Out of the Furnace features Christian Bale and Casey Affleck as brothers trying to make the most of their lives in the economically depressed Pennsylvania steel community that they call home. Affleck portrays a war veteran who has done several tours in Afghanistan and Iraq and Bale has been solidly working at the nearby steel plant until fate lands him in jail.
As the Out of the Furnace trailer shows, Bale emerges from his imprisonment to find that his brother has been taken under the wing of a local crime leader (Willem Dafoe), and his underground street fighting ring (led by Woody Harrelson).
We met Affleck and Bale to talk about the keys to being cinematic brothers and both admit it was a case of professional and personal mutual admiration that led to the fantastic feeling both emit on screen.
“It just happened,” Bale admitted. The actor even said that he and director Scott Cooper would not make the movie if Affleck said no. They didn’t even get to rehearse. There was just movie magic between the two stars. “I didn’t actually meet Casey until we were doing a camera test in Pittsburgh a couple days before we started! We just got thrown in the deep end, which was nice. That was it. Casey’s a (expletive) great actor and he was wonderful to work off of.”
Affleck interjects. “We spent weeks and weeks together,” he said and laughed.
Bale turned to his co-star and smiled. “I forgot all of it! I was just blasted off my head! Sorry, mate, I just forgot,” he said.
Affleck was absolutely impressed with his co-star and had admired his work from afar for years. “He just makes everyone better around him and is an anchor of reality. If someone’s in a scene with you and they’re listening to what you say and they’re looking at you in that way, then you’re having a real conversation and the whole thing feels a little bit more real in some way,” Affleck said.
“Christian was very patient. I did and said some things that just immediately made me trust him, and it just went smoothly from there.”
Given how many soldiers are returning from war in America with very real issues, Affleck took the role seriously “[I] was watching some documentaries, things like that, then talking to some veterans and just trying to piece together what that might be like for somebody,” Affleck said. “These guys now in these wars have done more tours than the average soldier in other wars just because it’s not a volunteer army and they’re careerists, so they spend a lot of time over there with a constant level of anxiety.”
The key for Affleck and what his character does, even in the face of painful reality, is knowing what a man or woman thinks like when they return from the horrors of war.
“Understanding what those symptoms are when they come back with some post-traumatic stress disorder and the depression, the frustration, the alienation, and feeling like people don’t want to hear what their experiences were, how lonely that can feel,” Affleck said.
Then… an actor just goes to work. “You just hope that all that stuff imbues and it becomes just background noise and you hope whatever research you’ve done bubbles up to the surface at the right time when you’re playing a scene that’s an argument about a beer and then suddenly you’re sharing some experience that you weren’t even planning on sharing. You just hope that you’ve done the work so in the right moment it clicks and makes sense.”
Filming on location in the rust belt of steel country also informed things for the Out of the Furnace cast, which includes Woody Harrelson, Zoe Saldana (Star Trek Into Darkness), Forest Whitaker and Sam Shepard.
“It obviously helped so much being on location. If you understand what I mean, the difference between performing for the rectangle of the camera versus a world being created, and the world finds things within that,” Bale added. “There’s a huge difference in that because what it takes away is performance. You don’t feel like you’re performing. You’re just doing it and you’re existing.”
Affleck found that not much had to be done to the area to make it as stark as the Out of the Furnace story reflects. “A place like where we were, which has a real story just in the way it looks, to see a place that was once one thing and is now something else -- it has a lot of atmosphere,” Affleck said.
“If there’s a lighting set-up that takes 20 minutes, you can go into another room and you’re not just staring at the back of a bunch of plywood; you’re actually in another room in your own house where you’re supposed to be. It helps to ground you.”