He and Rebecca took to the stage to accept the audience’s applause before the screening began and returned to take questions after the credits had rolled. Ms Hall was stunning and statuesque in a black lace dress teamed with skyscraper heels. (Endearingly she later exchanged the gravity-defying stilettos for something a little more comfortable.) Her director was a study in classic Old Hollywood style – loose tie, sharp suit. He seemed quite at ease presenting his second roll of the directorial dice to the crowd, taking both the compliments and catcalls in his stride. The Affleck of the latter noughties was America’s prodigal son having redeemed the unfortunate Lopez lapse with his impressive performance as George Reeves in Hollywoodland and his directorial feature debut Gone Baby Gone. For this dramatic new success in 2010 Ben once again has Dennis Lehane to thank. It was the Gone Baby Gone and Mystic River writer who first drew his attention to Chuck Hogan’s Prince of Thieves – the novel that was to become The Town.
Ben acknowledged that he had sought advice from peers who had, successfully, turned their hands to directing – Sean Penn and Kevin Costner among them – and joked he had chosen to disregard the man who suggested he not even try! He was drawn to familiar qualities in the story of The Town, besides its Boston setting. The theme of the redemptive power of love was one that particularly spoke to him. Rebecca’s character Claire and her role in Doug’s life sharing many similarities with Minnie Driver’s Skylar in Good Will Hunting and the change she effected in Will.
The fast-paced, white-knuckle, heist picture has at its heart a very simple question – can a man change his future? In order to answer that question Ben Affleck’s Doug MacRay has to break from the ties and loyalties of his past. Doug’s adrenalin buoyed existence (and his less-than-legal profession) have relied upon street smarts and whip sharp instincts to keep him one step ahead of the prison life his Father leads. By way of contrast Ben’s dual roles as director and star required that he take a somewhat longer view on the goings on in The Town. We asked both Ben and Rebecca how they maintained the intense, immediate, connection demanded by the story while Ben flitted between on and off-screen roles:
Ben: One of the things that I tried to do, if we can talk about the notion of relaxation, I think one of the worst things that happens to me as an actor & that I see happening on sets is that you’re getting ready for something – you’re gonna do something – & everyone gets ready & it’s loaded & it gets real quiet on set & they say “rolling” and hit the slate now go! It’s like at your most self-conscious & tense that you’re supposed to begin work.
One of the things I tried to do – because I think the stakes were such that, the story was such that, you really had to invest kind of in the people on a granular level & care about little decisions that they made otherwise we wouldn’t be as interesting, it would feel really procedural & rote – so what I tried to do was just to lose all sort of sense of artifice, sense of self-consciousness, and one of the ways to do that was to take away the idea that it mattered whether the camera was on or not. To stop people thinking about that so much & let people come in & out & make adjustments while it was rolling & just say “go ahead” go back & do it again. Just strip the screw of people’s self-conscious & awareness of things.
It’s not that expensive for film itself, even for film & processing, it’s still nothing compared to the time, just general time you spend doing it. So people are going to come in & touch up or rearrange something on the dashboard or whatever it is they’re going to do & I’d just rather keep going & not have the scene we’re doing fall apart. Ultimately I think, personally, at first the actors felt a little bit like they sort of had to calibrate themselves to that & then I found that everybody really loosened up real well because it was about what they were doing & what was happening as opposed to making sure they had landed their performance right in the gap between when the camera started and stopped. At least that’s what I think – maybe Rebecca has a completely different version & take on that?
Rebecca: No, no I can’t argue with that, that’s exactly what happened. And I don’t think I can add to it really, that was very eloquent!
Ben: (Laughing) Long-winded or…
Rebecca: I was, you know, being generous! I must say that you did encourage a certain level of positive irreverence for the script. It wasn’t a sincere sense that: “you have to say this exactly as it is written”. There was a sense that you can bring it alive maybe or improvise with it a little bit & not muddy the edges. That was very freeing.
You may judge whether this approach worked and enjoy the adrenalin ride for yourselves when The Town opens across the UK on Friday. In the meantime you can hear more from the pair in their own words below as they answer questions put to them by HeyUGuys and other members of the enthusiastic audience at Sundays Q&A.[audio:https://www.heyuguys.com/audio/the_town/the_town_qanda.mp3]