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Actor Casey Affleck reflects on the past and ‘the world to come’




The last time I saw Casey Affleck was after a screening of Manchester by the Sea at the Sundance Film Festival at 8:30 am, which left my coworkers and I so emotionally exhausted that we were pretty much useless for the rest. of the day. Affleck finds this very funny. Oh man, that’s awesome, he laughs. It was a difficult projection. At Sundance, I usually go to sleep at 8 am. I was talking on the phone days after the virtual festival premiere of his latest film, The World to Come, which debuted at Sundance last month under very different circumstances. It’s so strange doing these things in front of your computer, he sighs.

Directed by Mona Fastvold, The World to Come is a powerful period play about a forbidden love story between pioneer women played by Katherine Waterston and Vanessa Kirby, which takes place in upstate New York during the first months of 1856. Affleck produced the painting, in which he plays a supporting role as Waterstons’ incomprehensible husband, and he did his best to be a soldier in a crowded Zoom Q&A after the screening of Sundance, with fairly pleasant results, but still lacking that magic of the festival itself. I loved going to film festivals and talking to reporters, seeing all the movies and talking to other filmmakers, he laments. Sitting here alone in a small office in my house is such a drag. But it was nice to know the movie was at least seen.

While big brother Ben plays Batman in the studio, Casey has shown a restless independence since he was a student at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School. (Our ninth grade classes faced off in Mass. High school drama guild contest. He won, perhaps unsurprisingly.) A longtime friend of the Brattle Theater and former creative advisor for the Boston Independent Film Festival, young Affleck always seemed more at ease in India. Few actors would follow an Oscar-winning role in Manchester by the Sea with a microbudget art film like A Ghost Story. But then, his internalized, minimalist acting style is often at odds with the concerns of contemporary blockbusters. There’s an odd dissonance to watching something like Disney’s hokey Chatham The Finest Hours sea adventure, with Affleck right in the Montgomery Clift while surrounded by CGI nonsense.

Casey Affleck in
Casey Affleck in “A Ghost Story”. (Courtesy of Bret Curry / A24)

The World to Come is Afflecks Sea Change Media’s most ambitious project to date, which partnered with Pamela Koffler and Christine Vachons, legendary New York independent Killer Films for the arduous production that began with a conversation between Affleck and novelist Ron Hansen almost ten years ago. When I did The Cowardly Robert Ford’s The Jesse James Assassination, I got to know Ron Hansen, just because I loved the book so much. Ron has a very unique talent for writing the language of the 19th century. He comes from another era. I asked him if he had anything he wanted to work on together, and thought he would send me one of his things. Instead, he sent me this Jim Shepard story. It was beautiful. I said, why don’t you and Jim write the screenplay? And they took about six years, but everything went really well. Good things happen to those who wait, I guess.

The film was ultimately shot in Romania with a built-in schedule break to accommodate the changing seasons that are so crucial for films with rugged, exterior textures. We were in Transylvania, in the mountains, Affleck explains. We were just in a valley and they built a few farms. I like to be far in a new place. It makes you feel like you are outside of your life. And I love to work on time. There are so many aspects of filmmaking that are man-made, but when there are extreme weather conditions it is real. I did this Disney movie about a boat rescue, and it was, like, December in Quincy, and they just soaked us with water with every take. There is not much to do. You’re right there chattering your teeth, shivering, just being. It reminds me of the scene in Manchester where he and Lucas Hedges argue while walking in the scorching cold and can’t remember where they parked. I forgot that one, he laughs.

I never say it on the phone, but I consider Afflecks’ performance as Lee Chandler in Manchester by the Sea among the finest I’ve seen in my 22 years of film review worthy of discussion. alongside Brandos Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront in his painful, inchoate desire. Lee keeps his grief somewhere very private and dear, as if starting to forgive himself would be an act of betrayal. The film uncovers a gruff emotional constipation popular among men of a certain stripe, especially in New England. (My mom offered my favorite review of the movie: Why don’t they talk to each other? Jesus is like watching you and your dad.) Words don’t come easily to most of the characters in the Afflecks movie, but it becomes irritated at the description of them as inarticulate. It’s funny, I find the Manchester characters sometimes very eloquent, he says. There are misunderstandings, but they end up communicating what’s inside.

Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler in
Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler in “Manchester by the Sea”. (Courtesy of Claire Folger / Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions)

The World to Come is rife with such mixed signals and communication issues, which co-star Katherine Waterston praised during Q&A on Zoom after the Sundance screening. It was so much fun doing the scenes with Casey, she says. Many of these scenes are written as dances, where someone is trying to reach out and engage and they are misunderstood. The lack of articulation is a very interesting thing to see in a movie. Unsuccessful attempts. Communications failure. It’s really fun to play these things. You don’t know what others are going to throw at you. It really keeps him alive on set. Mona and I figured if we had the money we could have kept shooting this thing for months because the scenes were so much fun to explore.

Affleck agrees. When the character of Katherines writes in his journal or she starts talking to Vanessa, they have this beautiful expressive way of talking to each other, he gets excited, as his character says what he needs to say in so few words. as possible. He’s very blunt and abrupt, which I appreciated. The way he talks is the equivalent of communicating when he gives her a birthday present of sardines and a box of raisins.

Indeed, its increasingly flowery diary entries – originally intended to serve as a ledger to track monthly farm expenses – become the heartbeat of the film, providing an emotional release otherwise suppressed by the rigid formality. of the time and the horrible chore of everyday life. -farm day. The World to Come is ultimately a film about the need to share our stories and how, in telling them, we make sense of ourselves. As producer Koffler explains in the press notes, part of the vision for the film is to dramatize a very basic human impulse: to create, to connect, to say that I was here and that I mattered.

It has become a recurring theme in Afflecks’ recent work. In 2019, he wrote, directed, and starred in Light of My Life, a little-seen but surprisingly tense post-apocalyptic road movie about a father and daughter hiding in the wild after a pandemic wiped out most women in the world. . The film begins with Affleck telling the little girl a bedtime story that lasts almost 13 minutes and slyly defines the main themes of the film. Then for the last few months our friend played well but unfortunately soggy, he played the role of journalist Matthew Teague, whose revealing Esquire story about his wife’s battle with cancer has become a national phenomenon.

Casey Affleck (left) and Jason Segel in
Casey Affleck (left) and Jason Segel in “Our Friend”. (Courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

Matt Teague wrote this article and then wanted it made into a movie as his way of handling everything that had happened, the actor explains. You turn pain into other things as you go through life. That was all he was working on there. I love storytelling stories and I love stories in stories. Obviously, I wrote and directed a movie that begins with a 12 minute bedtime story. I like this. I know other people don’t like it as much as I do, so I have to be careful about it.

This kind of love led to the last summers Stories of tomorrow, a project initiated during the lockout by Affleck and his schoolteacher mother Christine, encouraging kids to send in poems and short stories to read on social media by celebrities like Matt Damon and Jon Hamm, as well as his co-stars from The World to Come Waterston and Kirby. This is something I started in my early forties as a small project to encourage kids to write creatively because I know it can be a great way to deal with anxiety and overcome feelings. that you don’t really talk about or that you aren’t aware of. you have. It wasn’t something I thought would last forever; once the kids are back in school, that’s where they should be doing all of that kind of work. But while they were sitting at home, I thought it would be a good way to divert their attention from the terrible news and move on to something more imaginative. And I also had the chance to read all these super cool stories! Really creative stuff sent by kids all over the world.

Finally, as a Boston publication, it would be a dereliction of duty not to mention the hysteric Dunkin Donuts Commercial Parody from when Affleck hosted Saturday Night Live in 2016, so unmoved in his portrayal of a local “ regulah customah ” that on one of my critical ballots that year I tried to name the sketch for the best documentary. Alas, the performer shoots down a pet theory I’ve clung to ever since that the Boston guy in the Bruins hat is secretly an adult version of the Afflecks scene flying and swallowing bugs Morgan from Good. Will Hunting.

I hadn’t thought of that, man. It is really funny. It never occurred to me. He pauses before confiding, “I wasn’t that great on SNL, I wasn’t that funny on skits, because it’s live and you read the cue cards and it was my first time. But when we went to do this little pre-recorded short of the Dunkin Donuts commercial, I really felt like this was my wheelhouse there. I got to play this character in a movie. I could have gone to work and play with him every day, and I would have had a blast. It was really fun to do. I would love to do another one. It would be fun to see this character again.

I bet guys have stories.

The world to come is now in theaters and will be available via video on demand Tuesday March 2.

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