Out of the Furnace: Casey Affleck

Casey Affleck

Christian Bale is thrilled with the quality of the cast. “Scott Cooper and I were adamant about having Casey Affleck as Rodney,” he says. “This is nothing that we’ve ever seen him do before. He’s formidable. It is one of the best performances I’ve seen in many years. The brotherhood of Russell and Rodney represents the brotherhood of America in this movie.”

Cooper notes that neither Bale nor Affleck has had formal acting training. “But their work is consistently rich and detailed,” he says. “They both live completely in the moment. With Casey, you never know what you’re going to get from take to take, which is a delight for me as a director, because it’s always fresh and real.”

Affleck remembers reading the script without any expectations and finding himself enormously moved and surprised by it. “It is an unusual script. It feels very real and the stakes are very high. I immediately realized that it was unique and I wanted to be a part of it.”

He was attracted to the film’s sensitive exploration of themes like redemption, family and loyalty. “I’m drawn to stories that explore the mystery and drama of human relationships, love and death and honor, what we are doing here and what matters in life,” he says.

After four tours of duty in Iraq with the Army, Rodney is struggling to readjust to life in a town that has been devastated by the 2008 economic downturn. With no job prospects and harrowing memories of his time in combat, Rodney is struggling just to keep his head above water. “Many soldiers return from their deployment and have to start over,” says Affleck. “They have been trained to do a very specific job and entrusted with quite a bit of responsibility and power. Suddenly they are back home and transitioning to civilian life is very challenging. The economy is in really rough shape. People don’t have jobs. Some folks don’t have homes. He is trying to find a way to get by day to day, pay the bills and restart his life.”

The movie starts in 2008, when many in the military had their tours of duty extended multiple times without their consent. “It’s a reflection of an unfortunate reality in America,” says Ireland. “His life is defined by his obligations to the military. He gets back home to find there had been a huge decline in the economy. So many young people have returned from military service to find there’s not much for them here. Rodney doesn’t really have anywhere to turn.”

Rodney channels his pent-up fury and depression into the informal and vicious boxing matches taking place in the area, participating in brutal bare-knuckle brawls on which large amounts of money are wagered. “The role had very specific physical demands that were challenging for me,” says Affleck. “I’m not and never have been a fighter. Training to find the right balance between getting in shape for the fights and dealing with the reality that he has been damaged physically from the war was arduous work.”

Affleck worked out with a trainer and with a boxing coach before and during filming, as well as working one on one with Ben Bray, the film’s fight coordinator, in months leading up to production. “Casey kept up an extremely taxing training regimen for his role,” says Waxman. “He had a week of real fighting in the dirt and he was up for it. That took a tremendous amount of training, choreography and stunt work. It was very complicated and time consuming. He really put in the time.”

Affleck says that Cooper was a constant inspiration for everyone on set. “He empowered  and emboldened all of the actors. His positivity brought the cast and crew together and made people feel like their work was being recognized and appreciated. He’s got a talent for guiding people to where they should be in the scene.”

The young actor describes working with Christian Bale as a career highlight. “When you work with good actors, it makes you better. I never really understood quite what that meant until I worked with Christian. He is one of the very best around and he makes everyone in a six-foot radius seem better. I’m awed by his work ethic and how he commits to a role.”