It’s hard not to feel that instead of a mild, fleeting upset of Hollywood traditions with the Joaquin Phoenix “documentary” “I’m Still Here,” its director Casey Affleck was aiming more for an industry meltdown on par with that of Phoenix’s in the film. However, the town was stubborn, and punished Affleck and Phoenix for their attempts with indifference — the best move was to act as if nothing had occurred.
Apart from his upcoming role in Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar,” Affleck has since kept matters small though, taking parts in Michael Winterbottom’s “The Killer Inside Me” and David Lowery’s lyrical “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.” His latest, “Out Of The Furnace” (our review), keeps that intimacy intact; as the military vet brother of Christian Bale living in the impoverished Rust Belt, Affleck plays a man ill-equipped for the present and haunted by the past. He turns quickly to violent outlets for both relief and money, and as we recently spoke to the actor in Los Angeles, he elaborated on the real-life research conducted while preparing for his role.
Leading up to the movie you’ve appeared in a number of places, most recently on “Real Time With Bill Maher,” and spoken about the issue of PTSD and homelessness in military vets—something from which your character suffers in the film. When you’re on these shows, is that because you sense a lack of general awareness about the topic?
Well for example, I think that Bill agrees with me on the issue, and that he was trying to help his audience a little bit. Like when he said to me, “What’s PTSD?” He knows what PTSD is, but I think he’s trying to get me to say things that he thinks other people need to hear. It’s weird, all that happened in a blink, because if you’re not on the [“Real Time”] panel you only get two minutes to talk. You know, you go out, he sort of talks one on one with you for 120 seconds, and then the whole group’s back into it.
Did filming “Out of the Furnace” personally open your eyes to the issue?
Whenever you start a movie I kind of look for something to kind of pull me into it. You just go, “Okay what’s one thing that I can hold onto that feels real. Who is this person?” Obviously a huge part of his character is that he did four tours of Iraq. He spent four years in combat and I wondered, well, what is that like? So you try to figure out—you watch documentaries, talk to veterans, read things, and pretty soon, everyone’s saying the same thing. You get this really clear picture of what it’s like, and it seems awful. Everyone was suffering. The statistics are one thing—just how many of them commit suicide, how many of them are homeless, how many of them suffer from addiction.
Do you find it similar to the NFL concussion debate right now, where this pool of affected individuals is slowly being brought into view? Is it because of a new awareness, or because these cases have just mounted up to the point where they no longer be ignored?
I think in this case it’s a combination, because these wars have had a much smaller group of people fighting them and so there are really damaged individuals, and then there’s more awareness. So it was something that I started to care about outside of the movie. But it was definitely a huge part of who the character was, obviously, and it made the movie feel very relevant, so I just sort of started to care about it.
Like I said, Bill made fun of me, but like I said on the program, I’m not Bob Hope. I was saying I’m not a spokesperson for these issues, I’m just someone who’s trying to understand a little bit of it, and trying to figure out how to help, because it seems—it’s like who are we as a country? What do we want to be? Do we want to be the people who totally disregard our senior citizens and our veterans who are struggling? Or are we going to take care of them? Who do we care about?
Is it something that you may be interested in exploring for a documentary?
Not really, because I don’t really know that much about it. I know enough to serve my own purposes and to feel some outrage, but if you were going to do that it would be a real undertaking of years to kind of do it right. It’s also really rough to think about all the time, thinking about those people whose lives have been ruined. I don’t know if I could handle it.
If you are planning to take up another directorial project, did you pick up any tips from observing Christopher Nolan during your time on “Interstellar”?
It’s hard to take away anything, because people when they’re that good, you can’t really see them doing anything. I don’t know if you’ve had that experience, it’s like a great painter who’s like, “I don’t know, you just do that,” [waves his hand] and it’s a masterpiece. He’s very relaxed, very easygoing; people make suggestions and he’s like, “Sure I’ll try that.” It sort of seems like he’s just phoning it in but he’s not, he’s actually making brilliant choices, but he’s made those choices four months ago before you even got involved. It’s sort of all gelling at the same time, but he makes it very, very easy.
If there’s anything I took away, I guess it would just be do your homework so when you get to set you know that you don’t have to be super stressed about this and that. He’s thought a lot about the whole movie, and he’s figured it out so well that he can be spontaneous or do nothing and it’s all going to work anyway. I see the evidence in the sets that he built and the way that he directs the scenes and the way that he was shooting them, you just are like, “This is going to be amazing.”
“Out Of The Furnace” opens in theatres December 6th. A few new photos from the film below.