Town, The: Interview with Star/Director Ben Affleck

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The new heist movie "The Town" stars Ben Affleck, Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively, and Jon Hamm. Affleck directed and co-wrote the film, in addition to starring in the central role of Doug MacRay. The film is being released by Warner Bros. on September 17. 

He comments, "It's interesting because, on the one hand, you have this outer shell of a heist movie, but, at its heart, the story is about a guy who's dealing with being stuck in a place he doesn't want to be and wants to change his life, which was much more compelling to me. It's about how rooted you are in how you grew up and also about children paying for the sins of their parents. I think that's something many people can identify with, even those of us who can't necessarily relate to the criminal aspect."


Affleck offers, "It served as a kind of revolving door. People would go to prison and their families would move there, and, as they got out and then went back in, a community developed around it. It was hypothesized in the book–and we included it in the film–that robbing banks became a trade that was passed down from fathers to sons."


"We did a ton of research," Affleck recalls. "We went to prisons and talked to former bank robbers and also met with guys at the FBI who were counterpoints to Agent Frawley, the character played by Jon Hamm. We started incorporating what we learned into the architecture of the story to bring in as much detail and verisimilitude as we could."


On his character Doug


When we meet the character of Doug MacRay, he and his crew are in a van outside the Cambridge Merchant Bank, seconds away from their next robbery. In Affleck's words, Doug is "banging against the walls of his own life, still doing the stuff he knows is bad for him but unable to change."

Affleck continues, "He had a shot at a different future–he had a chance to play pro hockey–but he self-destructed. He got addicted to drugs and spun out, so instead of getting out, he came back and, in spite of himself, ended up even deeper in it. That's where we find him. He's cleaned up a bit, in terms of getting sober, and he wants to leave, but he can't escape his circumstances."


"Part of where he is in his life is a function of how and where he grew up," Affleck relates. "His mother left; his father was in this life; and Doug wound up doing the same thing as the friends he grew up with. It doesn't excuse it, but hopefully you see the shades of gray in the reasons he ended up where he is. It's not just cut-and-dried."


Accents and accuracy


"It's fairly nuanced, so the accent can be pretty hard to get," Affleck says. Nevertheless, he recommended that his cast to do more listening than learning, so to speak.


Despite the fact that Renner had followed the director's own advice, Affleck admits, "I was amazed at how quickly Jeremy got the accent down and how natural he sounded. I don't know how he did it; he was incredible."

"The trickier part of our research," Affleck allows, "was getting into the mindset of the Charlestown underworld, but we found people who were willing to speak to us. Although every conversation ended with, 'Don't tell anyone I talked to you,'" he laughs.


The infamous skeleton masks


The skeleton masks, seen in the opening bank robbery, were inspired by surveillance footage of an actual crime. Affleck recalls, "We were touring FBI headquarters and they had a big blow-up of a security camera image of a guy in a track suit wearing a skeleton mask. He was carrying an assault rifle, but it was the mask that made it creepy and scary."


"We wanted it to feel almost claustrophobic–to make you feel like you're with the guys in the car as they're speeding down these narrow streets and things are rushing by," the director states. "The cool thing is they're wearing masks, so we didn't have to worry about coming in close to the stunt drivers. We could really push the limits to make it more viscerally entertaining."