Affleck played an angry, frustrated former Iraqi veteran who turned to illegal bare knuckle fights to cope with his depression and personal problems. As he participated in these fights, his character mysteriously disappeared after a fight and his brother must seek the truth in the Appalachian Mountains.
Latino-Review had an exclusive sit-down interview with Affleck during the press day late last month. We discussed about Christian Bale’s presence on the set, his research on war veterans and his experience in training as a bare knuckle fighter. And for giggles, I’ve even asked up on who will make a better Batman between his brother, Ben Affleck and Bale.
“Out of the Furnace” is currently in theaters.
Read the interview transcript below.
Latino-Review: What attracted you to this project?
Casey Affleck: First, I would say it was the opportunity to work with Christian Bale. I’ve always admired him as an actor since I was young. He’s basically my age, but he started very early. I thought he was fantastic and different in every role. He is very believable and incredible talent. I knew that he will emerge as our generation’s greatest actors. It was the opportunity to work with him.
Second, the material is really exciting. I thought it was very believable and dared to be mundane at times. Sometimes when you write a script, you want to impress everybody. Make sure that everybody gets it. You get all the ideas into the script. It sat there. It’s like shoving all the ideas down your throat, but it was still a compelling read.
When I talked to Scott Cooper, he seems like he had a lot of passion.
Latino-Review: Let’s talk about your character here. Your character is really about two different characters in one with being an Iraqi veteran and the other as a bare knuckle fighter.
Casey Affleck: Yeah, my character had returned home from multiple deployments from Iraq. He’s kind of on his own. In other words, he’s suffering from post-traumatic syndrome and he’s finding it hard to talk about those things. There’s not a lot of support in any ways for these guys to come back from overseas. And where he comes from is a dreary, depressed little town where this movie is set in Pennsylvania. So then it’s even harder.
He can’t a find a job. He feels very isolated, frustrated, angry, alone and fearing towards addiction problems. He ends up in the illegal backyard fighting ring. They are real and exist. They are not like professional fighters. They are mostly guys who are violent. They really need to make money and end up in these bare knuckle fighting things.
Latino-Review: I watched your performance being angry and frustrated. Great performance by the way.
Casey Affleck: Thanks.
Latino-Review: How did you mentally prepare yourself to be an angry, frustrated Iraqi veteran?
Casey Affleck: I’m angry and frustrated. So all I had to do was pretend to be an Iraqi veteran. [Laughter] That’s probably more true than funny.
I wish there were [a better explanation] and you just start with preparations…..
Latino-Review: Did you talk with former soldiers or anything like that?
Casey Affleck: I start preparations by reading the script. And then staring at the wall and reading it again. Then staring at the wall and thinking about it. You start to understand it a little bit better. I worked for me.
And then I start to do the external research of talking with people and watching documentaries about the veterans. There are some great ones like “Wartorn: 1861-2010” that James Gandolfini made and narrated. It’s excellent. I’ve talked to veterans who were in Vietnam through Desert Storm and up to Afghanistan and Iraqi wars. Most of them say the same thing. They described the same symptoms and the same problems. It goes all the way back to my grandfather being in World War II. He never talked about it until 9/11. It was the first time he ever spoke about it. Even he said similar things to what these kids say.
I was in high school when we fought in Desert Storm. They were a little bit older than me and I’ve talked to them about it. You start to gather a little picture on what it’s like. I could never really understand this experience and trauma. But, you get enough understanding of it.
Other kinds of [research] would be textbook research. There’s a lot of these statistics on what’s happening. It helps paint that picture for you a little bit. It’s how horrible at times when they come back; how little support they get financially; and how bureaucratic mess the VA is. It’s a long time for them to find treatment. It’s hard to admit that they got some kind of disorder. And then you hope that all of the research in some way gives you a firm footing. So I can say, “Okay. I’m prepared to go into this moment. I am someone other than myself.” Now I know what it feels like and throw it all way.
But, when you’re with someone like Christian…..it makes is so much easier. He makes it better for everyone around him. He’s really listening to you. He’s sort of an anchor for reality. He doesn’t let you drift too far away to something that’s bad.
Latino-Review: Besides mentally, you also had to physically challenge yourself. How did you prepare yourself physically into a bare knuckle fighter?
Casey Affleck: Not easy for me. I’m not a fighter. I hate violence. I don’t like watching those MMA fights. I hate it. I hated watching them on YouTube and stuff. I don’t like any of it.
I think they knew that I was such in bad shape. It would be so unbelievable to see me as I was in doing those fights. Even though these guys weren’t pros or look like pros, they’re really dragged out a lot. They got these two best stunt coordinators in movies. There’s this guy named Ben Bray and his brother who happens to be an Olympic boxer named John Bray. They just kind of beat me up for a few months.
Finally it got me to a place where it looked like I can throw a punch and actually hurt somebody. I did throw a punch and landed a couple on those stunt guys. It didn’t even hurt them ever. [Laughter] It was just by accident. What makes those guys so good was that they were really in control. They will never hit you. They will always stop their punch. They’re pretty accurate. They’re not going to get tired.
But, the actors always get exhausted. They always end up flailing around. A few times I would hit them and I say, “I’m so sorry.” They say, “For what?” I respond with “I just punch you in the face.”
They were very helpful in making it feel real. I didn’t want it to feel too choreographed so I say, “Can’t we just go at it? Can just be sloppy and messy?” [It] should look like on how it should look like in these fights that I have witnessed.
They were willing to do that. They would get hit and I wouldn’t. It’s to their credit that the fights look halfway decent.
Latino-Review: I want to wrap it up with one fun question. My editor would want me to ask about Batman. Since you did actually work with Batman, Christian Bale, and you are related to the future Batman, Ben [Affleck], who do you think is going to play a better Batman since you’ve worked with both of them? Of course, you’re going to biased.
Casey Affleck: Ummm…..better Batman. Oh, man. This is such a tough question. You’ll have to leave m with that one and I’ll get back to you. But, when the news breaks—you’ll be the first one to know. I’ll call.
(Turns to his personal assistant) Who’s going to be the better Batman, dude? Huh, c’mon bro!
Personal Assistant: I don’t really know.
Casey Affleck: You don’t know? Val Kilmer?
Latino-Review: Val Kilmer is going to be the better Batman?
Casey Affleck: He’ll probably be the best Batman.
Latino-Review: Okay. Thank you very much.
Casey Affleck: Thank you.
“Out of the Furnace” is currently in theaters.