When Casey Affleck was approached to take on the pivotal role of Robert Ford in Andrew Dominik’s “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” the project seemed like the perfect package.
His good friend Brad Pitt was producing and starring; Dominik, a second-time director, was perfectly prepared for the material; and the adaptation of Ron Hansen’s novel was one of the best scripts the actor had ever read. But Affleck realized he would have to get past the fact that his colleagues on the production would raise the bar awfully high — a thought that gave him some self-doubt.
“I’d show up on set with people who’d won Oscars and people who’d won Pulitzers,” Affleck says. “I knew that if I didn’t work hard and put my nose to the grindstone, I was going to be the weak link. I didn’t want that.”
If Hansen’s response to the portrayal is any indication, Affleck managed to avoid those pitfalls.
Calling the actor a “revelation,” Hansen says Affleck “did a lot of research on his own and captured so many nuances. It was a brave performance and I think he really nailed the part.”
Affleck says he ultimately connected with the character’s feelings of being misunderstood. Ford was a man more widely recognized than the president and yet hated for his actions, perceived — rightly or wrongly — as cowardly and without honor.
Ford’s obsession with James, Affleck believes, was an intense sort of idolatry masking a longing for acceptance above anything else.
“A director once told me you can take any person off the street and make them a fascinating character; it’s just about how you contextualize them,” he explains. “I know some people have characterized Ford as some proto-stalker or a psycho, but those are just generalizations. What always seemed much more appealing to me was that he was a young man who felt he was capable of more than other people thought he was capable of.”
Referring to Dominik as a “staggeringly brilliant” filmmaker, Affleck says he was ultimately impressed by the director’s attention to detail and diligent preparation.
“Andrew knew every single character inside and out,” he says. “You realized pretty quickly that he’d thought of about 50 different things and you hadn’t, so I just knew he would make me better. In the end, I felt like he had stretched me in some way.”
Favorite film: “The Elephant Man”
Young actor you admire: Keisha Castle-Hughes
What you want in a director: “Commitment.”
Vice: “You name it.”