IAR INTERVIEW: Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck Talk 'Ain't Them Bodies Saints'

Monday, 12 August 2013 09:43 Written by  iamrogue
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IAR INTERVIEW: Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck Talk 'Ain't Them Bodies Saints'

In Ain't Them Bodies Saints, Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck star as characters who, like the movie around them, are at once almost mythically recognizable, yet also strikingly immediate in the nuance, subtlety, and emotion of their realization.

The sophomore directorial feature from David Lowery (St. Nick), Ain't Them Bodies Saints is a lyrical and romantic drama that is set in the 1970s but captures many traditional elements of an older, distinctly American form: the Western.  The film begins with Ruth Guthrie and Bob Muldoon as lovers on the tail end of a crime spree that concludes in a shootout.  A crack shot, Ruth takes down a lawman, but when they surrender, Bob claims responsibility and is sentenced to twenty-five years, while Ruth, pregnant with his child, is let free.

Five years later, Bob busts out of prison and sets his sights on Texas, where he'll be reunited with Ruth and meet his daughter for the first time.  At home, however, Bob's impending arrival is complicated by Ruth's devotion to her daughter and the attentions of local sheriff Patrick Wheeler, played by Ben Foster (The Messenger), who is keen on Ruth.

Though Ruth and Bob spend most of the film separated, Mara and Affleck ensure that their connection, fraught with melodrama and complication though it may be, remains potent.  Both actors are Academy Award nominees on account of their performances in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford, respectively, and both have quite consistently eschewed typical movie star roles, instead opting for more personal fare.

Recently, both actors participated in roundtable interviews to promote Ain't Them Bodies Saints, and IAR was on hand. They discussed what drew them to the film, working with David Lowery, their characters, what differentiates the film from its antecedents, Westerns, getting to know one another through the material, and the overall experience of making the film.

Mara earned worldwide acclaim for her work as Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but has subsequently refrained from starring in blockbusters.  Asked what about Ain't Them Bodies Saints appealed to her, Mara answered, "I love small films. I saw David’s short Pioneer first before I even read the script and I just thought it was so odd and compelling and just different than anything I had seen. So I knew already that he definitely had a special voice, because the way that was written was really different than anything I’d heard. So then when I read the script, the same was true for the script. It was very poetic and very musical. I think David has a very musical ear for his writing. It has a certain flow to it. Then I met him and I just had a feeling about him that he was a really special director. I loved the characters. I loved the world that it took place in and I loved the relationship between Bob and Ruth."

Affleck, meanwhile, has achieved a rare balance between films like the Ocean's Eleven trilogy and his own directorial endeavor I'm Still Here.  Like Mara, he singles out the writing of Lowery's screenplay.  "The first attraction I had was because the script was so well written and I liked the way that David used language," said Affleck.  "The dialogue felt unique and poetic in a way.  I don’t know if it read that way to anybody else on screen, but just reading it, I could tell that he really cared about language, and I liked that.  I also am drawn to characters whose internal fantasy of themselves is at odds with the reality of their situation and who they are.  That was true for this character for sure.  But mostly, I just liked the way that David talked about film, and about this film and the story.  I wish I had a formula for how I chose films that I wanted to be a part of.  I just don’t.  It’s still a very instinctual process.  I sat down and met with David and I knew in the first five minutes that I wanted to do it, because I just got a feeling from him that he loved movies.  He loved this story.  He wasn’t doing it because he just wanted to be a film director and that he really cared about this.  He really listened, and immediately it was a good match for me.  All the way through the process, I was glad that I had done the movie."

With The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford, Affleck played the central role in a truly great Western, one that commented on the death of the genre and the frontier itself.  Here, he's dealing with some thematically similar material.  "I do love the Western, although I feel like this movie…David is so smart that he subverted the Western genre and also subverted the lovers on the run.  Anytime there was some familiar trope of some genre, he either went around it or he would find a way of making it different in some way," he explained.  "Someone asked me if this was similar to Jesse James.  There’s really nothing at all that is similar about the two even though they had similar influences, the obvious being (Terrence) Malick.  There again, it’s completely different movies and characters and stuff.  I think that it’s hard to find any movie these days that isn’t in some way influenced by the impression that Malick made in the early seventies and today."

Speaking of Terrence Malick, his 1973 masterpiece Badlands is a clear influence on Ain't Them Bodies Saints.  And, with next year's untitled Malick film, Mara recently added him to her enviable list of directors, one that includes David Fincher and Steven Soderbergh. "Every director I’ve ever worked with has been different from the next," she said. "So I don’t ever really think about comparing them. Because I’m just an actor I always just try and go into every experience of working with someone new, I always try and give myself over to the way they do things. I don’t have a set way of doing things because it’s not really my place to. My job is to sort of accommodate their process. And I really like that. I like working with Fincher, doing fifty takes. And then I like working Steven, doing two takes. Every director is different and I’m very happy about that. If everyone had the same process, it would be pretty boring."

As mentioned, both Bob and Ruth are almost archetypal figures when the film begins, but both are richer and more distinct than they first appear.  Affleck talked about Bob's uniqueness as a cinematic outlaw, saying, "I think that Bob, other than having this romantic vision of himself and the world and the way it should be and that vision coming to loggerheads with what the world really is, which is an interesting conflict to play, I liked that he just had a good heart and had good intentions.  I’ve played a lot of people who are assassins or murderers or just creeps this way or that and that always feel disgusting, and it was great to play somebody who had everyone’s best interest in mind and was a much better person than anyone thought.  It’s really interesting that through the whole movie, no one ever finds out that he didn’t even kill anybody and that she had shot a policeman.  It wasn’t even him.  He’d never hurt anybody.  So, all those little things I liked about him."

Mara shed some light on Ruth's partnerships with the two men in her life, explaining, "I love her relationship with Bob. I think he said it in one of his monologues, they’re like two little kids fighting over a ball. We talked about how they met when they were like twelve years old and were sort of inseparable ever since. They have this sort of fiery relationship where they fight and come back together and they fight and come back together. It’s kind of childish their relationship, I guess, in that way. But I love that kind of love story, people who’ve been together since they were little and people who’ve grown up together. Her attraction to Officer Wheeler…I never really saw it as her having an attraction to him. The way I thought about it when I was doing it is that Ruth is entirely loyal to Bob and she wants to be with Bob. But at the same time she wants to do what’s right for her daughter. But at the end of day, I think her ideal would be to have them all be together. But I think she knows that’s not really possible. Patrick for her I think she wishes she would want to be with someone like that but it wouldn’t be enough for her. But I think the idea of him is a great comfort to her and I think she really wishes that she could have that. He’s so different from Bob and I think that’s really where her passion and her love is. I think she wishes she could be with someone like Patrick but I don’t think it would fulfill her."

With Bob, Affleck said, "My only concern was making sure that he wasn’t so familiar in his romanticism in the context of the movie that it becomes a cliché.  I think all of those characters are a little bit romantic, kind of like the ones in Bonnie and Clyde, in Badlands and beyond even that.  That character is someone we have seen in films because it is such a great character.  But because we’ve seen it so much, you have to make sure that you find something that’s real about him and that’s different about him."

In Ain't Them Bodies Saints, he noted, "You don’t actually see any crimes.  With Bonnie and Clyde, you see them do all this stuff.  What the crimes were is left to the imagination, but it’s probably robbing banks, robbing things, stealing stuff.  And I think it was smart not to show that stuff because it’s so much a part of our culture.  Even just filmically, immediately when you sit down in the movie theater, there are five different movies that come to mind about a young couple who are on a crime spree.  So what’s the point in showing it?  You don’t have to show it.  It would have become redundant and sort of boring.  Although he could speak better about it, I think he wanted to show the reality of that situation, when the glamor and the romance of the Bonnie and Clyde lovers wears off, and you’re left with just the reality of trying to live out a life.  You’ve got a kid.  She’s got a kitten.  You need to marry someone who has a job.  You’ve got all that stuff.  When that collides with the teenage, youthful sort of idealism of being lovers on the run, then what happens?  So in that way, I think that the movie is different than Bonnie and Clyde and Badlands."

"And the characters are different mostly because you’re seeing her and through her story you get to see her mature at this really accelerated rate because of the circumstances," he continued.  "She has to deal suddenly with does she really want to be with somebody who’s on the run, who’s a fugitive, and doesn’t have any way of earning a living or supporting them.  Or is she going to be attracted to this slightly more boring but stable guy who she never ever thought she would be with who is a police officer.  And I think that seeing her come around from her love for me to just entertaining the possibility of being with this guy, not actually being attracted to him or having a relationship with him, but just maturing to the point where she can see what might be nice about him and what could be lovable about him is what separates it from those other movies."

The film finds Mara playing a mother for the first time, and while that might at first sound like a formidable challenge, the actress explained that it didn't require too much preparation, saying, "David wrote such a beautiful script and such a beautiful relationship between Ruth and her daughter so I didn’t really have to prepare that much. But I spent a lot of time with the little girls beforehand so that we had some sort of relationship before. It was the first thing they had ever done and we wanted them to be comfortable with me which happened very quickly. They got attached to me very quickly. It was so much fun working with them. They made it pretty easy."

"We didn’t know each other but that’s often the case when you start a movie.  Rooney is a very mysterious person," said Affleck of his co-star.  "There are some things she plays close to the vest and sort of doesn’t give a lot, but the camera sees a lot.  She has that enviable, magical quality of being something that just comes alive on screen, and I think she’s very interesting to watch because there’s a lot happening in her head, and for some reason you can see it.  She likes to say it’s just because her skin is so pale, but I think it’s something else.  So I loved not knowing what she was thinking and what she was going to do and say, even though I knew on paper what she was going to do and say.  I think she’s a very brave young woman for doing all these roles that she’s doing and for jumping in the way that she has.  She doesn’t have a lot of run up to movie stardom.  She was doing nothing and then she was working with all these huge directors and doing all these big parts and they’re all very different and she hasn’t blinked once.  I know that I would have screwed that up and so that’s one of the many things that I like about her."

Most of Ain't Them Bodies Saints finds their characters separated, emotionally charged by their last meeting, their love letters, and the promise of a future together.  The schedule, Mara said, helped facilitate that relationship. "All of my favorite scenes in the whole movie are stuff that I wasn’t there for. It was very fitting the way we shot the film," she explained. "He went there first and shot all of his stuff and then I came and we shot our stuff together. Then he left and I shot my stuff. So he spent his whole time trying to get back to Ruth and we really didn’t know each other at all. I think that Bob has that fear on the way to Ruth that, 'Is she different now? What will she be like?' I think the anticipation that he had waiting for me to get there, then I got there and we shot our stuff together, then he left. I think Ruth spends a lot of the time kind of nostalgic for Bob and longing for him and wanting him to come back. They kind of really positioned it perfectly for the way that we shot it."

Mara summed up her work on the film pleasantly, saying, "I enjoyed everything about the film. It was such a lovely experience making the film. I don’t think there’s one person I didn’t like. It was just a really lovely experience. It was just small and very close. I loved everything about it. I really did."

Ain't Them Bodies Saints premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, and went to earn accolades on the global festival circuit, winning over even the divisive crowds at Cannes.

The film arrives in limited release this Friday, August 16th, and will expand in subsequent weeks.

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