that unlike Massachusetts, as far as being a blue-collar community. Being from that area, were you able to relate to the people here a little bit?
Affleck: I guess so, a little bit. It’s easier, or more familiar, than doing a movie about people in Malibu or something. I think I know what you mean. There are certain differences, like it feels a little more mid-Western out here than it does Northeastern for some weird reason. There’s a big difference between Pittsburgh and Philly, even. I think the Allegheny Mountains splitting them gives the place a weird accent. We talked early on about whether or not everyone should have this accent they talk with here, and we decided not to because it’s so strange that it would sound to people inconsistent or strange or almost Southern, and people would say, “Why do these people have these fucking weird, strange Southern accents when they’re obviously in some industrial Northern city?” Then it was decided that we would try to embrace it, regardless of how odd it would be to other people’s ears. I guess it’s similar to Boston in certain ways, like the working-class neighborhood I grew up in. They have to ride the tides of history coming and going and, in part, that’s what the movie is about, although I wouldn’t say this movie is about any one thing, but it certainly is about class and economy, and certainly my character brings themes of returning vets and some of those ideas to the film.
Did you talk to a lot of vets?
Affleck: A little bit. I wouldn’t say “a lot” but I certainly watched a lot of some recent important documentaries and talked to some guys, but it’s kind of the same story … you begin to hear the same story over and over enough that you’re like, “Okay, I get it. I get the gist of what is happening here.” It might not be every person’s individual story, but there’s a common theme here in all the people I’m hearing from.
Affleck: I had to learn how to watch Christian go to steel mills. [laughs] No, not really. There’s quite a bit of fighting in the movie and they’re these illegal backyard fights, which I didn’t really know anything about, but I guess it’s become a real thing, in part because of the internet, which has fed the fire of so many little peripheral fetishes in our culture. This is one of them. On YouTube, there’s a million of these backyard illegal street fights, so that’s what my character participates in a little bit, so I had to learn about that and learn how to fight better, as if someone had been a soldier in war and fought there, not only fighting in war but getting into fist fights and boxing. That wasn’t something that I had ever done, so I had to go and do some training for that. That’s harder than watching and learning how to work a steel mill. [laughs]
No matter what Christian tells us.
Judging by your face and your hands, it looks like you’ve already seen at least one fight before trying to get this one from Willem’s character. Without giving too much away, where is your character in life right now? How desperate is he and what’s he trying to accomplish?
Affleck: Well, it’s complicated. On the one hand, he doesn’t have a job. It’s hard to get a job. A lot of these guys return from Iraq and they can’t find work. Some of them are really skilled; they’re engineers, they’ve been trained and educated in many ways. Then they come home and they’re delivering pizza. The wage for deployment is higher than minimum wage so suddenly they’re taking a big pay cut and they don’t have any benefits, [and so on]. That’s part of what he’s going through. On the other hand, he’s having to deal with the very serious and very common Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. A lot of these guys have done three tours in Iraq, so they’ve seen a lot of horrible things and it’s hard to get them out of your head. Once those images are in there, even if it’s not things you’ve actually done, it’s things that you’ve seen, and it’s hard to relate to other people and sleep at night. He’s dealing with both of those things. The fighting is an outlet for some of that pent-up aggression and also a way to make money.
Affleck: He’s terrific, he’s really great. I always feel like people are so unusual. One of the reasons I love making movies is that you meet all these interesting people, from the journalists that cover them to the people who are working on them, everybody. They like movies, they’re creative in one way or another, or interesting, or bizarre. Some people are on one end of the spectrum and can be really eccentric and strange, and I like that. Scott’s an unusual guy and a really smart and creative guy. Because of those quirks, I always feel like, if you’re going to judge people at all, it ought to be based on the work that they do and his last movie really speaks for itself and says a lot about him. I don’t know what else I can say about him. I have tons of compliments, but I feel like the work that he puts out is good, and the work that I’ve seen him do with other actors is good, so that says enough.
I’m curious about the ad-libbing in the scene. Scott says he gives you direction on doing things off-camera to help the other guys’ performance. Do you worry about doing some cool stuff that’s not on camera, or is this just stuff to get a reaction?
Affleck: I don’t know. If you think about whether it’s off camera or on camera, you’re already thinking about the wrong thing. I don’t think too much about it until I do something great and then they miss it on camera and then I yell. [laughs] No, it’s good. I keep trying everything. I do my stuff, they’re on camera first, then afterwards you just keep doing different stuff, otherwise, for one thing, it gets boring. It’s nice to keep trying different things. And sometimes the stuff you think is going to work ends up sucking, so you do something off camera and you go, “Aw dammit, I wish they had that”, but probably it was not so good and you’re lucky they didn’t get it.
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