Town, The: Accents and Accuracy

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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.

The locally cast actors had one major advantage over their non-native colleagues: they didn’t have to learn to do a Boston accent–more specifically, Charlestown. Contrary to the popular stereotype, it’s not just about dropping your Rs. “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.

Specific accents

“I was initially nervous about the accent,” Renner offers, “but when I mentioned getting a dialect coach, Ben didn’t want any of that. He told me, ‘Just listen to some of the guys here; you’ll get a feel for it.’ He didn’t want to go too heavy-handed. We just tried to layer it in as accurately as possible, without overdoing it.”

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.”

Blake Lively also spent time in Charlestown, picking up both the accent and the attitude of the Townie women. “I spent some time hanging out with them,” she relates, “but instead of asking questions or trying to imitate their accent, I ended up just being silent and taking it in. I realized that if I was talking, I wouldn’t be listening. I also watched how they connect with one another and how their speech changes, depending on who they’re talking to. It was interesting to watch how some of them balanced their sexuality with being tough, like, ‘Don’t mess with me.'”

Rebecca Hall, who hails from England rather than New England, did not have to tackle the Charlestown accent, as Claire Keesey comes from the coastal Massachusetts town of Marblehead. The actress says, “I listened to tapes of people from Marblehead and what I discovered was that many speak with more of a general east coast dialect. So, apart from doing an American accent, I tried to pick up on those distinct little things that set it apart, which is something I enjoy doing.”

Firearm training

There was a more physical learning curve for the actors portraying both criminals and cops, who were involved in the film’s extensive gunplay sequences. The men trained with property master and armorer Douglas Fox, as well as stunt coordinator Gary Hymes, to learn how to properly and safely handle a variety of firearms, ranging from automatic weapons to handguns to shotguns.

Jon Hamm also had the benefit of working directly with FBI consultant Thomas B. Devlin, who grew up in Charlestown and went on to spend twenty-four years in the Bureau, eight of those overseeing the SWAT program in Boston. “He was the go-to guy for any questions we had,” Hamm says. “It was extremely helpful to have him around. It was also amusing because a few of the guys we had working as extras or in bit parts were gentlemen Mr. Devlin had arrested in their previous careers. So it was always fun to see who Tom had a previous, um, ‘relationship’ with,” he grins.

Devlin’s years with SWAT enabled him to do double duty: as both the FBI consultant and a SWAT advisor. “It was a gift to have Tom on the set,” says Affleck. “He was very instructive about the inner workings of the agency, and, having come from Charlestown, he really knew the history of the place and the people. He is also emblematic of the fact that the town has produced some great people with strong values and a lot of integrity–something that doesn’t get showcased very much.”

A number of real police officers also participated in some of the action scenes, which brought added veracity to the proceedings. Crockett says, “The Boston Police, the local FBI office and other police departments in the vicinity really opened their doors to us. We had a lot of assistance from all levels of law enforcement.”

The Charlestown underworld

“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.

Basil Iwanyk elaborates, “We had a few unofficial consultants–trust me, very important consultants–who added a lot of specificity to the movie. Some of them were pretty tough customers, at least on paper, but they turned out to be some of the nicest guys you’d ever want to meet.”