Today in Berlin, Casey Affleck unveiled his second film as writer-director, Light of My Life, and he admits it was a deeply personal story about parenting—one that was the polar opposite of his 2010 mockumentary I’m Still Here starring his buddy and then brother-in-law Joaquin Phoenix.
“That was a semi-documentary inspired by other things like Andy Kaufman,” the Oscar winning actor from Manchester by the Sea explains. “Here I wanted to try classical filmmaking and a story closer to who I am and to speak more about things I care about.
“It evolved gradually over many years,” he continues, noting how he drew on “certain stories I told my kids and different conversations I had with my children that I wrote down. I collected scenes until it started to look like a movie. Science fiction was something that just evolved.”
Initially he was going to make a film starring himself and two boys. But when his two sons whom he “is raising as a single parent” complained, he changed his co-lead to a girl played by talented newcomer Anna Pniowsky and based her on his two nieces (i.e. Ben’s daughters). When he met Pniowsky he says he was “struck by her presence and how she could do almost anything”.
While the story of a father and daughter living in the outdoors following a pandemic that has killed off the female population could be compared to Leave No Trace (where another newcomer Thomasin McKenzie made a major breakthrough) and also the post-apocalyptic atmosphere of The Road, Affleck explained how the film evolved organically.
“I love science fiction and apocalypse movies—I was obsessed by Mad Max and Road Warrior—and at one point wanted to make this more about science fiction,” he explains. “But in the end there are just little glimpses and I concentrated more on the drama. To me that was a lesson not to worry too much about what you think you’re supposed to do. In the end you’re going to do what’s inside of you.”
Still, what does the think of the recent spate of survivalist films, which could also include I Think We’re Alone Now starring Peter Dinklage and Elle Fanning?
“Apocalypse stories are things people keep coming back to,” he responds. “Every country makes their own version. It has to do with imagining what life would be like if you sweep away all the clutter that human beings have accumulated, all the ideological clutter and government and kick back to something elemental. That’s what I think is appealing to me about this. Also it leaves room for a story to become sparse and metaphorical in a way. When everything else is gone it’s like Waiting for Godot or Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. It isolates the relationship in a way by also raising the stakes of the drama around them. Everything becomes about life and death.”
He concedes taking on the role of writer, director and actor is in some ways easier. “Once you do all three it becomes this totally organic thing. It comes from one source and you don’t have to delegate, articulate and find middle ground.”
He benefited from having a top-notch crew. “I felt supported every day in an ideal situation”.
When asked about the sexual harassment lawsuits filed against him by two women crew members on I’m Still Here, Teddy Schwarzman his producer on Light of My Life sprung to his defence.
“I don’t think any of the people on this crew felt anything other than a real joy to be there. Most of the crew were coming off a huge Steven Spielberg movie and operated practically and ethically at the highest level. They were like a family that travelled all of British Columbia together. Casey initially pitched something really intimate and there are stunts now and grass and sun and different seasons. We achieved all this with a an exceptional crew who really just followed Casey to the ends of the earth because he was passionate, caring and respectful.”
Affleck admits his private life has been “vulnerable to people saying all sorts of things, to unpleasantness,” and it has not been easy.
“I’ve developed some pretty thick skin. But then you have kids, and they don’t have such thick skin, and you have to do a lot of explaining to them about the world prematurely. It’s given me pause in my career and made me wonder to what extent I actually want to pursue a career, or wait till they’re older and work a bit now. In many ways as with the relationship depicted in this movie I try to find some balance between what I expose them to and protect them from.”
As for Elisabeth Moss, seen in flashbacks as the wife and mother, Affleck says he hadn’t seen her in The Handmaid’s Tale, yet another apocalyptic yarn, but he’d “known her a bit. “She’s very, very smart and I like her particular brand of acting. It’s naturalistic, very grounded and she has an enormous presence. There aren’t many scenes of the mother character, so she had to make an impact and over the course of the movie you feel her presence. The family has lost its balance as the mum is missing. We are reeling from that as society is reeling from what is happening.”
Light of My Life does not yet have a confirmed release date but will have its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival.