The Finest Hours Interview: Ben Foster On Filming A Disaster

The Finest Hours

For an actor spending their days getting tossed around a gimbal while waves of frigid water smack them in the face, a few minutes’ reprieve in a nice, warm press tent sounds like heaven. But when a waterlogged and exhausted Ben Foster (Warcraft) met with Screen Rant and other journalists on the set of Craig Gillespie’s upcoming seafaring disaster picture, The Finest Hours, it was already too late for him; as the gathered journalists pointed him toward the nearest space heater, Foster simply chuckled and told us, “It’s kind of futile at this point.”

As we saw throughout the day, he wasn’t kidding. Shooting The Finest Hours was a challenge for the cast and crew alike; recreating the effects of a nor’easter within the bounds of a movie set is no small feat, after all, particularly when the set is located in Quincy, Massachusetts, right on the cusp of a New England winter. There’s a heavy chill in the air, not to mention moisture. Even if you weren’t standing near the recessed floor of the warehouse where shooting is taking place, you felt at least a little bit damp just by being there. But for the press, it’s all part of the experience, and for Foster, it’s all part of the job and the duty of celebrating the bravery of very real men who risked their lives in the 1952 SS Pendleton rescue.

In the film, Foster plays Seaman Richard Livesey, crewman to Chris Pine’s Boatswain’s Mate First Class Bernard Webber. They’re charged with saving sailors aboard the Pendleton after it split in half during the storm. Together, they pulled surviving crewmen out of the icy waters off the coast of Cape Cod and to safety. For their efforts, Livesey and Webber, along with their shipmates, were awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal. Foster, we learned, didn’t have the benefit of interacting with either the real-life counterpart to his character, or any of Livesey’s living relatives, so instead he built a portrait from scratch.

For him, the role is about answering the call of duty above and beyond expectations, as well as the ethics of bravery; we talked to him about these ideas as well as the difference between his past work on military projects like 2013’s Lone Survivor and The Finest Hours, and how a little 70’s Funk music can lighten the mood on a tough shoot:

You've done a lot of military projects and you were telling me about how you really have with each one learned more and more in appreciation of just gratefulness and gratitude for people in uniform. How has this one so far as that goes?

It was a real treat getting to go down to Chatham, meeting the Coast Guard there. I'm sure the other guys talked to you about that a little bit. It's a real humble community. It's one that doesn't get a lot of PR, so they're not great at selling their community. But they do an extraordinary job. We think about how much water there is on this planet, they're covering a lot of ground and keeping a lot of people safe. So, spending time with people who serve their fellow man, it's always going to be a privilege to spend time with them. It's as simple as that.

Tell us about your character and your interpretation of him.

Well, I'm a guy on a boat. (Laughs.) Coast Guard. Four of us go out under a very difficult weather pattern. How to describe him? I'm certainly not doing an (impersonation). There's no audio on the man; there's no video on the man. I suppose we're playing a type of man. We'll see how it cuts together. I don't know how to say more than that. This is portraiture work.

What's his role on the boat? What's he responsible for?

What's his role on the boat? Not dying. Saving the other men. Pulling guys out of the water is his role.

As the guy in the cast who has had the most experience doing these arduous, military types of movies, have you been able to be a godfather to the other actors that don't have that type of experience?

I wouldn't go that far. These guys are all talented kids. I'm in very good company. What's nice is having Kevin Scott here, who did all the stunts for Lone Survivor. We have some of the same team, working with some of the same guys. So, having a base with a military discipline always helps larger action pieces, keeping it safe, keep it real, keeping it messy, keeping it violent. We're not making a documentary. This isn't going to be Lone Survivor 2. I think it's really brave and exciting that Disney is doing it. But it also feels very much in their wheelhouse from way back when. It feels like a callback to a grander time of--in my opinion--of films that I feel more connected to. The '30s and '40s. It's more about a type of men who don’t go home and tell the tale of how great they are. They're not living in a time where they're tweeting their last adventure and taking selfies of each other on a f**king boat. These are guys that go out and do their job and go home. Their relatives didn't even know that they did this. They didn’t know that they performed one of the greatest saves in history.

So, hopefully we're not representing superheroes, we're not representing men in capes, we're representing guys who are scared and maybe are underprepared but are doing the best that they can, and ultimately--by facing their fears, can do incredible things. So if we can use film as a medium to push those kind of ethics back into the community in some small way, then maybe it's not a waste of time.

You mention The Finest Hours being a kind of throwback to older movies. Are there any you've been watching to relish in that kind of manhood?

Gosh, relishing in manhood! I like the choice of words.

That should be the tagline. "This November: RELISH IN MANHOOD."

Get it. (Laughs.) Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, just watched that…It was (Robert) Mitchum and (Spencer) Tracy and guys doing--We have to remember these are kids going out, doing dangerous stuff. And it just feels like the '30s and '40s was a time when film really respected that, or when we needed that as a country. It was also part of the medicine during the war.

Your cast members said you brought a speaker on the boat to kind of move along the time between takes. How'd you get that idea?

Well, we're on a boat. And we're cold and wet. And we're not allowed to complain because we're not saving any lives and we have coffee breaks. I don't know. It seemed to make sense. So I got a little speaker, it's waterproof. We've been on Classic Rock to '70s Funk/Soul recently. It's nice to see a bunch of grumpy wet guys start bobbing their heads. You know? (Laughs.)

Are you the one that picks the music?

Yeah. But you got to accommodate everybody.

What's the song people were most surprised you picked?

Gosh. There's been a lot of that.

Have you played "Don't Rock The Boat?"

Yeah, we get punny for sure. "When the Levee Breaks" by Led Zeppelin, "The Rain Song".

"I'm on a Boat?"

Sing that off the boat. I don’t know. We've been listening a lot to the Soul Snatchers. Good dirty funk makes you warmer.

Kyle (Gallner) and John (Magaro) talked to us about their approach to playing the people they're playing. Can you tell us about your approach?

As I said, I'm not doing an impression of anybody. It's a type of man. They had more access to living family members and relatives of their character. I don't. So I'm building my own thing with Craig (Gillespie), who I'm enjoying a great deal. Craig is a terrific director, really great eye, collaborative, really friendly, a gentleman. Goes far out of his way--way beyond the call of duty--to make sure we all feel heard, which is not always the case.

Everything we've seen here looks pretty physically arduous. So far on the shoot, what's been the toughest thing for you?

I like physical jobs. I like moving my body around. I like testing it. Lets you feel like you've done something. The difficult element of this is just eating s**t all day. That's it. Excuse my language, but just getting punished by cold and wet rather than you have to run up a thing and do a thing or fall off a thing or go through a thing or drive a thing. This is just take it.

Would you say this has been harder than Lone Survivor?

Oh yeah. Whoa yeah. I'd fall down a mountain any day of the week rather than get hit under these waves and rain machines. After eight hours every day, it gets in your bones. You can't keep the blood up. You can't keep your body temperature up at all. We're stuck on a boat.

They told us you guys switched to dry suits but it's still quite arduous.

We're not allowed to complain.

They talked to us a bit about the accents. Can you talk to us about your process on the accent?

I was born in Boston.

So there you go.

So it was just turning it up a bit. (Asked where we're from, how the weather is in New York, and how cold it is.) It's like a trap in here. But amazing sets, right? Knockout stuff. It's nice doing this for a while now. Still getting really excited to come to work and seeing all the craftsmanship that's gone into this. The steelwork alone to build the Pendleton, it's inspiring. It's exciting.  

Did you know going into this you'd be okay on the boats? Or were you worried about being seasick?

I like being on the water. Feels good.

Did you know about the source material for signing onto the movie?

I didn’t, no. Have you read the book? It's a terrific read. I can't believe I hadn't heard of this story. Which I guess is the exciting part about being a part of it is this story should be known. These guys should be celebrated. How great that Disney got behind it to celebrate these guys. It's nice to be a part of it.

More: Bringing The Story Of The SS Pendleton To Life

A heroic action-thriller, “The Finest Hours” is the remarkable true story of the most daring rescue mission in the history of the Coast Guard. Presented in Digital 3D, Real D 3D and IMAX® 3D, the film will transport audiences to the heart of the action, creating a fully-immersive cinematic experience on an epic scale. On February 18, 1952, a massive nor’easter struck New England, pummeling towns along the Eastern seaboard and wreaking havoc on the ships caught in its deadly path, including the SS Pendleton, a T-2 oil tanker bound for Boston, which was literally ripped in half, trapping more than 30 sailors inside its rapidly-sinking stern. As the senior officer on board, first assistant engineer Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) soon realizes it is up to him to take charge of the frightened crew and inspire the men to set aside their differences and work together to ride out one of the worst storms to ever hit the East Coast. Meanwhile, as word of the disaster reaches the U.S. Coast Guard station in Chatham, Massachusetts, Warrant Officer Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana) orders a daring operation to rescue the stranded men. Despite overwhelming odds, four men, led by Coast Guard Captain Bernie Webber (Chris Pine), set out in a wooden lifeboat with an ill-equipped engine and little, if any, means of navigation, facing frigid temperatures, 60-foot high waves and hurricane-force winds.

Disney’s “The Finest Hours” is the unforgettable story of the Coast Guard’s courageous mission, which is directed by Craig Gillespie and stars: Chris Pine; Academy Award® and Golden Globe® nominee Casey Affleck; Ben Foster; Holliday Grainger; John Ortiz; and Eric Bana. Produced by Jim Whitaker and Dorothy Aufiero, the screenplay is by Oscar® nominee Scott Silver and Oscar nominees Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson based on the acclaimed non-fiction book of the same name by Casey Sherman and Michael J. Tougias. Doug Merrifield serves as executive producer. “The Finest Hours” storms into U.S. theaters on January 29, 2016 in Digital 3D, Real D 3D and IMAX® 3D.

The Finest Hours opens in U.S. theaters on January 29th, 2016.

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