Woody, you were extremely intense in this film, but at the same time you were cool and calm, which is a rare combination and a scary one at that. Did that come naturally to you, or is that a technique that you developed over the years?
Woody Harrelson: Well I think it’s important when you’re acting to be as relaxed as possible, even if you’re doing something intense. So you’re basically in a state of dynamic relaxation, and I think that these other actors might agree with me. I didn’t feel there was anything natural about playing Harlan DeGroat (everyone laughs).
Scott Cooper: The very last scene we shot was the film’s first scene at the drive-in. When we wrapped, Woody walked over to me and he hugged me and he said, “I have never wanted to shed a character so badly in my life.”
For me, I wanted Woody’s character to represent the very worst of America and Christian’s character to represent the very best of America. That kind of dichotomy is what I was going for, and I hope that we succeeded. But I just want to quickly say that, as someone who has had a very unremarkable career as an actor, you quickly realize once you see these four actors and you see the work they do, that it’s clear that there’s a difference between being very modestly talented and being gifted as they are. It’s a real treat to direct these actors, I have to say.
Christian Bale: But that being said, you need the right environment and Scott creates that environment.
Zoe, your character is torn between two guys. How did you wrap your head around being in love with these two men?
Zoe Saldana: I think Lena has been torn by her life. She’s probably had a rough life. I needed to build that for her and understand that, and through endless conversations with Scott we came to the conclusion that she hasn’t had it easy. I needed to know why she just couldn’t stick by the person that she truly, truly loved and why she went with somebody that worked in law but symbolically is going to keep her safe. It has to do with her inability to cope with danger and pain, and so I think that being torn between two men that have been really good to her is small potatoes in comparison to the torture that she has to live with herself knowing that she has to make decisions that are just to protect her physically.
Scott, in regards to Christian Bale’s character, it was interesting how he had a couple moments where he is shown in church. Most movies never really touch on spirituality, but there are a few that shove it down your throat. What motivated you to have the character be that way?
Scott Cooper: As I was writing this character, I always thought of him as a good man who is beset on all sides by a relentless fate. It was based on someone in my life who has suffered a great deal of tragedy and pain and loss and who was one of the most positive people that I know, and is someone who has given me a great source of inspiration. That particular man’s faith has carried him through, whether he’s asking for absolution or for redemption or whatever it is that he is asking for in those very quiet personal moments. And in these small communities throughout America and certainly around the world, people all pray to different gods and we all look for different things when we go to houses of worship and spirituality. It was important for me to have Russell Baze ask for that type of spirituality and that faith as he’s certain that he’s doing things that are very morally questionable, and things that have happened in his life that through twists of fate and circumstance have put him in the position he’s in.
Scott, you talked earlier about what appealed to you about telling this story. Can you elaborate on what it was like to have the opportunity to bring it to life with such a talented cast of actors?
Scott Cooper: Directors go their whole career without being able to work with a cast as talented as this one is. I don’t even consider it work. I honestly and sincerely consider it a privilege to see the type of work and the preparation and care that these actors put in to helping me realize my vision. There was no ego on the set. They were always questioning, they were taking a script that was decently written and elevating it in every way and making me a better filmmaker and making me really understand who I am as a person.
After the modest success of my first film, I found it very daunting to have to live with that kind of burden of expectations. For someone who grew up with very little money and who had very little money after Crazy Heart, you can get tempted to make movies for the wrong reasons. And when you have two little girls who want you to make the movie or need you to make that movie, you just can’t. You have to be very true to yourself and to your artistic worldview, and I chose to tell a personal story. When you tell a movie that’s as emotionally charged as this is, it’s a risk. I could’ve taken a much less risky path after the success of my first film, but as one of my great cinematic heroes Francis Ford Coppola would say, “If you aren’t taking the highest, greatest risk, then why are you a filmmaker?”