From playing Robert Ford in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford to the deadpan Charlie in Tower Heist, Casey Affleck has time and time again proven his versatility as an actor, straying far from just being “Ben Affleck’s brother.” Hot after playing the lead in the critically acclaimed film Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Affleck stars alongside Christian Bale as PTSD stricken Rodney Baze Jr. in Out of the Furnace, a film directed by Scott Cooper and produced by Hollywood heavyweights Leonardo DiCaprio and Tony and Ridley Scott. We sat down with Affleck to discuss the film, his experience playing a character with PTSD, and what he’s up to next.
NERDIST: With a character where you have to encapsulate a huge emotional spectrum in a small amount of time, how do you prepare for something like that? How do you run that gamut in such a short time?
CASEY AFFLECK: I didn’t necessarily have a plan. It’s trying to take one scene at a time and say, “What’s happening here?” Those scenes end up working a certain way, and if the movie didn’t have that quality, it would have stayed flat. It’s just a testament to the writing and the direction that you manage the most important moments of each character’s life in, so even if the guy only has four scenes, you’re seeing the four most important scenes that really show you who he is and what he’s going through.
N: Your scenes are very quiet, and you guys do a lot of interaction without speaking. In rehearsals, when you’re trying to figure out your scenes, how much of that are you relying on the other person in the scene or how much did you prepare for?
CASEY: If you feel like you know who you are as a character, you can go into any scene and react the way you think you might react without having to think about it or prepare. If there are silent moments — if you’ve been in a room with somebody with a real palpable presence, you think, “what’s going on with that person?” Sometimes you look in a room and some people don’t have such a strong presence, but there are people with an amount of gravity who can pull you in; you’re just curious about them or you’re charmed about them, you want their attention. Christian, as an actor, has an enormous amount of presence; he’s a very watchable, very interesting person. You wonder what he’s thinking about, and I think that makes it easy to play silent moments with somebody like that, because they’re not just sitting there and you’re feeling like, “Oh, look, there’s this actor and I have to make a moment here.” You’re feeling something real, and he’s magnetic as an actor. I think it fuses all the scenes, whether they are silent or have tons of dialogue, with an energy that charges all of those scenes.
N: How much research did you get into? Did you talk to veterans who were dealing with PTSD? This is what movies can do — hopefully it starts a good conversation about that. How much did you research or how prepared were you for that aspect overall?
CASEY: I had a few friends in high school who were in Desert Storm but I knew a little bit about it in the way that people know about those things who aren’t a part of it — they’re just ideas and not real experiences. I did do some research, I watched documentaries like War Torn, you take in the superficial stuff that you can; then, I talked to quite a few vets and veteran organizations, and very often you’ll get spokespeople who are giving you facts and spiels but they’re also vets, and at a certain point you get down to what their experience is like. It turns out that there’s a common experience, there’s not a lot of variety on the spectrum there. It’s what it’s like to have a certain level of anxiety over a long period of time, to know that if you’re going outside, whenever you’re out in the open, you might get shot in the head, it changes your brain chemistry.
That’s what PTSD is; it’s about your memories. PTSD is finally (being) talked about; That has triggered some funding and research, there’s science about it and they’re starting to understand it. They are finding ways to treat it, in the way (they did) in the early days of Prozac. They’re just trying to figure out where those fear memories and anxieties are connected and how to treat them. But they’re not doing enough of that, and a lot of these guys just suffer for years and they don’t get treatment or compensation or health benefits to cover their expenses, their drugs and therapy. No one understands and no one wants to hear about it. In our culture, we do a lot of lip service to support the troops, but we don’t take care of these guys, so they come home, we don’t really want to hear about how they killed somebody and how they don’t feel good about that. That’s not what your family wants to hear when you come home, and so it’s bottled up and they have nightmares and they have horrible experiences. I got to understand it a little bit; I’ll never say I really know what it’s about but I understand at least from the outside in, what it feels like. Then you connect that to certain moments in your life, like, I was there for 9/11 and I saw the second plane hit the towers. Things from your own life that are not as traumatic as being shot at, but they are scary and violent and sudden, and you say, okay, that feeling times a hundred, what is that going to do to me? You just try to put it together, and if people watch it and say, “Gee that’s what my experience was like,” that would be the greatest reward. If they watch it and say, “Dude, you don’t know what you’re talking about and that’s not my experience,” that would be a major bummer.
N: What’s next for you? I know you have written a script for an animated movie.
CASEY: That script I wrote about six or seven years ago, and it’s still in development at Warner Brothers. They don’t really do a lot of animated movies, they did The Iron Giant and then didn’t do anything for ten years and then they did Happy Feet. I don’t know why, because they’re such a good studio and they do such a great job of releasing films. They make great movies, but they haven’t really gotten into the animated business. It’s such a big business. Anyway, it’s been stuck in development over there forever. I don’t really know what’s next, I did a little part in Chris Nolan’s movie, and now I’m trying to find something, I’m very eager to find something I can get excited about but I don’t know what it is.
Casey Affleck stars alongside Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Zoe Saldana, and Forest Whitaker in Out of the Furnace, in theaters now.