Casey Affleck Interview – GONE BABY GONE

     October 18, 2007

I’ll come out and say it… I didn’t think Ben could do it.

When I first heard that Ben Affleck was going to write and direct a big Hollywood movie and it would be based on a book by Dennis Lehane (“Mystic River”), I figured this could be a real bad career move and it might cause some irreparable harm. Instead, shockingly, Mr. Affleck has delivered a great film and one that might be remembered at the end of the year come award season. Yup, it’s that good.

The film stars Ben’s younger brother Casey (who’s having a fantastic year) and Michelle Monaghan as two private investigators in Boston that are hired by the family of a missing girl to augment the investigation by the Police. Playing some of the cops are Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman – two great actors who always deliver top performances.

Of course nothing in the investigation is simple, and every layer uncovered causing more questions.

So to help promote the film, Miramax held a press day here in Los Angeles and I got to speak with both Ben and his younger brother Casey. During the roundtable interview with Caseywe talked about this film and “The Assassination of Jesse James” – another film that I loved which also featured Casey in the lead. While Casey has been in a lot of movies…I think this is the year he becomes a star.

As always, you can either read the transcript below or download the audio as an MP3 by clicking here. And if you missed the movie clips I posted from the film, you can watch them here.

“Gone Baby Gone” opens at theaters everywhere this Friday.

Before reading this interview — be warned — spoilers are discussed about half way in.

Question: So did you ever think that uttering the line (singing) “I thought I had a double burger” would lead 10 years later to all this?

Casey Affleck: Has it? [Laughter] That’s the thing. I was trying to figure out what exactly brought me here. Yeah… Nope. That was something that I made up in the moment. I don’t know where it came from or why but it was … I probably afterward felt like “Jesus, why was I singing the double burger song?”

Q: How was it being directed by your brother?

Casey Affleck: Has he said anything about me yet?

Q: We haven’t talked to him yet.

Casey Affleck: No. I don’t know. Should I slam him or should I…? [Laughter] It was real easy. It was great. It was easy mostly because it was…you know…we kind of just spoke the same language, very comfortable saying to one another “I think that’s a terrible idea” or saying like “That’s a great idea and what if…?” We could sort of both build on the other’s excitement or the way that we agreed. We also kind of had a shorthand where we could go like…you know…he’s trying to articulate something and I wouldn’t get it and he’d say, “It’s like the time that we went and saw Frank at the place and we showed up and he was asleep” and I’d be like, “Oh, right, okay. Now I get it.” And those kind of things are really helpful because there’s not a lot of time when you’re doing a movie. Very often it’s like you do a take and then you rush over and go “Now try it like this. You gotta do it a little bit faster and on the second line you gotta do it like this.” And if you can have some kind of master key that creates some common reference, some sort of reference, it’s really easy. So there were a lot of things that made it great, but more than anything, I have to say it was sort of not that special. It wasn’t something that changed our relationship. It wasn’t like a huge difference between the way that we relate to any other director. I would just say that he did it very well. He articulated what he wanted. He was also very inclusive, collaborative, patient, and he would listen to me. He would say, “I want to do it like this” and I would say, “I really want to try it this other way first.” “Fine. Do that.” It was always that attitude and that made me and the other actors and the cinematographer and everyone else I think feel like they were included in the process, that it was their ideas that were on the line as well. And that brings everyone together and makes everyone feel like they all want the movie to be good because it’s their stuff that’s out there.

Q: Is he sort of the proverbial big brother – kind of gives you unsolicited advice, looking out for you, kicking you around a bit?

Casey Affleck: He’s not, not really any of those things. He’s a lot better than that.

Q: Did you have lots of family and friends coming by to visit? It’s your home and everyone knew where you worked from The Boston Herald.

Casey Affleck: Yeah, they’re all coming by and standing around. There’d be like the camera and then there’s all the people in front of the camera and then there’s all the friends and other people that heard about it behind the camera and very often Ben would just say, “Let’s take everyone that’s in front of the camera and move them behind the camera and everyone that’s behind the camera move them in front of the camera” and in that way you’d kind of get like a real, a much more…both…you get to sort of employ your friends and neighbors but you also get a more authentic, like actual, literal neighborhood vibe.

Q: It felt so authentic. Would that just be spontaneous?

Casey Affleck: He did that a few times, yeah, for sure, and that’s great. That’s kind of what he wanted and I think that worked in the movie. I felt like the one thing above all is he captured a real sense of place. It’s not easy because there’s a way of doing things. You know like conventionally in movies you have to go through the casting director to get extra castings, to get the 100 people who are supposed to be sitting in the park, and what shows up are the 100 people in Boston that do that for a living that are actors. So you get all these kind of (strikes an actorly pose) actors who are sitting there on the benches and they don’t…and it’s exactly the thing you didn’t want. He has a good eye for that and I think that adds up being a real asset.

Q: How often do you actually get a chance to go back home?

Casey Affleck: Well pretty often, you know, holidays and stuff, just enough to go home in the summer for a month or so or a few weeks and hang out. I love it and my family likes it. I still have a lot of friends there and it feels great. L.A. is kind of like home to nobody, you know, city of many kind of a place so even though I live there, I never really feel like it’s my home but Boston definitely feels like a home.

Q: Being a father yourself and seeing what your character did at the end of the movie, do you agree with that?

Casey Affleck: I don’t know if I would have done that. I don’t think I would have done that but I definitely agree with it. I mean the problem is that it’s sort of required an enormous, I think, a considerable amount of wisdom in the moment to make the right choice. I don’t know if I would have had that and been able to kind of put my emotions aside and make what is really kind of in the bigger picture the right decision. I think it’s the right decision because two wrongs don’t really make, obviously as you’ve heard, don’t make a right. It’s something that you can’t just kidnap a kid from a bad home. It’s not the way it works, you know. That would be total anarchy and the truth is that most of these children sadly who are kidnapped are kidnapped by people who think they’re doing the right thing for the kid. They’ll say, “Well I’m taking him because I’m the better parent” or “I’m taking him because I’m crazy and I think that I can love them in the right way.” You know what I mean? Whatever it is, it’s very rare that you get that kind of bogey man off the street who just wants to do something horrible. It’s a parent’s worst nightmare, both cases, you know, but the truth is that most kids are taken by someone they know, a relative or someone who think they’re doing the best thing for the kid and that’s not the case. And the way we need to stop letting children down and protect them better in this country, because we are sort of letting them down and not protecting them, is to intervene before that happens. You know, get in there, Social Services needs to have more power, they need to be able to intervene, parents need to be protected less. So I think that he made the right decision. He also ends up following up and taking care of the kid.

Q: Do you think your character regrets the decision he made at the end?

Casey Affleck: Yeah, I think he’s definitely conflicted about what has happened. He shows up and the mother still sucks and no ones doing anything about it and it tears him up inside but he also says it’s not completely out of his control and he knows that and he’s going to stay and watch this kid. One hopes that the real life version of that character would then get involved in the kid’s life and makes sure she has a good life. But yeah, he’s not completely comfortable with the decision he makes for sure.

Q: Do you like this kind of moral ambiguity in the script?

Casey Affleck: I think that was always the strong suit, the ending, the kind of moral ambiguity at the end of the movie, and then that was sort of woven backwards throughout all the decisions of characters and moments in the movie. That to me was the movie. “A,” the question of what do you do? And “B,” how do you know what’s right?” That appeals to me for sure.

Q: “The Assassination of Jesse James” apparently had a lot of different versions or cuts before it finally came out. I wanted to know what you thought of the final version. Also, could you talk about some of the stuff that we might have not seen on screen?

Casey Affleck: My best stuff. [Laughs] No. There are a few versions, not as much as has been reported. Always when a movie takes a long time to come out people go, “The studio fighting, the director can’t agree, the stars are taking the movie away” or whatever it is. That wasn’t the case. It wasn’t as exciting or dramatic as that. Andrew is kind of a perfectionist and he just took a long time. I mean it’s absurd sometimes they offer you… You shoot a movie for 4 months, you prepare it for 4 years, sometimes the director’s a writer, a writer-director, and then they want you to edit it in 4 weeks and it doesn’t make any sense. The editing in a movie can be a million different things in post production. So it took a long time because it kind of had to. It was definitely Andrew’s vision throughout. It’s a kind of hand made movie by Andrew Dominik and every last little detail. It would be hubris to say, “Well I think 20 minutes here, we cut out this scene there, the movie would work better.” I wouldn’t want to say that before I sat down with the movie for 4 years like he did, you know, because it’s hard to say what makes a movie. Sometimes you go see a movie, you see two versions of it and you go, “A is better” and a week later you go, “What was I thinking? B is definitely better.” And then with 3 months distance, you then change your mind again and again. It takes a lot of time to really feel like you’ve found something that is the ‘quote unquote’ best version. The stuff that was taken out … It was a 165 page script. It mostly got wittled away here and there, you know, little trims. The scenes themselves stayed intact long, you know. He liked the scenes that played. They start in the beginning, a man walks up to another man, begins a conversation, the conversation ends. Instead of, as you see in some movies, they cut right into the middle of the conversation, to the point of the conversation that tells that point of the story. He just didn’t want to do that so he left the scenes as they were, as far as I can tell, and took out the scenes that he didn’t need without trimming the scenes themselves. You know what I’m saying? Some of the stuff that was taken out was always to me some of the really interesting stuff, you know, what happened to Robert Ford after people in the country turned against him, how he sort of had to go on living once he was despised by everyone. It was like the worst of both worlds. He kind of became super famous, more recognizable than the President of the United States, at 20 and then became despised. So everyone knew who he was and everyone hated him. It would have been different if everyone had hated him and no one knew what he looked like or knew where he was. He could have vanished but he couldn’t. He just couldn’t run away from it because everywhere he went, people would burn down his hotel or they’d hang a dead cat outside his door or they’d run him out of town and they’d try to kill him. He just had to carry on living and I thought that he did it with a lot of dignity. He never killed again, never became a violent person. He was always a kind of upstanding citizen. He kept opening businesses and just tried to live his life. I think that’s kind of admirable and sad and tragic.

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Q: Did you go around with private investigators? What did you do to delve into the role?

Casey Affleck: I didn’t go around with private investigators so much because it turns out private investigators don’t really go around all that much. They spend a lot of time… It’s not so glamorous as it is depicted in movies and that sort of stuff. It’s kind of like they spend a lot of time sitting at their desks, very smart people I talked to, but it’s a hustle. It’s a hard job, long hours, and they kind of sit at a desk and gather information and try to track people down through their records and through this and through that and deliver that information to somebody else and it’s all done on the internet. There’s not a lot of smoking in the shadows or tailing people in cars. That discovery sort of led us to want to depict the private investigators in this movie in that sort of more mundane kind of work-a-day way that you don’t often see which is why when they come to find…you know, when you meet these characters in this movie, they don’t seem like Jack Nicholson in “Chinatown.” You know what I mean? They seem like these people that sit around their house. They’ve got their CD rack and they watch movies and they go to work and they don’t do anything that special. And this case, when it falls into their lap, is like a really big deal, very foreign to them. They don’t really know how to handle it, how to go about it, or even to take the job because they don’t feel qualified.

Q: Does your character have more of a history in the novel?

Casey Affleck: Well yeah, there’s a lot more information about him and his history in the novel. The movie changed quite a bit from the book. The relationship between the girl changed, what his history is as an investigator has changed. The movie wanted to introduce him sort of at the beginning of his career which I think was a good choice, instead of someone who had been around forever and was weathered and seasoned because that’s someone who has already discovered the kind of moral grey areas in life. You know what I mean? It wouldn’t have been as interesting at the end of the movie if he was someone who had been through this and been broken and put back together a million times, who’d been through divorce, seen people killed. I think that was a really good decision that they made. But yes, in the book he definitely has a history. Did you like the movie?

Q: A lot.

Casey Affleck: You did?

[A chorus of yeses from everyone]

Q: Did you have much involvement with Ben when he was writing it?

Casey Affleck: A little bit. He worked with Aaron Stockard who wrote it with him, but I came onto it, I was doing “Jesse James.” He came up and gave me the script and asked me if I wanted to do it and then it was about 6 months later that we started shooting. So it was over the next 6 months there was a fair bit of back and forth. The thing about Ben is that he is really comfortable. I don’t think he felt insecure. So he was totally comfortable saying, “What do you think of this?” or hearing or taking my ideas and putting them in the script. There’s a lot of people that might go or feel sort of territorial or like “Man, if I take this guy’s idea and put it in the script, or if he doesn’t like my idea that I suggest to him, what does that say about me as a director or writer?” You know, he’s won an Oscar. He’s had a lot of success. He’s sort of a confident person. I think that that enables him to be as collaborative as he was which was great.

Q: Can you talk about the similarities between your character Robert Ford and your character in this film? They’re both guys that other men pick on and tell them they can’t do that. What appeals to you about that kind of character?

Casey Affleck: Well, I don’t know what appeals to me about it. There are definitely some similarities. I mean there’s one small similarity I guess between Robert Ford and the character in “Gone Baby Gone” which is just that people don’t take them seriously or think that they’re capable of what the character thinks that he’s capable of. Other than that, the character in these two movies couldn’t possibly be any more different. As far as why it appealed to me, it wasn’t that quality necessarily that appealed to me about the characters but it was sort of other things about both. I guess there was a little bit of overlap there.

Q: No, they’re so different. I didn’t mean…

Casey Affleck: No, I know what you mean. There is definitely that. It’s a good question but I don’t really have a good answer. I’m not really sure why because I think that the answer is that it wasn’t that quality that appealed to me about the characters. You know what I mean?

Q: What did you think about the delay in England with the release of this film due to the Madeline McCann disappearance? Also, was there any particular high profile missing child case that was going on at the time when you were filming this movie?

Casey Affleck: I wasn’t aware of any case in the couple months that we were shooting this that had been going on, but certainly there’s always something. There’s always some kind of kidnapped child media sensation thing or whatever. I’m not sure why they pick the ones that they pick but it’s usually because they’re white or because they come from a neighborhood where you wouldn’t expect kids to be taken or whatever. There are a lot of kids that get kidnapped all the time that don’t get that kind of media attention. I can’t really say why those ones get chosen without sounding horribly cynical. Obviously we did this movie well before the Madeline thing. It’s a sad story, a sad case. It’s horrible, kind of a parent’s worst nightmare, and I hate to even think about it really. I don’t know that much about the details. It was kind of a bigger thing in Europe. It’s just reaching the States now. I don’t know all that much about it. I’m glad that they delayed the release of the movie because I think it was the right thing to do. It was the least that anyone could do. It’s just a movie after all and if it’s going to interfere in any way, or hurt the parents in any way or anything, there’s no question. Just move the movie.

Q: What do you have coming up?

Casey Affleck: Nothing. I don’t know. I’m sort of doing this stuff for a while. These movies are both going to roll out a little bit.

Q: What about “Aardvark”?

Casey Affleck: I’ve got “Aardvark” to get back to which is pretty exciting actually. I’ve never done a thing like that. That’s exactly what I’m working on from now until Christmas, probably I’ll be doing that. I don’t know. It’s just the holidays and nothing is going to come down the pike yet.

Q: It’s definitely your season so I’m sure something else is going to come along soon.

Casey Affleck: Well thanks.

Q: Congratulations on both films.

Casey Affleck: Thank you very much.

Q: It’s a great performance. I think you’ll definitely be nominated. Is that anything that occurs to you when you do a film?

Casey Affleck: Not really. Not really but I can’t tell you how nice it is that people responded to both movies. I’ve been on the other side of things and been at tables like this that haven’t been so warm so it’s very nice. [Laughter]

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