Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Zoe Saldana, Woody Harrelson and Director Scott Copper sat down to chat with press about their latest film, “Out of the Furnace, ” the riveting drama about two brothers in small town America.
The atmosphere and setting of the film, along with the generational worth ethic seem to play a large role here, Scott, could you tell us a little bit about that?
Scott Cooper: I grew up in a small town in Virginia along the same mountain range, as the grandson of a coal miner, I have grown up with these people, and have spent a lot of time in small town America. What the town had undergone in the past five to seven years, dealing with economical turmoil and the loss of the steel industry, really touched me. It was really important to me to shine the light not only on small town America but also what we as Americans have undergone these past five turbulent years and that blue collar milieu was something that resonated with me and I thought it was underrepresented in American cinema. It was very prevalent in the 1970’s in films that have very much influenced this movie and Crazy Heart and I wanted to see that represented on screen again because I knew these people very well and knew their values and hope to think that I knew about their world view, that it was important to weave all of those themes into a narrative story in a very personal way.
And, how did it influence your performances as actors?
Christian Bale: It helps so much, being on location, if you understand what I mean. Performing for the rectangle of the camera versus a world being created and then the camera finds things within that. It’s a huge difference in that because what it takes away is performance. You don’t really feel like you’re performing, you’re doing it.
Casey Affleck: You know, there’s a real story just in the way that it looks. It was once one thing and now it’s something else. It has a lot of atmosphere. It’s just if there’s a lighting set-up, it takes twenty minutes, and you go into another room and you’re not just standing and staring at the back of a bunch of ply wood, you’re actually in another room in your own house. It helps to ground you and keep you in stuff.
Woody Harrelson: I think I’d like to say ditto.
Zoe Saldana: You walk in with this fear, wanting to see something that you can imagine being so heavy. What you learn and what you take from it is a strength that you’re able to absorb from these people. It’s very easy to leave when things go wrong, but to stick around and basically give life to a town because of everything that it gave you, generation after generation that to me is what defines a true American, is sticking together when it gets really rough. And as a town that has been hit very, very hard to an extent that I’ve- I’ve been to places around the world that leave you with a big knot in your stomach and you feel like an elephant has sat on your chest, and Braddock was definitely one of those cities, but once you sit down with the people, you kind of wish you had an ounce of the strength that they possess every single day by sticking around. I was very moved by that.
Woody, your character has that eerie, horrifying calm that makes the character feel so unpredictable and even scarier, can you talk about getting in that place for this role?
Woody Harrelson: I think it’s important when you’re acting to be as relaxed as possible, even if you’re doing something intense. So, you’re basically in a sense of dynamic relaxation and I think these other actors might agree with me. I didn’t feel there anything natural about playing Harlan Degroat, what was it you said to me when you finished-
Scott Cooper: The very last shot of the film was the very first scene that we shot at the drive-in. When we wrapped, Woody walked over to me and hugged me and said ‘I have never wanted to shed a character so badly in my life.’ Truly for me, I wanted Woody’s character to represent the very worst of America and Christian’s character to represent the very best in America and hopefully we succeeded. I just wanted to quickly say that as someone that’s had a very unremarkable career as an actor, you quickly realize that if you feel like you have a little bit of talent as an actor that once you see these four actors, and you see the work, and you see on the other side of the lens, that you quickly realize there’s a difference between being very modestly talented and gifted as they are and it’s a real treat to direct these actors I have to say.
Christian Bale: With that being said, you need the right environment, and Scott creates that environment, you know?
Zoe, your character is torn, loving two men, how did you wrap your head around playing that role? The scene on the bridge was – amazing.
Zoe: I think Lena has been torn by her life. She’s probably had a rough life. I needed to build that for her and to understand that and through endless conversations with Scott and we came to that conclusion, that she hasn’t had it easy. I needed to know why she couldn’t stick by the person that she truly, truly loved and she went with somebody that worked in law that symbolically is going to keep her safe. It has to do with her inability to cope with danger and pain. I think that being torn between two men that have been really to her is small potatoes in comparison to the torture that she has to live with herself, knowing that she just has to make decisions that are going to protect her physically.
Scott, with regards to Christian Bale’s character, I thought it was interesting how you had a couple of moments where he was shown in church, you rarely ever see religion dealt with so casually in film, they tend to ignore it entirely or shove it down your throat, what motivated you to show those scenes with the character?
Scott Cooper: It was based on someone in my life, who has suffered a great deal of tragedy and indeed loss and he was one of the most positive people that I know and someone who has given me a great source of inspiration. That particular mans faith has carried him through, rather he’s asking for absolution, for redemption, for whatever he’s asking for in those very quiet and personal moments and in these small communities throughout America, people all pray to different Gods and they all look for different things when they go to houses of worship and spirituality. It was important for me to have Russell Baze ask for that type of spirituality and that faith as he’s certain that he’s doing things that are very morally questionable and things that have happened in his life, that through twists of fate and circumstance have put him in this position he’s in.
Scott, What inspired you to tell you this story?
Scott Cooper: Directors go their whole career without being able to tell personal stories and work with a cast as talented as they are. I don’t even consider it work, I honestly and sincerely consider it a privilege to see the type of work and preparation and care that these actors put into helping you realize my vision because there’s no ego on the set. They were always questioning, they were taking a script that was decently written and elevating it in every way, and making me a better filmmaker and making me really understand more about who I am as a person. After the modest success of my first film, I found it very daunting to have to live with those burdens of expectations and for someone who grew up with very little money, and who had very little money after “Crazy Heart,” you can get tempted to make movies for the wrong reasons. When you have two little girls who want you to make that movie, or need you to make that movie, and you just can’t, you’re true to yourself and to your artistic world view and I chose to tell a personal story. When you tell a movie that’s as emotionally charged as this is, it’s a risk, certainly. I could’ve taken a less risky path after the success of my first film, but, as one of my great cinematic heroes, Francis Coppola would say ‘If you aren’t taking the highest, greatest risk, then why are you a filmmaker?’
Casey, did you have any preparation on filling a role of a soldier back from the war in Iraq?
Casey: Nothing special. The preparation started with reading the script, over and over and trying to absorb it and talking to Scott a lot about where he’s coming from because it’s not really a part of the movie, it’s his history, it doesn’t delve into it too much which is good. Then watching some documentaries and things like that, and talking to some veterans and trying to piece together, as much as you can, what that experience might be like for somebody. These guys now have done more tours now than the average soldier in other wars, so they spend a lot of time over there with a constant level of anxiety. And you know, understanding what those symptoms are when they come back with it, you know, Post traumatic stress disorder, depression, the frustration, alienation and feeling like people don’t want to hear what their experiences were and how lonely that can feel. Then you sort of have to forget all of that stuff and be in the living room and there you are, talking about the bedpan and hope that stuff comes through whatever moment you’re in and not try to bring it to every little scene because you don’t carry around your history in that way. It’s just sort of background noise and you hope whatever research you’ve done just bubbles up to the surface at the right time, when you’re having an argument about a beer and suddenly it becomes about you’re sharing some experience that you weren’t planning on sharing.
Christian and Casey, your family bond was really genuine and I know Christian, you really wanted Casey to play the role, did you both do anything before the movie started to solidify that bond or get to know each other prior?
Christian Bale: Scott and I had been saying, we want Casey for the role, we want Casey for the role and eventually we were just saying, we aren’t doing it without Casey. I didn’t actually meet Casey until we were doing that camera test, in Pittsburgh just a couple of days before we started. The prison stuff was done in two days, the very first two days of filming, we did all that prison sequence stuff so we just got kind of thrown in the deep end, which was nice. That was it, it just happened. Casey’s a fucking great actor and he was wonderful to work off of.
Casey Affleck: We spent weeks and weeks together (laughs).
Christian Bale: I forgot all about it. Sorry mate, I forgot man.
Casey Affleck: No, it was like he said, I don’t know, sometimes it works, I mean it’s awkward to say, because he’s sitting right there but I think he just makes everyone better around him and was sort of anchor of reality. If someone’s in a scene with you and they’re listening to what you say and they’re looking at you in that way then you’re having a real conversation and you’re real feelings and relationship, the whole thing feels a little bit more real in some way. I would have to attribute whatever apparent chemistry or relationship there is to that. Those first couple of days in the prison, those were hard for me, it’s always hard for me to get right into something, I’m usually terrible the first week, and so on the first day or two we were doing those scenes and Christian was very patient and did and said some things that made me immediately trust him. Then it sort of went smoothly from there.
Scott Copper: What you see between these two actors isn’t something that you can learn in Stella Adler, that is, these two actors doing a great deal of investigative text work before, they won’t say that, but they’re also as talented as any two actors of my generation, simply put. That’s not the type of thing that you, as a director can really manufacture, really two actors who are at the height of their skill.
There are no hero punches in this movie, everything is very realistic, which makes it a lot scarier, I’m wondering for the actors, is there an added level of trust that has to be there between you, so you know Woody could be as scary as he wanted to be, but Casey could still felt safe that he wasn’t going to eat your face or something?
Woody Harrelson: I was more worried about him eating my face. We were just talking about that before because I was saying, working with Casey is kind of like working with a wild animal, you really never know- is he going to bite you? Is he going to want to be petted, really a great experience. And Christian, one of the greatest actors who ever lived, there’s a level of confidence in the actor you’re working with that really helps a lot. I mean, it makes all the difference.
Christian, what was it like to shoot Woody, also one of the greatest actors?
Christian Bale: I respect Woody greatly. He’s wrong about what he just said, with the utmost respect. The things that happened on the film were just very organic, that whole piece. I viewed it as hunting a deer, you know what I mean? He wanted to inflict the most amount of pain he could upon this person, before finishing him and he wanted to see him struggle. We wanted to see his skill; he’s good with a rifle. It was almost like a mercy kill, somewhat by the end yet really satisfying.