The cast of The Town -- Jon Hamm, Blake Lively, Jeremy Renner, and Rebecca Hall -- tell Buzzine what it’s like to work with Ben Affleck’s serious-fun side in his capacity as a director. We find out how the tradition of the heist movie shaped and colored their endeavors. And there’s an air of friendly competition as the stars of established TV shows come together on the big screen. Finally, they set sights on future projects and weigh the difference between the portrayal of superheroes and the real world.
Izumi Hasegawa: What it was like working with Ben Affleck as a director versus an actor?
Rebecca Hall: It was interesting because he definitely separated the two distinctly, and I think he had to because it's a difficult thing, I think, to do both at the same time and, in many ways, almost opposing head spaces. I think a director has to think about the bigger picture, and how the whole film and the whole narrative cuts together, and obsess about the details and make that work; and an actor generally obsesses about the detail of their character necessarily and finds the truth of that. To do both at the same time can be a bit of a conflict of interest almost perversely, but I think what he did miraculously was to balance the two, and he was, in quite a big way, collaborative and open and allowed for a fun environment, and it was generally just a joy to do.
IH: Blake, you had some comments about Ben as a director?
Blake Lively: For me, I got to experience Ben as a director more in the pre-production, before we actually started shooting, because he did so much work in finding all these wonderful resources for us from the women we got to spend time with, the places these people go around, references, magazine clippings... He had this well of knowledge for us to tap into if we wanted, and all of these resources. He's so hard working beforehand and really militant about getting the character down, getting the accent down, and really understanding the people, the roots where they come from, and also their attitude was such an important thing. How they would respond to a detective versus one of their friends. When we were on set, it was such a comfortable world that we were just able to lose ourselves, and that's more when I got to experience Ben as an actor. I never really felt like he was there directing me or judging me, but rather we were creating this together.
IH: Blake and Jon, you're both in successful TV series (Gossip Girl and Mad Men, respectively). What do you look for when you do a movie? How did this happen for you? And Blake, do you and Ben have an ongoing bet about whose movie is going to open better?
Jon Hamm: I don't have any sort of calculus choosing film roles. I just responded to the story of this and I wanted to play the character. I read a very, very, very early version of the script when another director was attached to it and didn't really necessarily respond to the story then. Once Ben signed on, I became much more interested as a massive fan of his first film and as a massive fan of this one. I just try to pick parts that somehow inspire me creatively, and I want to work with people whose work I respect and admire, and both of those boxes were checked for this project. I have a bet with Penn Badgley on whose movie will open bigger, and I hope I win. BL: I think the biggest difference for us is we're on a TV show... Well, mine actually goes a while longer -- ten months out of the year -- so the roles that you can do are so few. So it has to be something you really want to do or you just want the time off. So when you find a role that you're passionate about, it's something you have to play, and this was one of them for me.
IH: Did you know the role first or did Ben come to you? I mean, it's such a difficult casting, I don't think people would think of you as...
BL: He had no idea who I was. I read the script, and it was a terrific part. It was a part that I was wrong for probably more ways than I was right for, but I selfishly really wanted to play it because I loved it so much. So I pursued the part, and here I am.
JH: Researching the character, it was a tremendous advantage to be able to hang out and talk to several of the law enforcement officials in Boston at the federal level, at the state level, and at the local level, and what they do is a tremendous achievement. It's a collaborative effort between all three levels of law enforcement, and they do amazing work. There are a lot of robberies in Boston, and a lot of them get solved because of these guys' hard work, so it was nice to see from the inside how clear their objective is. Their job is to stop bad people from doing bad things -- they are very clear on that. So that was very helpful to me. My life has changed significantly since the success of Mad Men, and it's been a very exciting ride and a very strange time. Strange times indeed. But I get to work with some tremendous people, and opportunities come a little easier now that the profile has gotten a little broader, so I'm just very fortunate and very happy.
IH: I've got to ask about the Boston accents, because you guys pretty much nailed them. Jeremy, can you comment on who had the hardest time nailing the accent?
Jeremy Renner: I had the hardest time, I think. It's difficult. I'm not from the region, and I thought it was one of the most important things I had to overcome. It doesn't matter how good Ben is or how good any actor is or the story is. If the accent sucks, it's gonna pop out and it's gonna pull people out of the movie, I think. Ben didn't help me at all, initially. I'm calling him and saying, "So when do I get that accent coach?" He goes, "Yeah, we're not doing those," I'm like, "Okay, great." "But I've got this little tape for you, and there are some criminals talking," and I'm like, "Okay." So he gave me a lot of actual resources, and actually, once I got to Boston, there are resources otherwise. So it became easier, but the ultimate challenge is to improve the dialect.
IH: How about you, Jon?
JH: I had a very easy time with my accent in the film -- it was non-existent. What Jeremy is saying is totally true. Walking around Boston is a pretty good accent coach. There are various and sundry versions of the Boston Pate Toi that you can pick out and find, and I think Renner and I had a blast exploring those particular vocal coaches... JR: We became experts.
IH: And probably like Ben, Jon, you were told that you just weren't good looking enough?
JH: Yeah, all the time. No, I mean none of us would be here if we didn't have fairly thick skin as actors. Especially as a struggling actor or starting off, you get rejected more often than you get accepted, and my road to this table was probably a lot longer and a little more twisted than some. Most of acting is about being rejected, so I'm sure everyone has a story of walking into an audition room and just failing horribly, and I'm certainly no exception.
IH: Do any of you have any aspirations to work behind the scenes as a writer, producer, or director?
JH: I can't write. I can't focus long enough. I find it terrifying, and my girlfriend is a writer and producer. and now gonna direct for The Future of the Fall, and is an accomplished actress as well. I watch her do that stuff, and I just I don't have the focus. I don't know how you focus like that. I have the attention span of a hopped-up squirrel. I can't focus on one thing longer than anything else.
RH: I've always been quite a big fan of that sort of period of film-making around the Double Indemnity era, and black and white noir films...
IH: Asphalt Jungle?
RH: That would be one, and I know there are lots. The ones with Richard Widmark and further back really, James Cagney we're talking about. I've always loved those movies and that genre of movie, and when I first read this, actually, I thought there was something reminiscent of a classic. I was attracted to the role not because I thought, "Oh, that part's back to those great characters like Gloria Graham and Barbara Stanwyck and all those kinds of people," because it's got nothing to do with that. But there was a modern incarnation of a strong female who is also a victim, in a sense, but it's about complicated dynamic interest in me.
IH: For Blake and Jeremy, as actors, what is the difference in doing a movie like this as opposed to your upcoming movies, Green Lantern and Avengers, that are more CG-heavy and fantastical? Do you approach the material the same? Do you prefer one over the other?
BL: It's entirely different; it's a whole different art. When you're doing a movie where the world is ending around you, outer space is crumbling around you, and you're in a big studio with big blue walls; where in this, you're in a scene in a real bar in Charlestown where Ben filmed with real ex-cons, which I didn't know until they were telling me, "I lived in LA for 18 years. I didn't see it though." "Oh, why not?" "I was in prison. I just got out two months ago." "Oh great." So you're so much more in touch with the world you're a part of, and you have a greater sense of what it's gonna be like and what you're actually doing. Where in a film like Green Lantern, once my work is done, the next six months, at least half of that movie is going to come together. So the viewing experience will definitely be different because I don't know what the heck I'm gonna say.
IH: Jeremy, you said you haven't started yet?
JR: No, I haven't started The Avengers -- not until next spring, but the approach is no different -- just conditions are different. Truth is all that matters, I suppose.
'The Town' is in theaters now