Scott Cooper's stark, compelling Rust Belt drama, "Out of the Furnace," which premiered earlier this month at AFI Fest, turns on the relationship between two brothers: Straight-arrow steel mill worker Russell Baze (Christian Bale) and his anguished younger sibling, Rodney (Casey Affleck), who has returned from three Army tours in Iraq incapable of resuming any kind of normal life. We spoke to Affleck recently in a video interview about his work on the movie, which opens Dec. 6. Here are excerpts from that conversation.
The film opens with an intense scene at a drive-in movie that introduces Woody Harrelson's psychopathic character. What did you think when you read the script and saw that violence right off?
It's a funny way to open because really the movie is about Christian — Woody's character doesn't come until a little bit later. And I always assumed that they would just cut it. But the extreme violence of it — he's the threat to Christian, so when Woody does come back you need to know that he is a real threat and that he's actually capable of doing very bad stuff. Otherwise, it just seems like Woody Harrelson.
Talk about the relationship between the brothers, which is the real heart of the movie.
Yeah, I've been gone in Iraq. I've been doing, you know, three tours of duty there. And when I get back, our father dies and I have to go and tell Christian, who is in jail for accidentally killing somebody in a car accident. And from that point on it's just the two of us — mother's not in the picture and there are no other siblings. I've arrived home from being at war and can't find a job and sort of am suffering from some mild post-traumatic stress disorder. And the economy in this town of Braddock, Pa., is — the whole town has kind of collapsed. And he's just getting out of prison and has nothing at all, having lost the woman that he loved while he was away in jail. And so he and I are the only things that we have kind of left in the world. And so we're bonded pretty tightly.
The first time we see you guys meet in the movie, you're heading to an off-track betting site where you've got a "hot tip," which sets in motion your character's journey.
He's not in a good place when you first find him. Getting tips on horses and spending your savings on them at off-track betting sites is not a way to make a living. And I'm also sort of hiding it from my brother because I'm a little bit embarrassed about it. It's a kind of silly thing to do, and he knows the people that I'm involved with, with Willem Dafoe's character and doesn't think very highly of them either.
So Rodney goes into kind of a bare-knuckle fighting situation. That involved some training, right? They're just not throwing you out there in the dirt and saying go at it?
This is not like championship boxing or even like UFC .... These are backyard fights that I guess are kind of a popular thing now. It's pretty gruesome, but the fights aren't — the fighters are just sort of ordinary people — they're not all built and look like, you know, boxers. Usually they're guys in jeans, and they tend to take their shirt off so they can't, you know, be choked with it or something, and they stand there and just pummel each other until one of them falls over and that's the end of it. It's pretty barbaric, but it's not very technical. So it didn't require that much training. That said, the very well-trained and excellent stunt men that I was fighting with in the movie could have just killed me instantly if they wanted to. But they played their part and, you know, let me beat on them a little bit.
You had some intense scenes with Harrelson. There's one scene where you guys are just completely in each other's face. What was that like?
It was great. I think I just scared him so much. You know, I was being very — trying to be conscious of not sort of overpowering him with my energy in the scene. [laughs]