How does Scott Cooper follow up the Academy Award-winning debut that was Crazy Heart? How about going dark into the depths of American economic and war weary despair with Out of the Furnace?
Cooper triumphs (our review comes tomorrow) and he phoned Movie Fanatic for an exclusive interview to talk about his latest effort as well as what he finds is the secret to why we love his star Christian Bale so much, how fellow star Casey Affleck is probably one of the most underrated actors working today and how he hopes that Out of the Furnace pushes America closer together.
Movie Fanatic: We have to start with the cast from Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Willem Dafoe and Woody Harrelson to Zoe Saldana and Sam Shepard. When you’re getting a talented group together like this, what did you feel as a movie fan yourself seeing all these great performers in one film including a legend in Sam?
Scott Cooper: It was exhilarating to see a cast like this. I’ve long admired all of them and didn’t know them. Sam was one of my literary heroes and as an actor. And I’ve always followed Willem’s career -- he’s so distinct in what he does. And of course Woody is a national treasure in a way that is very different than what is seen in this part. And of course Christian and Casey are among the best actors of my generation. You just pinch yourself. And the fact that they have responded to a very personal screenplay that you have written, it means the world to me.
Movie Fanatic: Where did the origins of this story come from?
Scott Cooper: The producers came to me and asked if I wanted to tell a story about a man who gets out of prison and avenges the loss of his brother. I agreed, if I could personalize it. I just went off and stared at that blinking cursor and wrote Out of the Furnace. And what you see from fade in to fade out was always what I had in mind.
Movie Fanatic: Was it always set in rural Pennsylvania where the scenery is so stark and reflective of the story?
Scott Cooper: I grew up in the coal fields of Virginia. When I was traveling with Crazy Heart, I came across Braddock and it reminded me of home and had this melancholy beauty to it and very photogenic and atmospheric and had fallen on very difficult times. The whole movie is really about America and its past and the last five turbulent years. Braddock had suffered greatly. It was the decay of the American Rust Belt. I set it in Braddock and did a ton of research about the town and was really going to make it there or not make the film because it was going to be a character that was as important to the narrative as was Christian’s character or anybody.
Movie Fanatic: Your cinematographer and production designer I’m sure were really busy. But, that landscape so contributed to the look of the movie… even seen in that first Out of the Furnace trailer.
Scott Cooper: I know it inspired her and everyone involved. You can’t overstate shooting in a place like Braddock and how it infuses the feel of the entire film with a sense of authenticity and realism.
Movie Fanatic: Whether Crazy Heart or Out of the Furnace, you seem to be a filmmaker that surprises us. Was that always the goal?
Scott Cooper: Yeah, it was… you never want to repeat yourself. Crazy Heart had that warmth and humor, but also had this melancholy tone that this film has. But, I wanted it to tonally feel different and use the landscape to inform the characters.
Movie Fanatic: Christian and Casey are some of the greats of our generation. Have to start with Christian and I’ve loved him since Empire of the Sun... you had a front row seat to the magic that is him. What makes him so special?
Scott Cooper: He’s fully committed and extremely bright and considerate. He has no ego whatsoever. He is transformative and an actor of great range and versatility, and there are very few of any generation like that. We’re seeing his best work now. And in this part I think you’re seeing something you’ve never seen before in Christian and that is a deep sense of vulnerability, gentleness combined with a sense of strength, courage. He had the most difficult role to play in the film. There’s nothing that you’re really grabbing onto like in The Fighter or American Psycho, but you’re grabbing onto a human being in ways he never has before.
Movie Fanatic: Something that struck me with Casey is how much you saw in his face…
Scott Cooper: I like to strip away dialogue from most people so that they can display emotion and complexity of it, not verbally. He’s underrated, although he is not underrated by the actors and directors who work with him. Maybe, he’s under-known, I should say. He was able to play the torment of his character with a look. He was able to impart a great deal of loss and the horrors of war with a look as opposed to a guy who has to say that stuff.
Movie Fanatic: What do you hope people take away from Out of the Furnace?
Scott Cooper: That we’re living in tough times. We’re fighting wars on two fronts and not taking care of our soldiers when they come home. They have post-traumatic stress disorder, and the fact that I lost a sibling at a young age, I know those themes. Sometimes, they’re tough to take, but I learned that I can’t be concerned what people think about you. You have to grow as a filmmaker and I have to work as unfiltered as you can. There are a lot less risky ways for me to follow up Crazy Heart -- that is for sure!
Movie Fanatic: People will see this film and be reminded of the reality of what is going on in our world. Do you hope that people leave the theater thinking, or are you hoping for even a slight call to action?
Scott Cooper: Yeah, I think so. Too often, the people I write about in Crazy Heart and in this film, these are the people who live on the margins. These are people who are misrepresented or under-represented in American film. I hope people think more about them. I hope people think more about our soldiers who are returning. We think about the fact that we live in a very partisan congress and nation. It feels that we were ushered in with a great deal of hope and in order to see that hope through, we all have to work together.