The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford - Casey Affleck interview
Compiled by Jack Foley
CASEY Affleck talks about playing Robert Ford in Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, his research for the role, working with Brad Pitt and why he already had a fond appreciation for the Western genre.
How much could you bring to Robert Ford? Were you able to do a lot of research?
Casey Affleck: There wasn’t that much out there. There was just the one photograph that I spent a lot of time looking at and then there was Ron Hansen’s book. He had done a lot of research, he had done everything he could possibly do, and then there was Andrew [Dominik] who had an enormous reservoir of information in his mind about Robert Ford. That was probably the most valuable resource; his insight to the character was my guiding light.
Q. Perhaps the most surprising thing about Ford is how famous he became after shooting Jesse James. What did you know about that?
Casey Affleck: That’s such an incredible piece of history and I don’t know why that story hasn’t been told before. It’s just fascinating that he becomes almost a hero, he does these shows re-enacting the murder. Then the country turns on him like that [snaps fingers] which must be devastating I imagine; he has everything he wants and then gets the rug pulled from under him. Then he can’t run away from it wherever he goes. He finds himself in some tiny mining town up in the Rockies and still people are hanging dead cats from his door and calling him a traitor; he’d build up a business and they’d burn it down. They’d run him out of town, he’d go somewhere else and it would happen again. You got to hand it to him he never backed down, he never gave in. He just kept going, he was relentless.
Q. Is there a parallel there for modern celebrity culture?
Casey Affleck: Definitely. You can read into the movie a lot of things and modern celebrity culture is definitely a parallel. To me it was more about what happens when you really want something and you pursue it and you have these blinders on and it’s not really what you want when you get it. I thought that was interesting. I didn’t think too much about trying to create those allusions to celebrity culture, I really left that to Andrew.
Q. This seems to be the ideal part for an actor. Since so little is known about Ford can you largely create the character yourself?
Casey Affleck: It’s true except that Andrew had a very clear sense of what he wanted. I have never seen a movie so well prepared. Every single scene visually, emotionally, he had it all in his head. He kind of hand made the movie, very carefully like a calligrapher. He set the parameters; he kind of picked everyone up in his arms and carried them. The attention to detail was awesome. He loved those moments of silence; he controls those pauses, those looks, and those silences. Obviously, you can play them on the day but ultimately it’s Andrew who can draw them out, he can change who you’re looking at – you give him the ingredients and he makes the stew and I thought he was just masterful. It’s really cool, that’s the kind of movie that I love.
Q. In terms of attention to detail did you do a lot of weapons training?
Casey Affleck: We did a little bit. We were working with guns that were really old and even though we were firing blanks people were getting a little uptight about it. The truth is those guys weren’t that familiar with guns themselves, they didn’t have the ammunition, they would shoot occasionally but they weren’t shooting their guns off all the time. We didn’t have to be marksmen and practice special gun holds – it was just point and shoot. It was fun to fool around and shoot but I’m not a big fan of guns.
Q. Obviously Ford is destined to kill Jesse James. Given that you and Brad had worked together in the Danny Ocean movies, did that make it difficult to establish a relationship in character?
Casey Affleck: It does help to kind of replicate the relationship they’re having in real life. Brad’s really smart, he knew how to control that relationship, when to be intimidating and when to be gregarious and open and he can be both of those things. He was really helpful.
As far as the three Oceans movies I did with him go, I probably had three lines. I had very little interaction with him in the Oceans movies and this is a whole different animal and I loved working with him on this. He’s amazing. It’s a shame that people have the image of him that they have; he’s this incredible, charismatic larger than life guy. Look at the stuff he produces, he puts his heart into it, he uses his own money, he gives directors a chance to be out there. He’s great.
Q. Your generation of actors is too young to have grown up watching Westerns as a staple of your cultural diet, so how do you approach doing a Western?
Casey Affleck: Hey, we had our Westerns, Young Guns [laughs]. When I was kid my dad had four movies around the house when we were growing up. There was Elephant Man, The Harder They Come, The Magnificent Seven and The Good, The Bad & The Ugly – so two of them are Westerns and they are forever part of me.
After that, of course, I watched them all from Covered Wagon to High Noon to The Searchers. When I was in high school I think I watched every spaghetti western ever made, so my generation found them… we found them alright.
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