Cassey Affleck Drawn To Conflicted Characters

Michele Norris interviews actor Casey Affleck, who plays the lead character in the new film The Killer Inside and whose understated career belies one of Hollywood's most talented young stars.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Of the two Affleck brothers working in Hollywood, Casey Affleck has a lower profile than his older brother, Ben, even though his work in films such as "Gone, Baby, Gone" and "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" has won widespread praise from film critics.

Casey Affleck's next film is already creating buzz - but this time with a bit of static. The film is called "The Killer Inside Me" and it's directed by the renowned British filmmaker Michael Winterbottom. Affleck plays a laconic, small-town Texas sheriff named Lou Ford, who turns out to be a psychotic sadist.

(Soundbite of film, "The Killer Inside Me")

Unidentified Woman: Why? Why?

NORRIS: The violence against women is so graphic and so realistic that people have been walking out of some of the early screenings. I recently talked to Casey Affleck, and I asked why an actor on the rise would take such a risk.

Mr. CASEY AFFLECK (Actor): What I liked about it was that it had this central character, Lou Ford, who at first glance was the protagonist of the story, who you meet at the beginning and you think, OK, this is the guy who's going to take me through this story. And in one way or another, he'd be a hero, and at the very least a protagonist.

And then you realize, a third of the way into it, that he's completely insane, and that this person who youve kind of linked arms with is crazy and completely unreliable. And it happens subtly and seamlessly, and I liked that a lot.

NORRIS: Did you have any trepidation about making this film, especially the violence - the violence against women?

Mr. AFFLECK: I thought about it a lot. But my fears were allayed when I spoke to Michael. And he wanted to make it very, very realistic and I thought, OK, Im in. Because to do the movie any other way, to depict the violence in a way that wasnt disturbing, would be irresponsible. It would kind of contribute to desensitization of, you know, of our cultural desensitization to violence because it's everywhere - in videogames and TV and movies.

And the audience never feels anything. They never really feel upset. And if you're going to show that stuff, then let people feel something like what it might actually be like to experience that violence in real life.

NORRIS: This is hard to watch. I mean, this is - there are a few scenes in this film that are very difficult to watch. And the British newspaper The Independent poses what I think is a very interesting question about this film.

Does a film fail if the viewer has to turn away, if the violence is so realistic that the audience feels - or actually has to leave the theater, or leave the set if they're watching on the small screen?

Mr. AFFLECK: No. I understand that this movie is very hard to watch, and it's not for everybody, but I don't mind that. I don't mind sending a message out to the world that says, hey, think about what you're going to go and see. It's a movie called "The Killer Inside Me," and there's a book out there that's not as difficult and challenging, and if it's something that you're not up for, then you shouldn't see this movie.

NORRIS: The studio is going to love to hear you say that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. AFFLECK: Well, you know, I don't I don't think we were trying to fool anybody. I mean, there's a lot of horrible things happening in a lot of big-budget, mainstream movies that they let little kids go and see, and I think that is really, wildly irresponsible.

NORRIS: As an actor, you seem to be drawn to characters that are a bit like psychological examinations. And in the film "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," you play Robert Ford, and it seems like as actors, there might be two kinds of people: the sort that would pine to play the role of the icon, Jesse James; and the kind that would be happier playing the insecure man who in some ways, wants to be Jesse James but can't quite get there.

How did you become the kind of actor interested in the character who's more at the fringe but has, in many ways, a more interesting psychological profile?

Mr. AFFLECK: Just who I am, all the things that happened in my life. But I'm not sure that I wouldn't have been drawn to playing Jesse James, either, had that been the opportunity that presented itself.

I mean, I like interesting characters, and Jesse James could be seen as just an icon. Everyone knows all about him, and there's nothing more to find out. But the way that Brad Pitt played him was somebody that really is an incredibly interesting character, someone that's not, oh, the hero, the icon. It's someone who feels tortured.

That said, I really do for whatever reason, I am kind of drawn to those people that are conflicted or confused or - that aren't conventional leading man. But I don't know if there's anyone that would say, I just like to play those two-dimensional characters, you know the ones, we've seen them before. And they're not that interesting. I think everyone kind of thinks, like, well, I like to play interesting guys, and when I play the leading man, I do it in an interesting way.

NORRIS: So you've played Robert Ford and Lou Ford, and perhaps next time we talk to you, you'll be playing another character whose last name is Ford. Who knows?

Mr. AFFLECK: Maybe. Who? Tom Ford. That's been done.

NORRIS: Oh, actually - well, now, that's still out there waiting for you. It's yours for the taking.

Mr. AFFLECK: Oh, that's right, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: Glenn Ford, maybe that, yeah. Good to talk to you. Thanks so much.

Mr. AFFLECK: Thank you.

NORRIS: Casey Affleck, his latest film is called "The Killer Inside Me."

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'The Killer Inside Me': Small-Town Savagery

Kate Hudson, Casey Affleck

When A Man Loves A Woman: Casey Affleck (right) and Kate Hudson star in The Killer Inside Me, which has come under fire at film festivals for its graphic depiction of violence against women. IFC Films hide caption

itoggle caption IFC Films

The Killer Inside Me

  • Director: Michael Winterbottom
  • Genre: Drama, Thriller
  • Running Time: 109 minutes
Rated R for disturbing brutal violence, aberrant sexual content and some graphic nudity.

With: Casey Affleck, Elias Koteas, Jessica Alba, Kate Hudson

Though lean and handsome like his older brother Ben, Casey Affleck is in every way the opposite of his more famous sibling: Laconic and mysterious where Ben is open and ingratiating, he tends to speak in a low drawl that suggests either a modest, retiring personality or someone who tucks dark secrets behind an impassive demeanor. With only the slightest shift in inflection, Affleck can play the quietly compassionate, street-smart private eye in Gone Baby Gone or the opportunistic simpleton who guns down a legend in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

Based on Jim Thompson's seminal first-person crime novel, The Killer Inside Me casts Affleck as a small-town deputy in 1950s West Texas, a man who cuts a clean figure but harbors a penchant for boundless savagery outside the public eye. It's the ideal role for Affleck, who conveys the chilling ease with which a sociopath can slip in and out of character, with only a lingering Cheshire cat grin as evidence that he's done something wrong and gotten away with it.

While there's no better choice than Affleck to play the taciturn killer of the title, it's sadly one of the few choices the movie gets right. Director Michael Winterbottom, a prolific jack-of-all-trades in the Steven Soderbergh mold, has dabbled in genres as varied as the Western (The Claim), the sci-fi thriller (Code 46), the docudrama (The Road To Guantanamo, A Mighty Heart) and the musical biopic (24 Hour Party People). But he doesn't have the style or feel for atmosphere so crucial to film noir, where vagaries of tone and lighting effects can suggest more than reams of hard-boiled dialogue and voiceover narration.

Jessica Alba i

Dark Angel? Jessica Alba plays Joyce, the local prostitute who becomes fatefully involved with Affleck's unhinged deputy sheriff. IFC Films hide caption

itoggle caption IFC Films
Jessica Alba

Dark Angel? Jessica Alba plays Joyce, the local prostitute who becomes fatefully involved with Affleck's unhinged deputy sheriff.

IFC Films

As scripted by John Curran (We Don't Live Here Anymore), The Killer Inside Me feels blunt and overexplained — though to be fair to Curran and Winterbottom, some of the bluntness has a purpose, and the curlicues in Thompson's story do require some sorting out.

Tasked with running a local prostitute named Joyce out of town, Affleck's Lou Ford changes his mind when she appears in the luscious form of Jessica Alba; in fact, he proves entirely receptive to the sadomasochistic impulses she stirs within him. The two engage in afternoon sessions of rough trade, but it isn't long before his shirked responsibilities catch up to him: It seems the son of local bigwig Chester Conway (Ned Beatty) has fallen in love with Joyce, and Chester wants Lou to help slip her some hush money and send her on her way.

What comes next is a sequence that brought The Killer Inside Me instant notoriety — to put it kindly — when it premiered at Sundance in January, a murder-suicide that Lou orchestrates with a shocking brutality surpassing Jake La Motta's worst spells in Raging Bull. Winterbottom doesn't shrink from depicting violence against women, which persists when Lou comes home to his "nice" girlfriend Amy (Kate Hudson) — but the gruesome explicitness, which goes far beyond what's portrayed in Thompson's novel, only serves to make the storytelling feel more modern, not necessarily more resonant.

A streamlined script might have helped. Curran and Winterbottom lose themselves in the soupy business of union shenanigans, an internal investigation and Lou's intervention in a troubled boy's life, but the added complications — and the talk, talk, talk they require — take away from the disquieting core of Thompson's story.

Compound that with Winterbottom's second-hand atmospherics and a habit of underlining the action with expository flashbacks and ironic samples of period music, and The Killer Inside Me leaves no mystery as to what dark forces drive its vicious antihero. And with that, it loses its menace.

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