LOS ANGELES — Casey Affleck has opted to follow an actor's career. That means he's been more concerned with finding projects to test his acting skills than landing parts in movies that will serve more to kick up his celebrity quotient. His most recent step along that path has him playing a man who finds that the road of desperation leads to the destructive world of underground boxing in "Out of the Furnace."
It's the kind of role that will earn Affleck — as was the case with "Gone Baby Gone" and "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" — more accolades from fans and critics than mentions on the Hollywood talk shows. That's not to say Affleck hasn't done some mainstream work with the animated "ParaNorman" and the crime comedy "Tower Heist." But, it's the films that have something to say that he likes the most.
Affleck says there are very few people in the business who act because it's a calling; too many, he says, are attracted by the "peripheral pleasures." For Affleck, its all about the performance, and he knows immediately which scripts best fit his goals.
"Sometimes I'm wrong, but I get a pretty strong sense in the first few pages of whether the script is going to be something I like," Affleck says. "Every now and again, you get to Page 80 and realize you were wrong. Sometimes you just miss it completely because a script is just a blueprint."
He says he knew from the start with "Out of the Furnace" that Rodney Baze Jr. was a character he wanted to play. There are multiple levels for the character who's dealing with an economy that's failed him, a military that let him down, a city that's forsaken him and a brother, not of his own doing, who has abandoned him.
The way he's been let down has left Baze self-destructive. That's a big reason he's willing to participate in bare-knuckle brawls that tend not to pay enough to cover medical expenses.
"There's been a lot of trauma, anxiety, stress and violence in his life," Affleck says. "He's suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder without any help in sight. It's the story, unfortunately, of millions of veterans."
In creating the character, Affleck was able to draw on his own background as he grew up in a small, working-class community in Massachusetts. He says it helped that "Furnace" was shot in financially depressed Braddock, Pa. — the kind of place he can identify with.
Once Affleck had an understanding of the character's state of mind and state of existence, he had to go through extensive training to create the muscled-look he needed to play the brawler.
"Getting into this kind of shape helps me to play the character," Affleck says. "This role required that kind of physical change. But, in every role, I'm always looking for ways to change my body — voice, posture, behavior — so that I don't always look alike. Most people are who they are and will just say the lines.
"For me, it's more fun to make the changes."
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.