Ben Affleck interview for The Town

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While in Toronto for TIFF I caught up with Ben Affleck, who directs and stars in The Town, an intense and gritty crime caper set in Boston. The Town has a September 17th release date in the US and September 24th in the UK. Check out the synopsis and what he had to say for himself below.

Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) is an unrepentant criminal, the de facto leader of a group of ruthless bank robbers who pride themselves in stealing what they want and getting out clean. With no real attachments, Doug never has to fear losing anyone close to him. But that all changed on the gang’s latest job, when they briefly took a hostage–bank manager, Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall). Though they let her go unharmed, Claire is nervously aware that the robbers know her name… and where she lives. But she lets her guard down when she meets an unassuming and rather charming man named Doug…not realizing that he is the same man who only days earlier had terrorized her. The instant attraction between them gradually turns into a passionate romance that threatens to take them both down a dangerous, and potentially deadly, path. The film co-stars Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively, Pete Postlethwaite, and Chris Cooper.

You used to live in Boston, what was it like growing up there?

Ben Affleck: I lived a couple miles away from Charlestown in a place called Cambridge. Which while it was geographically close, it was world’s apart. We had heard about this neighbourhood and we knew they had a code of silence. Over a course of years only about 25% of 49 murders had been solved. The idea of someone being able to kill you with impunity, with a bunch of people watching and they wouldn’t get convicted. So while I knew that, I didn’t feel that I really knew it enough, so I went back when we were making the movie and did a lot of research on the subject.

As an actor and director what was it like casting and having both those rolls?

Ben Affleck: I can say that I was very lucky in this movie, I had decided who I wanted and all my first choice people said yes. I took some comfort in knowing no matter what happened with my performance I knew I would always have someone really good to cut too (laughs). These guys all individually in their own ways create characters that I was amazed to watch and brought a tremendous amount of realism to the screen. They have a lot of integrity as people and performers.

One of the great things for me about the film was the density of the characters and how they worked together. How did you develope that?

Ben Affleck: There was a whole host of ways I saw the actors prepare. The chief among it was that I tried to pull together a bunch of people I thought would be interesting to talk too, I made recordings of them. These people were from where the various characters had come from, or the prisons that they went too, FBI guys, different people. The actors seized these avenues, I think you really see that in their performances.

As an actor how do approach directing fellow actors?

Ben Affleck: My approach to acting and the other actors is just to do what I would want, just to provide an environment that the actor would feel comfortable in, where they would feel they could take risks, where they can give their own ideas, what they’ve thought about and what they’ve worked on, to try different things. I wanted to create a world where they’re completely free, supported, loved, admired, at ease and that they are not rushed. I think if you do that you take away a lot of the sub-consciousness and artificialness and panic that can happen just before someone shouts ‘action‘. That feeling closes people down. These are all great actors its not acting school, I don’t have to tell them anything, they’re brilliant in their own right. It’s not about showing them what to do or to tell them what to do, it’s about prohibiting for them and giving them that latitude and they flourished.

One of the most memorable and creepiest moments was when you looked out of the van in that Nun costume. What inspired that costume and mask?

Ben Affleck: What inspired it was the fact that I wanted off the rack real costumes, I didn’t want costume designers and special effects people to make masks, because what these guys would do in reality was go into Halloween shops. These guys are Catholics, where they’re going to rob is a traditional catholic Italian American neighbourhood, between the two neighbourhoods there’s been a long standing rivalry and tradition of thumbing ones nose at each other. They thought it would be a sort of panache to do that and rob the place at the same time. Basically to keep it grounded in their characters. There’s no significance other than the realism of the mask and the fact that it’s an arresting image and it basically says bank robbery movie.

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