Brotherly love goes a long way

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Remember the big Brando speech in On the Waterfront?

"You was my brother, Charley. You shoulda looked out for me a little bit."

You're never going to hear that from Casey Affleck. Casey, younger brother of Ben, followed big brother into the movies. Now, big brother is giving little brother his biggest break ever. Ben -- three years older -- adapted and directed Dennis Lehane's Gone Baby Gone, a lean, atmospheric missing-persons thriller. To play the lead, a too-green, too-low-rent private detective trying to find a missing child from a poor neighborhood, Ben cast Casey.

"I have no idea why he did it," Casey, 32, laughs. "Maybe he knew I knew this town [Boston]. Maybe he thought I was good."Gone Baby Gone, which opened Friday, is winning great notices for both brothers.

"Casey Affleck has never had a pedestal like the one his brother provides him, and he earns it," wrote David Edelstein in New York Magazine.

"I know when he's being real and when he's faking it," Ben told Metromix.com. "You don't grow up with a guy who would fake being sick to get out of going to school without seeing through him. Any other actor, that would've taken time to figure out."

Casey laughs at hearing this. He's not an expert on Lehane, whose Mystic River also brought crime home to a poor Boston neighborhood. But "we both know Boston," Casey says. "Ben has a great grasp of what the city, the neighborhoods, the people are like. And I think I do too."

That childhood is a piece of Hollywood lore, how the Afflecks, the children of a teacher and a drug counselor, grew up next door to Matt Damon. When Matt and Ben made their way to Hollywood, Casey followed, leaving college behind. Casey has been in Good Will Hunting, Gerry and Oceans Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen with Damon, and Chasing Amy, 200 Cigarettes and Good Will Hunting with Ben.

It gets even more incestuous. Casey worked with Joaquin Phoenix in To Die For, and they've been friends since. Casey married Summer Phoenix, Joaquin's sister. And he's worked with his To Die For director, Gus Van Sant, in Good Will Hunting and Gerry. Affleck knows the connections and he knows any talk of "keeping it in the family" nepotism vanishes if the movie's good. He is particularly pleased that all those people who said all that "stuff" about his brother during his days of being half of the Jennifer Lopez/Ben Affleck couple known as Bennifer, are taking it back, thanks to Gone Baby Gone.

"Those people, I don't really pay them too much mind, to be frank," Casey says. "All that small-minded gossip that he went through that we all heard, that sort of personal criticism, I learned to ignore all that. It's just noise pollution, this E! Channel, this or that gossip. It doesn't matter to me at all.

"I know Ben. I know he's talented, intelligent and a nice guy. I'm not surprised people are coming around and telling me what I knew all along."

What he is surprised by is his own buzz. The younger Affleck has been best-known as a supporting player, often just a bit player, in big movies. The occasional indie starring role (Lonesome Jim paired him with Liv Tyler) was as close to top billed as he has been.Two new films are changing that, two movies with his name featured prominently in the credits. The long-delayed The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford has Brad Pitt as the late outlaw. But the focus of the story is the man who shot Jesse James in the back, "the Coward Robert Ford." That's who Affleck plays.

"Affleck's metamorphosis from doormat to predator is a devastating feat of self-transformation," according to Newsday critic Jan Stuart.

That's what separates the characters and the performances, Affleck says, that transformation.

"They're as different as two people can be. Patrick [Affleck's private eye in Gone Baby Gone] has a real self-awareness that makes the characters very different. Robert Ford lacks any self-awareness. He doesn't know who he is. He's a kid. I think that he's willing to diminish his own presence as a way of ingratiating himself with Jesse James. He takes whatever abuse Jesse dishes out. "Patrick's just the opposite. He'll say something just to get a rise out of somebody."

Getting a rise out of Affleck is as easy as saying something "isn't your typical Casey Affleck part." He's been "the kid," "the sidekick," up until now. These two films document Affleck's own metamorphosis. , from bit player into something bigger, grander. He knows it was luck and director Andrew Dominik's "perfectionism" that held up Jesse James for months and months, until Gone Baby Gone was released.

Affleck is lucky, and still too self-conscious to name a favorite among his performances.

"That's like picking out the favorite skeleton you have hanging in your closet," he jokes. "All I can say is, people are responding positively, and I've experienced the opposite of that a time or two."

Affleck had a great time making both movies, especially the Western. Every kid wants to play an Old West outlaw."There were times when there were just a few of us up on some wind-swept hill, and there's not a house to be seen in any direction.

You're up on a horse, in real clothes from the period. It was easy to lose yourself in the moment. The acting around me was so natural and heartfelt that you can let your imagination run away."

The same thing happened, with his brother Casey could worry that he would let Ben down, or he could travel back to their shared past and find just the right way of playing a guy from one of the tougher corners of Boston. He could close his eyes and go back there.

"The sights, sounds and smells of that neighborhood where we filmed, (Medford, Lynn, Dorchester and Cambridge), this wave of nostalgia would overcome me," he says "It felt just like the streets of my childhood. That got me there."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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