After a career of highs and lows, Ben Affleck can seemingly do no wrong these days. The tide began to turn with his directorial debut. ”Gone, Baby, Gone”, which starred his younger brother Casey. It was a taught thriller that took everybody by surprise. And we do mean everybody. It went on to win glowing reviews. Still, many wondered if Affleck was a one trick pony. ”The Town” proves he isn’t.
Based on Chuck Hogan’s novel, ”Prince of Thieves”, Affleck directs and stars in this gritty heist movie. Set in Charlestown, a neighbourhood of Boston where, we are told, more bank robberies occur than anywhere else in the States the film begins with a robbery. Clearly Doug (Affleck) and his gang have done this a number of times, but this one turns out to be different when they take an attractive teller as hostage (Rebecca Hall). When the volatile Jem (Jeremy Renner), Doug’s best mate, discovers that Clare (Hall) lives in the neighbourhood he wants to deal with the problem himself. Doug decides to handle it and ends up falling in love with her. If that wasn’t complicated enough, hot on their heels is dogged FBI agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm). Doug wants nothing more than to leave this life of crime behind him but Jem and circumstances keep getting in his way. Gaynor Flynn caught up with the director and Jeremy Renner at the recent Toronto International Film Festival.
The film just screened at the Venice film festival and now the Toronto film festival and the reviews are good. Are you relieved?
Ben Affleck: I feel enormously relieved. There’s a lot of tension that goes with putting your movie out. The creative process is fraught with risk. You can have the same kind of ideas and approach on one project that works and one that doesn’t. It’s mercurical, the movie gods have to smile on you so you work as hard as you can then you hope for the best.
Was it always the plan to star in it and direct it?
Ben Affleck: The first thing was I wanted to act in it because I loved the character in the book. The book has this story about being redeemed through love. It has this character drama about the way our environment defines us and it’s about friendship and change and then it has this classic heist genre thing.
What was one of the biggest challenges for you?
Ben Affleck: Well the danger is that you go I’ve seen that type of story before and its predictable which is why I was drawn to the fact that within that there was a lot of originality. It’s set in a very specific place, Charlestown where bank robbery is almost a trade. It had this specificity about the way these guys went about it which was unusual. It wasn’t slick. It wasn’t a cool thing. It was very brown bag robbers and it wanted to be about how they really do it. Trying to synthesize all that stuff and trying to bridge the gap between these high concept kind of commercial movies and what has become increasingly marginalized dramas was a really exciting idea. And granted there’s risks. You could become neither fish nor fowl but I thought it was worth trying.
It’s a film about how people can change. Do you think people ever really change?
Ben Affleck: I think people can change, people can be redeemed. People can get a second shot and it’s important to think about forgiveness. I’ve seen it my whole life and these stories again both Gone Baby Gone and this one are about people’s capacity for change and examining it.
Can you talk about your casting choices?
Ben Affleck: Well I can say I was very lucky on the movie I decided who I wanted on the movie. All my first choice people said yes. I took some comfort from the point that no matter what happened to my performance I always had someone really good to cut to.
Like Jeremy Renner?
Ben Affleck: Exactly.
Jeremy what made you say yes to this role?
Jeremy Renner: Well an amazing cast, and a great script and a fantastic director. I’m proud of it not only because it’s received well which feels great. A film can be a film but without an audience its just celluloid. To affect people and to engage them and have them get riled up its great to be part of something like that. I felt all the moving parts came together at the same time on this one and it makes me feel very lucky.
Did you know Ben Affleck before you shot this film?
Jeremy Renner: No. I’d worked with his brother Casey on the Assassination of Jesse James. But had never met Ben.
Did Casey put in a good word with Ben on your behalf?
Jeremy Renner: Yeah. But it’s about the work. I like to let the work speak for itself. Casey and I became friends on the movie and we had a really great time. It certainly helps. It sort of breeds itself but it could also be the opposite. If you’re difficult or hard to work with those things also breed and no one wants to work with you then. So he put in a word for me but it all came down to the work I’d done before.
Did Ben make you audition? Or had he seen ”The Hurt Locker” and just went yeah I want that guy?
Jeremy Renner: I had to read for the movie. The Hurt Locker had just come out and the nomination thing hadn’t happened yet. It wasn’t really an audition as so much as just sitting and reading over the script a little bit and seeing if it was right and I guess it felt right to him.
What’s he like as a director?
Jeremy Renner: Fantastic. I think what sets him apart is that he’s an actor too you know. He knows what we need and he’s a very collaborative director. I think all the stuff that annoyed him about directors over the years he didn’t do, so it made for a great experience for all of us.
How difficult was the accent to get down?
Jeremy Renner: Yeah that was a challenge because I’m from California. I started to freak out about it because if you get the accent wrong, it detracts from the whole performance you know. So I asked Ben if I could get an accent coach and he said no. (Laughs). What he did was send me a bunch of audio tapes with ex prisoners talking because he didn’t want a perfect you know polished Boston accent. He wanted it rough and dirty so that kind of took the pressure off.
You must get offered a lot more scripts these days?
Jeremy Renner: To get to choose your work is the highest honour. So I feel like one of the luckiest guys in Hollywood but it doesn’t really change anything. There are more opportunities. Awesome but the work is the same. The approach is the same. But I’m excited and lucky in a lot of ways.
Are you in a position where you can say no now?
Jeremy Renner: I felt I always have been in that position.
Ben Affleck talked about how earlier in his career he felt he couldn’t say no and ended up doing films he wasn’t proud of.
Jeremy Renner: I love saying no. I’ve turned down 19 times money than I’ve made in the last 20 years. It’s not about money. That’s when you get your back up against the wall. It becomes not about art. It becomes about commerce and that empowers me to say go f*** yourself. I don’t need your money or your movie.