Playback: Ben Foster on ‘Hell or High Water’ and Being a ‘Builder’ as an Actor

Welcome to “Playback,” a Variety podcast bringing you exclusive conversations with the talents behind many of today’s hottest films.

On this week’s show, Variety Chief Film Critic Peter Debruge is back to discuss the upcoming critics awards circuit. Films like “Manchester by the Sea” and “Moonlight” are expected to do well, but what other corners of the season could these groups illuminate? Additionally, with “Silence” having finally screened, we discuss Martin Scorsese’s spiritual epic. Could it unseat the perceived Oscar frontrunner “La La Land” or is it arriving too late to fully connect?

Later on I’m talking to “Hell or High Water” star Ben Foster, who also turns up in three other films this year: “Finest Hours,” “Warcraft” and “Inferno.” He’s picked up a pair of supporting nominations this year from the Film Independent Spirit Awards and the Critics’ Choice Awards, and could be in line to join co-star Jeff Bridges at the Oscars.

Listen to this week’s episode of “Playback” below. New episodes air every Thursday.

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Foster knew pretty early on, growing up in Iowa, that he wanted to be an actor. It’s something he describes as “building,” putting together a role from the ground up.

“I wasn’t much of a student and was very much drawn to TV, I suppose, like a lot of kids,” he says. “TV and movies and plays. I wanted to a part of that. What I saw was just something so exciting and different and other. And then getting a taste probably when I was about 11 or 12 doing a one act play, I wasn’t pursuing it professionally — I blacked out during the performance. I don’t remember what happened. And people came up to me afterwards saying, ‘How did you do that? What did you do?’ And I said, ‘I have no idea.’ That was the first hit of the drug, getting lost or released. In athletics they call it the zone or the pocket. Always chasing that dragon.”

With “Hell or High Water,” Foster takes on the role of Tanner, a gnarly Texan ex-con helping his brother rip off banks to save the family homestead. Like many of Foster’s performances, it’s an outsized character, charismatic and a bit of a rascal. Indeed, in Foster’s own travels in the south, he says he’s met quite a few “rascals,” personal recordings of which he studied as he honed in on who this guy was. At the same time, he had plenty of himself to draw on.

“The script was the easiest fit I’ve had in a very long time,” Foster says. “Those words felt comfortable. I knew what he looked like. I knew what he sounded like. It was less of an investigation with him and more of an unpacking. It’s like, ‘Oh, yeah, he’s already in there. Let’s let him loose.’ Getting out of him, though, that was curious. He’s very seductive to live in!”

Hear about that, his conflicted thoughts on being a part of the “Warcraft” film, thriving as a New Yorker these days and more via the embed link above.

Hear about all that and more via the streaming link above.

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