Ben Foster has taken on a number of challenging physical performances throughout his career so one might think that he’d be fine standing on a boat getting pummeled by wind and rain, but apparently The Finest Hours was an even tougher shoot for him than Lone Survivor.
The Craig Gillespie-directed film tells the true story of Captain Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) and the crew of his CG 36500 lifeboat who are sent to rescue the men aboard the severely damaged oil tanker, the SS Pendleton, in the middle of a nor’easter. Foster steps in as Richard Livesey, a member of the Coast Guard who volunteers to join Webber on the rescue mission.
We already shared the roundtable interviews with Pine and Gillespie, but now it’s time for the on-set chat with Foster. Check out what he told us about his character, why this movie feels similar to films from the 30s and 40s, his job as the on-set DJ and loads more. The Finest Hours is due in theaters on January 29th.
Question: You’ve done a number of military projects and when I interviewed you for Lone Survivor, you were telling me about how each one taught you more and you became more appreciative and grateful for people in uniform. How about as far as this one goes?
BEN FOSTER: It was a real treat getting to go down to Chatham, meeting the Coast Guard there. I’m sure the other guys talked to you about that a little bit. It’s a real humble community. It’s one that doesn’t get a lot of PR, so they’re not great at selling their community, but they do an extraordinary job out there. When we think about how much water there is on this planet [laughs], they’re covering a lot of ground and keeping a lot of people safe. So spending time with people who serve their fellow man, it’s a privilege to spend time with them. It’s as simple as that.
Tell us about your character and your interpretation of him.
FOSTER: Well, I’m a guy on a boat. [Laughs] Coast Guard, four of us go out under a very difficult weather pattern. How to describe him? There’s no audio on the man, there’s no video on the man. I suppose we’re playing a type of man. We’ll see how it’s cuts together. I don’t really know how to say more than that. This is portraiture work.
What’s his role on the boat? What’s he responsible for?
FOSTER: What’s his role on the boat? Not dying. [Laughs] And saving the other men. Pulling guys out of the water is his role.
As the actor in the cast who’s had the most experience doing these arduous, military-type movies, have you served as a godfather in a way to the other actors?
FOSTER: I wouldn’t go that far. These guys are all talented kids. I’m in very good company. What’s nice is having Kevin Scott here who did all the stunts for Lone Survivor, so we have some of the same team and work with some of the same guys. Having a base with a military discipline always helps larger action pieces, keeping it safe, keeping it real, keeping it messy, keeping it violent. We’re not making a documentary. This isn’t going to be Lone Survivor 2. I think it’s really brave and exciting that Disney’s doing it, but it also feels very much in their wheelhouse from way back when. It feels like a callback to a grander time of, in my opinion, of films that I feel more connected to, the 30s and 40s. It’s more about a type of men who don’t go home and tell the town how great they are. They’re not living in a time where they’re tweeting their last adventure and taking selfies of each other on a fucking boat. These are guys that go out and do their job and go home, and their relatives didn’t even know that they did this. They didn’t know that they performed one of the greatest saves in history. So hopefully we’re not representing superheroes, we’re not representing men in capes, we’re representing guys who are scared and maybe a little underprepared but do the best that they can and ultimately, by facing their fears, can do incredible things. So if we can use film as a medium to push that kind of ethics back into the community in some small way, then maybe it’s not a waste of time.
You mentioned older movies. Are there any in particular that you’ve been watching to relish in that kind of manhood?
FOSTER: Gosh, relishing in manhood! I like the choice of words.
That should be the tagline for the movie.
FOSTER: Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, just watched that, it was [Robert] Mitchum and [Spencer] Tracy. We have to remember these are kids. These are kids going out, doing dangerous stuff and it just feels like the 30s and 40s was a time when film really respected that or when we needed that as a country. That was also part of the medicine during the war.
Your co-cast said you brought speakers on the boat for downtime. How’d you get that idea?
FOSTER: Well, we’re on a boat and we’re cold and wet, and we’re not allowed to complain because we’re not saving any lives. We have coffee breaks. I don’t know. It seemed to make sense. So I got a little speaker, it’s waterproof. We’ve been on a kind of classic rock to 70s funk/soul recently so it’s nice to see a bunch of grumpy wet guys start bobbing their heads, you know? [Laughs]
Are you the one that picks the music?
FOSTER: Yeah, and you do have to accommodate everybody, but …
What’s the most unexpected song you’ve played?
FOSTER: Gosh, there’s been a lot of that.
Have you played “Don’t Rock The Boat?”
FOSTER: Yeah, we get pun-y on it, for sure. “When the Levee Breaks” by Zeppelin, “The Rain Song,” you do that kind of cartoon-type.
“I’m on a Boat.”
FOSTER: Sing that off the boat! [Laughs] We’ve been listening a lot to the Soul Snatchers, which is good, dirty funk. Makes you warmer.
Kyle and John told us about their approach to portraying these real people. Can you tell us about your approach?
FOSTER: As I said, I’m not doing an impression of any body. It’s a type of man. They had more access to living family members and relatives of their characters, but I don’t so I’m building my own thing with Craig, who I’m enjoying a great deal. Craig is a terrific director, really great eye, very collaborative, really friendly, a gentleman, goes far out of his way, well beyond the call of duty, to make sure we all feel heard, which is not always the case.
Everything we’ve seen here looks pretty physically arduous. So far on the shoot, what’s been the toughest thing for you?
FOSTER: I like physical jobs. I like moving my body around. I like testing it. Let’s you feel like you’ve done something. The difficult element with this is just eating shit all day. I mean, that’s the truth of it. Excuse my language, but just getting punished by cold, wet rather than you have to run up a thing or do a thing or fall off a thing or go through a thing or drive a thing. This is just take it
Would you say this is harder than Lone Survivor?
FOSTER: Oh, yeah! Whoa, yeah. I’d fall down a mountain any day of the week rather than get hit under these waves and rain machines. After eight hours every day, it gets in your bones. You can’t keep the blood up. You can’t keep your body temperature up at all. We’re stuck on a boat.
Yeah, they told us you guys switched to dry suits, but it still looks quite arduous.
FOSTER: We’re not allowed to complain.
Can you tell us about your process for the accent?
FOSTER: I was born in Boston so it was just turning it up a bit. Where you guys from?
FOSTER: Nice! How’s New York doing?
It’s not as cold as Boston, and it’s definitely less cold than in here.
FOSTER: Yeah, right? It’s like a trap in here. But amazing sets, right? Knockout stuff. It’s nice doing this for a while now, still get really excited coming to work and seeing all the craftsmanship that’s gone into this. The steelwork alone to build the Pendleton, it’s inspiring. It’s exciting.
Did you know you’d be okay on boats before going into this or were you worried about being seasick?
FOSTER: Yeah, I like being on the water. Feels good.
What about the source material? Did you know about that before signing on?
FOSTER: I wasn’t, no. Have you read the book? It’s a terrific read. I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of this story. I guess the exciting part about being a part of it is this story should be known and these guys should be celebrated and how great that Disney got behind it to celebrate these guys? It’s nice to be a part of.
For more from my Finest Hours set visit, check out the links below:
- Chris Pine on How ‘The Finest Hours’ Is Like a Studio Film from the 50s
- ‘The Finest Hours’ Set Visit: Craig Gillespie on Directing His Cast from 75 Feet Away