The SMU Campus Weekly participated in a conference call with Chris Pine and Casey Affleck in support of their latest film, “The Finest Hours.”
The film tells the story of one man’s courage and what he was willing to sacrifice to save a downed ship amid one of the biggest storms in New England’s history. Pine plays Bernie Webber, the inexperienced captain attempting the rescue, and Affleck plays the downed tanker’s chief engineer.
RILEY COVEN: What drew you to this project?
CASEY AFFLECK: You know, there are a lot of things actually to this. One was that it was filmed in Massachusetts, which I just got to see… I [also] like what Disney is doing. I feel like they make a great effort to make movies that have a strong message and a good story, good characters.
This movie is particularly exciting. It also supports the characters and thefcore values of Disney. And I might sound old-fashioned and hokey, but it’s kind of refreshing to see a movie like that.
SONIA: This is Sonia from Boston University. My question actually revolves around this, the location. I know that you’ve done quite a few films in the New England/Boston area. What exactly is it that draws you back to your hometown and how did your familiarity with the area affect the filming process?
AFFLECK: That’s a good question. I guess I like coming back here just because I’m from here. It’s nice to come home. I’m in California for the time being, so I can work, that’s where the industry is. But I’d much rather be here. Boston is also a great place to make movies because they’ve been making movies here for a long time. They’ve got really good crews there, which is not always the case and everyone’s professional. When the movie comes out and you run into the people who you made it with, people in Boston don’t mind telling you if they hated it.
So it’s nice to know where you stand. And you don’t have to guess about whether or not they actually liked it or not. That was a joke.
NICK: Alex, do you want to go ahead and ask your question for Casey? Alex, from UC Santa Barbara, are you on?
ALEX: Yes, hi there. Actually, I drive back to Boston so much. I’m from the area myself, and I’m out in California now.
AFFLECK: It’s horrible out there in California especially when you come from the great Commonwealth of Massachusetts, why wouldn’t you want to come work here?
ALEX: Yeah, we talked a lot about the ending of the film, but I was wondering, living around there, growing up around there, was the story known at all before your approach to the film?
AFFLECK: I hadn’t heard it before. I’m not totally sure that it’s true. But they say it is and I guess that’s enough to make a movie.
When I did a little research, I was skeptical. I went to the Coast Guard Museum and turns out it all really happened. It’s quite an amazing story. It’s great when you can find films totally forgotten story like this, that really, you could write a book about it. You could bring cheer to the story in a lot of ways.
But these days, movies are pretty great for, making a spectacle. All the amazing things that they can do now in movies, they can really bring something like this to life, the scale of which would be hard to imagine if it weren’t a movie. No matter how much I heard about it or read about it, I was still really surprised, by how big the ship was. Just think how big those waves must have been to split a 500-foot oil tanker in half. It’s the kind of thing you want to see someone make a movie of so you can go watch it.
RILEY: I wanted to know how the film being set in 1952 changed your approach to the performance?
AFFLECK: Well, that’s a good question. There’s a lot of conversation about whether or not we try to emulate the style, the acting style, of the movies from that period because stylistically the movie looks and feels a lot like a movie from back then, albeit also color and gigantic and awesome in all of the ways that digital cinema is now. But in other ways, in the writing and story telling, thematically, it sort of feels like an old movie.
So should people behave that way as well, and we decided no. So really I just approach it like any other movie the best you can.
KRISTIN: I was reading in the production notes that you had gotten to shoot at the actual Coast Guard station in Chatham where Bernie and the crew returned after the rescue mission. I understood, obviously, it was very emotional. I just wonder if you could kind of describe for us what that felt like?
CHRIS PINE: We shot at the lighthouse that attached to the Coast Guard station there in Chatham. We got a chance to visit the interior of the station, but I don’t think we shot any more interiors there. But we did get to go to the cafeteria, to the same spot where Bernie and his boys took a photo after, right after the night had ended. You can’t help but be affected by that. They take out the actual CG 36500 in the bar, and they go out to the open waters where it happened, was quite something too.
WYATT: Were either of you able to meet any of the actual survivors from the SS Pendleton and if you were, how did that affect how you portrayed your role?
AFFLECK: No I didn’t get the opportunity, I wish I had. But we got to see it on T2, a boat that’s similar to a T2 and get a sense of what that was like, which is pretty amazing.
MORGAN: My question is for Chris. You play Bernard Weber, who’s the main character of this film. What elements did you bring to your character to honor Weber’s legacy?
PINE: I didn’t know Bernie, and really had only a sense of who he was from talking to Andy Fitzgerald who was on the boat with him that night and Moe Gutthrew, who’s his best friend. There’s an autobiographical account that Bernie wrote about the night and then obviously, the book, “The Finest Hours.” And a little audio clip of Bernie describing the events of that night.
Those were kind of the things that I used to cull an idea of who the man might have been. But from the script that I was given, he was a simple guy that loved his job and loved the waters and knew what he was doing out there. But he was obviously affected by, a tragedy that happened a year before and didn’t know if he was up for the task of going out that night. But I do love the idea of a regular man up against seemingly insurmountable odds. More than anything, I kind of related to Bernie’s fear.
Bernie is a man that wears his heart on his sleeve. And he’s not like many of us that put on all this armor and try to be macho and tough. Bernie doesn’t think that way. He’s just kind of wears his heart on his sleeve, wants to do a good job and loves his wife.
FEMALE: So my question was that Bernie’s character was a really huge rule follower in the film at the beginning. And then at the end, he kind of learned the limits of being a rule follower and kind of broke away from that. Were there any situations in your life where you have broken the rules or taken risks in acting or in life?
PINE: Nothing that comes to mind. But that seems to be that theme. We all like stories of the mavericks and the guys that go against the grain. I think what we enjoy about men like that is they usually operate from the sense of an inner moral compass. And I think part of Bernie’s evolution, it’s not that following rules are bad, it’s just that Bernie, by following rules so closely, had lost his voice. By learning to speak up for himself and to trust his instincts, trust his gut, trust his knowledge of those waters, I think that’s really good.
The story there and although I can’t think of anything personally that comes to mind, I think all those kinds of experiences that on a daily basis, balancing our, understanding ourselves, communicating ourselves and looking at whatever social framework.
AFFLECK: What Chris is doing there is he’s telling some of the bigger themes of the picture. It’s about the inner compass of a man. There’s the compass, they lose their compass and they still find their way because there’s an inner moral compass that guides them. The guiding light here, for Disney, for Chris, for all of us is selflessness, and heroism in the face of 50-foot waves.
JESUS MONTERO: Both of your characters are faced with not only overcoming a big storm but also there’s personal struggles to overcome themselves. Now how can you relate to your character and their determination in the role like that portraying that when filming?
PINE: Well I guess in our own tiny way, being in the film business is hard enough and there’s a lot of luck involved in it obviously. You face an incredible amount of rejection and I assume, just by being alive, people felt, not a part of the group or not liked or that they don’t have friends, don’t have as many friends as they want or, feeling out of place. And I certainly saw that in Bernie.
It’s a great thing about what we get to do as actors is that even though I’ll never know what it’s really like to be a Coast Guardsman, or really never know what it’s like to go up against 70-foot waves and zero visibility and what it’s like to rescue men off a split oil tanker. There are certain kinds of general human emotions and feelings that you can attach to and bring your own experience to.
FEMALE: Did you learn or take away anything from the experience of playing your respective characters? If so, what was it?
PINE: Well you know, what I liked about Bernie is that he’s a simple guy and I don’t mean that derogatorily. I love Bernie because he loves his job and wants to do well at his job, and loves his woman well, and have a bunch of kids, and live happily ever afterwards. He did for a long time. There’s an honesty and a truth to him.
He’s just a good solid man who goes about business not seeking any sort of pat on the back. It’s just because he wants to do right and he knows that’s the only way he can function really. I think about how there is a purity in wanting to do your job well and to serve other people because you don’t need much more than that.
Oftentimes, in our business, it’s all about stuff that’s completely opposite from that which is getting your picture taken and Twittering and all that kind of shi* that I just think takes away from you know, those good old-fashioned values.
AFFLECK: Yeah, my Character had a journey. I really didn’t learn anything from the guy. I didn’t because there wasn’t a whole lot of information about him. So he’s more or less just a piece of fiction of the screen writers who did a really good job creating a character that fit into the story.
But I didn’t have that same opportunity to kind of study his life. So, I just had to sort of make some stuff up.