Affleck has landed in the Toronto Film Festival with his cast including Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively, Jon Hamm and Chris Cooper, to talk about The Town and the movie-making magic that went into creating a modern bank heist thriller for the ages.
Ben Affleck shares insight into that stellar ensemble, The Town itself, otherwise known as Affleck's hometown of Boston and how the task of joining the rare ranks of actor-directors who have crafted hit films never caused him pause.
SheKnows: There's a great tradition in film of bank heist movies, which ones inspired you?
Ben Affleck: There were a number, obviously Heat. It was a huge influence and looms quite heavily over this movie. It's extraordinary. We had to work to not be too close to Heat, in fact. The Bank Job…The Friends of Eddie Coyle was a big inspiration. The fact that there are a lot of movies in this genre points to the fact that it's kind of tricky to do it. You don't change the genre. You can retell those things over and over again. The audience is going to feel it's a little predictable. But, those movies stand as reminders that even with working within that genre where it's all been done, you can do something special. That's what we were doing -- walking in the footsteps of films ranging from the great Warner Bros gangster movies to the great Michael Mann gangster movies to Italian movies.
SheKnows: In the last several years, you have acted in films as often as you've directed. Are you pulling away from acting, albeit slowly?
Ben Affleck: It was more about taking a step forward towards directing, doing more unusual stuff like Hollywoodland and Gone Baby Gone and after that, State of Play. And this movie, which I was interested in its creative merits and was ready to try being an actor and director, there wasn't any real meta-planning. It's just a creative instance.
SheKnows: Bank heist movies have a long legacy, but films with bad Boston accents also have their place. In The Town, your cast is scary in their ability to capture the varied vocal corners of Boston.
Ben Affleck: The accents are a big issue. They can really upend your movie. With (Jeremy) Renner, I wasn't worried about his ability to do it. I was worried, would he do it? How much would he invest? I sent him a lot of recordings, but more than the recordings, it's about the people you stand next to, so I put the right people around Jeremy and, without saying anything, Jeremy's so smart, immediately you see him radiating towards the people, without them knowing, who are helping him. It was really fun to watch. I showed up on the set and he had it [snaps].
SheKnows: What about Blake Lively?
Ben Affleck: Blake also went around Boston. She did her tour of these girls in the projects and took the time to hang out with them because it's not just an accent, it's not about vowels. It's a world view, it's carriage, it's vocabulary. It's so many different things.
SheKnows: As an actor, clearly you're from Boston, so effortless in the accent department, but did you ever worry about your fellow Bostonites and their reaction to your cast capturing Boston's voice?
Ben Affleck: People from Boston are really hard on that kind of thing. That's the first thing people say about Boston movies is, "The accents were ahh-right." You know what I mean [laughs]? And (Jon) Hamm, he and I had the same instinct, being from wherever, Illinois, Rochester, New York, being an outsider said more for him rather than someone who had a Boston accent.
SheKnows: As someone who has won an Oscar for screenwriting, how does directing challenge you not to completely deviate from the written word of the story you're filming?
Ben Affleck: I think style is a function of conditions. You'll do different things based on what the conditions are. In this case, I was not only already working with a fine, fine novel, but also a fine screenplay. The only difference between what was there and what was going to be on the screen was going to be the additional research I did and the peculiar and specific choices I made as a director about what I wanted to photograph. In that sense, I view screenwriting, in its best form, particularly if you're going to have multiple screenwriters, as one good idea on top of another. Some of the things Chris Cooper did with his scenes, little changes he would make, I just tried to stay nimble as a director, which is the way you get the best stuff.
SheKnows: I've driven in Boston on many occasions. How did you craft a car chase scene as insane as the one in The Town?
Ben Affleck: We had a lot of trouble in the North End, because, you know, it's quite constricted. It served the point of helping us because it looked like what I wanted it to look like say if an obstacle was thrown in front of the police because they couldn't get around the obstacle. That community is extremely powerful in the North End. It was difficult for us and we needed to be very judicious about how we worked in the North End, where we parked, how much we burned the cars, it just was very hard to do and to make matters worse, it rained. This movie is nothing [pauses] but a long apology to the people of the North End.
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