Actor Ben Foster on Becoming a True Gentleman in David Lowery’s ‘Ain’t Them Bodies Saints’

“I prefer not to have to make any movies, just prep,” says Ben Foster, whose dedication to his roles has made him a uniquely intense and sought after actor for quite some time now. Since his teen years, the now 32-year-old actor has navigated his way through the worlds of teenage romantic comedies to an award-winning stint on Six Feet Under to films like 3:10 to Yuma and Rampart—and with his latest turn, we get a glimpse at Foster as an old-fashion gentleman rare to appear on our screens in Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. As sheriff Patrick Wheeler in David Lowery’s beautifully textured ode to American folklore and the lovelorn Westerns of a bygone era, he fully immerses himself in the quietly passionate skin of his character who Lowery calls “a romantic, but is also more complex than that.” 

Telling the story of Ruth and Bob, a feverishly in love outlaw couple, the 1970s-set story kicks off after Ruth has accidentally wounded an officer in a Texas hills shootout. But rather than letting his love take the fall, Bob places the blame on himself and is sent away to prison. As the officer shot, Wheeler develops a keen interest in Ruth and her daughter, looking to protect them and care for them in a way that’s selfless and entirely decent. “He’s an old-fashioned romantic, and slightly shy,” says Lowery. “The kind of guy who might love a girl deeply, but wouldn’t think to impose those feelings on her if the time and place weren’t right.” And in order to play the role, Foster put in the time and research to give a fantastic performance alongside Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck, and Keith Carradine.
 
Earlier this week, I sat down with Foster to discuss his love for preparation, the lost tradition of gentlemen, and our love for A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

So I actually saw the film in February or March and that weekend I saw you in the plays section of Shakespeare & Co. I hadn’t had a chance to talk to anyone else about the movie yet, so I was going to see if you wanted to chat but by the time I did you were walking back up the stairs.

Well, hello now then. That’s a great book store.

 
Well, this was a great film. How did you come onboard and was there something that immediately attracted you to it?

My buddies produced it. I was thinking of doing a movie that’s also coming out called Kill Your Darlings, but I wasn’t sure if I was going to, and so I called up Jay and Lars and asked what they had going on. They’re my pals and I love what they’re after and they said, well actually, there’s a short film we want to send you called Pioneer by David Lowery and then they sent me the script. I read it that day and wanted to do it.
 
Had you been familiar with David’s work prior to that?

No, but I really responded to the short and loved the script. It felt to me an unreleased Willie Nelson record.
 
Oh, I like that. Did you two work together to bring Patrick to life? He’s someone that seems to devour films and I imagine is pretty wonderful to collaborate with.

Good choice of words…devour…Yes, he’s very well-read and versed in film. He’s collegiate. In terms of prepping, I took my pick-up and drove from New York through Texas. I drove through Texas for about a month to get the feel for it. I hadn’t been to Texas before and I just wanted to get a sense of the land. And then I ended up in midland, just looping back. They called the sheriff’s department there and they let me into the department and set me up on some ride alongs and I just became real friendly with them.
 
Had you done anything like that before to prepare for a role?

Oh yeah, sure. Not Texas sheriffs, but that’s the best part of the job—the prep. I prefer not to have to make any movies, just prep. 
 
Right, yeah getting to step into all of these different lives and be these people for a short while, I can’t imagine anything more fun.

It’s immersion journalism, except the end result isn’t an edited bit of language, it’s scenes that are cut together. But getting to spend time with these men and their families, you see what seems to be lost today is a traditional gentleman. I don’t read many scripts where we’re dealing with gentlemen. I see a lot of leading men, I see a lot of bad guys, but I don’t see gentleman, and I like that a lot. I met some true gentlemen down in Texas, and they carried guns and that didn’t make them bad either. I was so moved by being in that part of the country and seeing those values, which have been really bastardized in the media as of late. So being able to bring that back and bring that to David, we were able to fill in some things and take some things out and then you’re just cookin’ with people, you know?
 
I read that he saw your role as a surrogate for himself? Do you find him to be this kind of antiquated gentleman?

Yeah, he said that. He is a gentleman. He seems to be out of time, he’s not of this time.
 
How was acting opposite with Rooney? You two had a really strong presence on screen together.

I think she’s just a lovely actor, very strong and vulnerable, very present. I enjoyed very much working with her. You give something and some people just act at you and she’s with you. And that’s all you can really ask for with a partner.
 
Was there anything that struck you differently while working on set of this film? It seems like it was a pretty intimate and passionate experience.

I enjoyed it. I like this size film. It was a healthy-sized budget for an independent and we had trailers. We didn’t have trailers for Kill Your Darlings, so you know, it was kind of luxurious that way. It’s a sweet thing. I get to work with my buddies and learn about Texas and have my heart broken a little bit. It was nice.
 
You’ve been acting for a good number of years now. Do you find that you take something away from each role and lend it to your own life, or do you find life is the ultimate learning experience for your characters?
It’s both. Anything you put your attention on, you’ll effect it and it will effect you. It’s quilting. The best part of the job is researching and then you take a little bit of that and hopefully keep that light in your heart for the rest of your days—you keep the good parts. And then there are other gigs that wear on you in different ways and hopefully you can find the gift in that.
 
Are you able to shake off your character at the end of the day and get back to you?

Harder gettin’ out than gettin’ in.
 
When I was about eleven, I was a pretty huge fan of Get Over It. I suppose that was the first film I saw you in.
It’s cute, right? There’s singing and dancing.
 
It’s pretty funny to watch now because of how much you all have changed as actors but also how much culture has changed in terms of teenage portrayals and “teen movies.”

I liked that script too because it was sweet—initially it was sweet. But then it got less sweet as we were shooting. What it felt to me was more a traditional romantic comedy, but then it started getting punched into teen film and then you’ve got the fake tits and the stupid references but it was a really sweet script to begin with. Aesthetically,  it’s colorful.
 
Well, if anything it was my introduction to A Midsummer Night’s Dream and probably Shakespeare, because what else are you going to want to read when you’re eleven?
Well that was the first play I saw as a kid that made me want to act, so that was probably one of the reasons why. I never did it but I always wanted to do Puck. Maybe some day.

Capturing the Essence of a Feeling With ‘Ain’t Them Bodies Saints’ Director David Lowery

Reflecting on 2013 thus far, the world of independent cinema has given us some truly fascinating and entertaining films. But when it comes to the personal cinematic experience and the emotional drive I crave when viewing a movie, there have been two films which sparked up my nerves in just the right way and cut deep enough to bury themselves under my skin: Amy Seimetz’s expressionistic drama Sun Don’t Shine and Shane Carruth’s confounding love story Upstream Color. Potent with visceral feeling and rife with texture and tone, both films possess a tactile quality that’s presented through the juxtaposition of images and sound to create an emotion beyond words. And although Seimetz and Carruth carried their respective films as writers and directors, the two were linked by the one person who figured out just how to transpose their complex narratives to the screen, editing the pictures with delicacy and incredible attention to detail—and that, of course, was David Lowery. 

As an editor, director, writer, and general renaissance man of the artistic world, the Texas-born filmmaker has moved into territory of his own with his latest feature Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, proving he is well on his way to becoming a modern cinematic treasure. With a title that sounds as delicious rolling off the tongue as the film does unfolding moment by moment before our eyes, the richly textured picture plays out like an ode to the lovelorn Westerns of days gone by. Harkening back to cinema of the 1970s and American folklore of centuries past, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints tells the aching and poetic tale of Bob Muldoon (played by Casey Affleck) and Ruth Gutherie (played by Rooney Mara), a young couple in love and living outside the law. But after finding themselves in a Texas hills shootout—in which Bob takes the blame for Ruth’s accidental wounding of a sheriff—the two must face the expansive emptiness left in the wake of their separation as he’s incarcerated and she’s left to raise their daughter alone. 
 
When speaking to actor Ben Foster, he referred to Lowery as a man “out of time,” a gentleman “not of this time.” And with its slow-burning and beautifully flickering essence that entrances you into the screen, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is a film haunted by the past. And as one of the most anticipated and beloved premieres to emerge out of Sundance this year, Lowery has made himself present as an incredibly refreshing and wonderful new voice in filmmaking. But for all his admiration of mythology and bygone eras of cinema, Lowery has created a film that not only reminds us of what we love and feel nostalgic for, but what the future can hold.
 
Earlier this week, I got the chance to sit down with Lowery to dive deeper into his desire to capture the essence of a feeling, not wanting to out his actors in a box, and his deeply passionate gravitation towards cinema.
 
Before going into the film, I hadn’t seen you previous shorts but must admit have been quite obsessed with the films you’ve edited. Sun Don’t Shine, and Upstream Color—which I’ve seen many, many times—are what initially drew me to this because I assumed it would have to be good if you were responsible for those.

It’s easy for me to say I’m more proud of that than anything else I’ve done because I didn’t direct it, but I am so proud of that movie.
 
So expanding from your short films to a larger narrative feature, what was the initial spark of the film for you? Did it come from one theme or image that struck you?

Thinking back on it, there are so many things that came into play. I have so many ideas all the time, and sometimes they just stick around your head a little bit longer and they’ll just hang around, and then they accumulate other ideas. This was one of them. It started off with this lark or this notion that I would write an action movie. I started that and it never went anywhere, but the seed idea, which was a guy breaking out of prison and going to look for his wife, that hung around. The things it accumulated in my head were a lot of classic narrative tropes, especially the archetypes of Westerns and old American folklore. It seemed like a good opportunity to explore those things, especially in music. I love folk songs and I love murder ballads and all the media that made America distinct in the earlier parts of the century. So it was really an accumulation of things.
 
I had that seed of a story, and I liked the idea of telling a really simple story and dealing with consequence and aftermath. The theme of growing up is something that’s always prevalent in everything that I do, so that was in there as well. And then more than anything else, it was trying to capture a tone. And part of it was a tone of old movies that I liked—1970s movies that are obviously a reference point—and trying to capture what those movies made me feel. But also trying to capture the way a lot of my favorite music makes me feel and to explore and luxuriate in a tonality that mattered to me.
 
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I was going to mentioned that the film felt so tone-heavy and the language it worked in was feeling, which is very much something that has a musicality to it. The dialogue wasn’t filled with exposition and what was said was only of importance.

Exactly. There’s really like no exposition in the movie whatsoever. 
 
Was that desire to tell a story through tone and emotion something that you initially sat down to write and how do you translate that sentiment onto the page?

It really came about when I as writing it. I would be writing it and I would get to a point where I could have made a conscious decision to go in a plot-heavy direction and have a plot mechanic take over, or I could just spend time hanging out with the characters. The first draft of the script took place over six months and Casey’s character just spent time at that house fixing it up—and that’s something that interested me. Ultimately that was pushing things too far but I just liked the idea of a guy in an old house and just watching what he would do there. But also the texture of that house, letting that be part of the story as well, and letting all those things that when you dial back the plot, all the little details and tones that can emerge in place of major plot points or tricky exposition.
 
I really loved the way you opened the film. Not only did it dive you right into the narrative and their relationship, but it also was so gorgeously composed and shot and drenched in the emotion that was at the core of the story.

That was something we came back to. When I wrote the script, it started off with a scene between them in the car, in the truck before a robbery. And that scene was written to be longer than what’s in the movie, but when we shot it, that was the first time Casey and Rooney had acted together, they’d barely met prior to that. So we shot it really late one night and the chemistry was just so strong immediately that I felt that it wasn’t enough. I felt like I wanted more time with these characters, so I wrote this new opening sequence that we didn’t actually have time to shoot until a few months later. We went back to Texas in October and shot a few new pieces and that was one of the things that we were dead set on getting—a new scene that would just drop you right into the relationship and get a sense of who they are separate from the crimes they were doing or anything like that. It was just like, here are these characters in a moment, let them fight, let them be fiery, let them run the gamut of emotion. It was a really fun scene to shoot and a really fun scene to come up with and was indeed the little bit that the movie needed at the beginning to really kick things off.
 

 
And speaking to the cinematography, whether it was the vast landscape or the overwhelming darkness, did you have any visual references that you went back to when creating the aesthetic language of the film?

With the cinematography, Bradford and I really turned to still photography a lot. It wasn’t so much that we had specific still photographers we would look at—although there were some—but we would look online and just find lots of things on Flickr that we thought looked right. We had this huge board filled with tons of pictures and we started to pick out ones where the colors or shadows worked, and gradually distilled it down to five or six that we felt represented the movie and those were really our reference points. We did look at movies, we talked about Heaven’s Gate and how that was so richly textured ad how the light was so defuse, and we talked about the darkness in Claire Denis movies, that exquisite darkness.
 
Also McCabe & Mrs. Miller in terms of Vilmos Zsigmond’s use of natural light and a textured darkness in order to bring you into the past.

Yeah, that too. We wanted the movie to look like an old piece of wood, that’s how we always talked about it, and that was a movie where they did that. They flashed the negative, they screwed up the negative to make it look as old and textured as possible—but we didn’t want to replicate it, we didn’t want to just do what they had done. We thought, okay we’re shooting on 35mm, we’re going to use old movie lights and old movie lenses, we’re going to use a lot of filtration, but we’re going to try to take it in a direction but use it as a starting point. We have this image that’s going to look old and let’s see where we can push it into new territories. And that’s were we came up with the idea of making the movie really, really dark and really pushing how far we could get the exposure, how low we could get the exposure while maintaining an image that is clean and pristine and beautiful and varnished. So we wanted to have an image that harkened back to these other movies but also went off in its own direction.
 
From watching your earlier work and reading your blog and learning more about it, you seem to not only be someone who loves to create films but envelops yourself in cinema entirely.

I try to!
 
What always interests me about filmmakers is their connection to film and why they’re so drawn to this medium above everything else. Whenever I go into a film, whatever it may be, I’m always looking to have a physical reaction to it and that’s a way for me to gage how I truly feel about it and love that experience. So what’s your personal relationship with cinematic experience?

It’s changed as I’ve gotten older. I initially got into movies because I loved Star Wars—so special effects and the wonder of that and seeing an illusion that feels completely real and the storytelling side of things. But now, it’s what you said about when you have you physical reaction. I go into movies hoping to have that—whether it’s an emotional experience that is very wrenching or something that feels like an assault or being provoked in some way, I really respond to that. I love movies that challenge me and push me around and that are difficult to digest—that’s something I value.
 
The movies that I hang onto the most are the ones I can’t quite get out of my system because they’ve dug their claws into me. It’s something about the synthesis of all these mediums that are coming together in one. And then the one pure thing that is explicitly cinematic is editing, and that’s why I think I’ve gravitated towards that,  because unlike every other art form—music is just auditory and paintings are visual, but you can look at a painting for however long you want—with film, you’re taking an image and explicitly saying, look at this shot for this long and then this one because the juxtaposition of those two are going to matter. It’s like alchemy, it excites me and fascinates me to no end. And whether it’s a romantic comedy or a really obscure experimental film, they’re both using the same language and I love seeing the interplay between those.
 
Film is such a new medium. I often think what would I have done if I’d been born 100 years ago, and I think that people have always thought cinematically. You listen to composers whose music lends itself so well to movies and it’s because they were thinking cinematically before cinema existed, and that’s really exciting to me. I think poetry is the same way, it’s a very analogous medium to cinema and there’s very cinematic poetry out there that functions in its rhythm and its meter much in the same way that film does and the way it plays out over a period of time. There’s so much opportunity in the medium and so much room to try out things and use that language in new ways, it’s great to have an art form that can grow with you as you discover new things and it can change as well.
 
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So do you find yourself gaining most of your emotional insight for a film through poetry or literature, things outside of film to inform you?
Yeah, I really try not to think too much about other movies when I’m making a movie. When you’re in such a fast-paced emotional, arduous situation, it’s very easy to just fall back on things you seen before and what I try to do more than anything else, is just use feeling and gut instinct to guide my way. So a lot of that comes from music or literature or other art forms, and rather than trying to copy or transpose, say, a song into the movie, I could quote lyrics—and I’m not above that because I did that in this movie—but more important than that is trying to approximate the way that song makes me feel. If that song makes me feel a certain way, I want to find a way to use the medium of my choice to use that same feeling and that same tone in the form of a movie. I read books while I was shooting, I listened to music, I’m just always trying to wrap myself around…
 
A very particular feeling.

Yes, a feeling that I’m trying to communicate. And to me, that’s more important than storytelling. I love stories, I love characters and they certainly take precedence, but in the perimeters of the beginning and the end of the movie, I want there to be this beautiful arc of tonality that is just something you can experience and luxuriate in.
 
Well that’s certainly something you helped weave into Upstream Color and Sun Don’t Shine, which are two films completely told in texture and feeling in a way that’s almost overwhelming but speaks so loudly and lends itself to allowing you to really succumb to them.

It was really great to get to work on those movies at the point that I did because it was the perfect marriage of my own sensibilities developing to a point alongside these other filmmakers that wanted to push boundaries or make an experience like that. I consider myself very lucky that they both asked me to work on their films because it was a wonderful opportunity  to dive head first into a mode of storytelling that I was very interested in and already leaning towards. And with Upstream Color that’s a case where I was really able to jump in and push things further than I would have done in my own work, and that’s what Shane wanted, and it was a joy.
 
When you were writing the film, did you have anyone in mind for the roles? Casey seems like an obvious choice in retrospect because he’s so much of that world. But Rooney, this was a different role for her and we haven’t seen her be this maternal before.

I wrote it thinking that I would make it for no money and I wasn’t going to cast anyone reputable—they’d be good actors but they’d be unknown. I felt that was the most efficient way to make the movie because I didn’t want to wait until an actor said yes to get to make it. So when the opportunity came up to get it to other actors, the most important thing was that not only they be great actors but that they not feel like modern actors sticking out in a period piece. Casey instantly I wanted. He can be in any time period, and I just love listening to him talk. He’s got these letters, he’s got this storytelling he does in the movie, and it was a great opportunity to just listen to him speak at great length and he has a wonderful presence and wonderful voice and he’s so idealistic and he has such a  youthful quality to him that I thought he’d be perfect. 
 
I’ve had him saying “And someday, it will be so,” stuck in my head since I saw the trailer—but go on.

Well, then with Rooney, we sent her the script, I thin,  the week Girl With the Dragon Tattoo came out and I thought there would never be a chance in a million years that she’d read it let alone respond to it. But she did and she read it and watched my short film and wanted to do it. It wasn’t so much a case of whether I thought she could be maternal or not, I was interested in how she handled having to be a mother. She could have either come to set and said—I don’t feel comfortable with being a mother and I don’t want to engage with this child. And if she did that, we would have just gone in that direction because I’m always interested in what an actor is going to bring to a part, rather than forcing them into a box.
 
I’ve known plenty of people like that, that didn’t expect to have a child and don’t quite have that relationship that you always hope to have with a child, and that’s not a happy situation but if that had been the case, I was totally prepared to make that part of her character. But the little girls who played her daughter, they just bonded so quickly and so instantly and she was so sensitive to them and so instantly maternal that it was wonderful to watch them bond over the course of the shoot.
 
Do you feel like you learned a lot as a filmmaker through the making of this? You mentioned something on your blog about never being more naive then in the beginning of shooting the film.
Yeah. I’ve always had confidence what I’m doing and where I’m going—I’ve never known completely where that is, I’m always fumbling in the dark, but I’ve had confidence in that fumbling. But with this film, what I really learned was how to take those little instincts and those things I can’t quite quantify or explain and those feelings and apply them to a major motion picture production. Everything I’ve made in the past was so small and so handmade and that process was always so important to me, to get that same effect and that same methodology to work within the confines of a movie set. This is still a tiny budgeted movie, but for me this was huge and you’ve got trucks and lots of crew that you have to communicate to. So learning how to get what I want out of that situation is what I learned the most. There are plenty of cases where I fell short on the set because I didn’t know to handle it or didn’t know when I could say yes or no—I didn’t realize that I could say no to things if I didn’t want them, I thought everyone knew more than I did in this situation. But in fact, everyone’s there to make the movie that they signed on make based on the script and they’re trusting me to do it, and I realized that I can stand my ground and say this isn’t working and it will be okay, no one will get mad at me. I’m always worried people will get mad at me. So going forward, whether my movies are bigger or smaller, regardless of how much personal confidence I have in what I’m doing, I have a great deal more know-how in terms of how to get that in the machine of a motion picture shoot.

See a New Set of Stills From David Lowery’s Texas Drama ‘Ain’t Them Bodies Saints’

As one of the most anticipated films to come out of Sundance this year, David Lowery’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is a beautifully painful southern drawl of a film. Starring Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, and Keith Carradine, it has the touch of Terrence Malick with the bite of 1970s crime dramas. And Lowery has had quite the prolific year—between shooting this, editing Shane Carruth’s stunning Upstream Color, finding himself attached to numerous other projects in the works, and now heading to Cannes next week where the film will screen as part of the festival’s Critic’s Week. 

 
And today, The Playlist has a new batch of stills from the gorgeous feature before it hits France next week. Arriving in theaters August 16th thanks to IFC Films, you can also catch Ain’t Them Bodies Saints at BAMcinemaFEST this June. The official synopsis of his film reads:
Bob Muldoon (Casey Affleck) and Ruth Guthrie (Rooney Mara), an impassioned young outlaw couple on an extended crime spree, are finally apprehended by lawmen after a shootout in the Texas hills. Although Ruth wounds a local officer, Bob takes the blame. But four years later, Bob escapes from prison and sets out to find Ruth and their daughter, born during his incarceration.
 
Set against the backdrop of 1970’s Texas Hill Country, first time director David Lowery paints a poetic picture, evoking the mythology of westerns and saturating the dramatic space with an aching sense of loss. Featuring powerful performances by Affleck and Mara as well as Ben Foster and Keith Carradine, AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS is a story of love, motherhood and searching for peace while faced with an unrelenting past. 
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Daniel Radcliffe Talks ‘Kill Your Darlings’ and Vying for an MTV Best Kiss Award With Dane DeHaan

Kill Your Darlings has been a film on the tip of everyone’s tongue for a while now. From first-time director and writer, John Krokidas his debut work portrays the young lives of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and William s. Burroughs in 1944 as the poets-to-be find themselves drawn together by a murder. Jack Huston takes on the role of Kerouac with Ben Foster as Burroughs and Dane DeHaan as the one who gets Ginsberg involved in the case.

And in a role that’s proved to be as challenging as its been rewarding, Daniel Radcliffe plays Ginsberg in the film that’s garnering a lot of attention and buzz for the way it deals with the sexuality of its characters and a noteable kiss between Radcliffe and DeHaan, as well as a sex scene that Radcliffe shares with another man at a different point in the film. Critics have been talking about how well Radcliffe is able to embody his character, allowing that Harry Potter shell around him to vaporize. But if you got the chance to see him in Equus, you were able to really grasp the kind of physical and committed actor he has always been—in or out of Hogwarts. Vulture recently caught up with Radcliffe at Sundance for a great interview about the importance of the film and taking a new kind of direction.

On his kiss with Dane DeHaan:
You know, I think that will be wonderful! Dane and I are banging the drum already because we want the MTV Best Kiss award. We want that golden popcorn! To my knowledge, a sincere, passionate, romantic gay kiss has never won, so I think that would be a very cool thing for this movie to receive.

On the sexuality of his character:
[John] said, “I had to get angry, and the thing I got angry about was that in 1944, you could literally get away with murder if you portrayed your attacker as homosexual.” It’s just another one of the things the gay community has had to fight against over the years, and in that way, it’s given me insight. It’s interesting because there is part of this film about these young men discovering their sexuality, and I think this would be a really cool film for a gay youth to see. Although it’s important to these characters, it’s not the end-all, be-all to their identity. There’s a tendency to think that once you come out as gay that’s how all your friends will think about you — that the first thing they’ll think about is that you’re gay, where actually that’s not the first thing I think about these guys like Allen Ginsberg. They were a lot more than just their sexualities.

On the direction from John:
My favorite John Krokidas direction moment was when we started kissing. I guess I was way too hesitant about it in the moment, and John just went, “No! Kiss him! Fucking sex kissing!” That was my favorite direction moment, probably in my career. [Laughs.] Especially with the world that I’ve come from! The things that directors have shouted to me in the past usually involve which way I have to look to see the dragon.

Check out the rest of the interview here.

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Ben Foster Takes Aim at Hollywood

Just about everything in the SLS Beverly Hills suite where I meet Ben Foster is a little off-kilter—the fully stocked beverage cart in the entrance hall, the towels strewn on a chair in the corner, the ruffled sheets and vertically standing pillows against the headboard. Even the publicist tapping away on her phone on the edge of a California King seems a tad disheveled, thanks to another epic press day during an awards season chock-full of them. Only Foster, who is tucked into the corner of the room, glugging a Corona and picking away the filter of an American Spirit almost to its tobacco quick, seems put together amidst this mess.

His blonde hair has been swept back into a Rockabilly-style pompadour, and his clean-pressed denim shirt is rolled down to cover (most of) his tats, real proper-like. Still, he has an edge to his eyes and a gravel to his voice that makes me feel like he could kick the shit out of just about anyone who tangles with him—kind of like his show-stealing performance as the insane yet lovable big-bro, Jake Mazursky, in 2006’s Alpha Dog. It was a role that led to a slew of parts, as violent, wild-eyed time bombs—from a Wild West psychopath in 3:10 to Yuma, to an unstoppable assassin in The Mechanic. “I’m a nice guy, I’m nice person,” the 31-year-old actor mockingly croons, before the gravel returns. “I’m a gun for hire. I’m sure a doctor could analyze why I get these roles and give an educated assessment. But I enjoy character work.”

Foster’s currently promoting two films, both vastly different—the widely-advertised Mark Wahlberg caper vehicle Contraband, and a fiery cop drama which Foster also produced called Rampart. It stars Woody Harrelson as a corrupt L.A.P.D. sergeant in the late ‘90s, who plays by his own self-destructive rules to get the job done. The film reunites Harrelson and Foster with director Oren Moverman, who in 2009, directed the actors in the critically-acclaimed, Oscar-nominated war drama The Messenger. “If this were a modern Western, you could say Woody’s character is the last of the old sheriffs in town,” Foster explains. “Times are changing and he refuses to change. So he’s going to be run out.”

For Foster, one project tied directly into the next. Rather then returning home to a busted relationship and a New York garage he called an apartment, he followed Moverman back to LA after ushering The Messenger through the Berlin Film Festival. “I didn’t really have much to go back to,” Foster explains,  while taking another drag of his smoke. He got an apartment off Craigslist, started a production company, and began gathering material, determined to pop his producing cherry. When Harrelson signed on to Rampart, wooed by a hard-hittingscript Moverman altered from one originally written by James Ellroy, the movie was suddenly greenlit. It was all very new to Foster, who seems to be idling somewhere between character and leading man these days. He was cast as John Gotti, Jr. in the much talked about Gotti biopic (you know, the one that Lindsay Lohan was, then wasn’t, then was starring in), and gained a ton of weight for the role, only to be forced tp lose it when the project was put on hold. He was up for the role of John McClain’s son in the next chapter of the Die Hard franchise, though the coveted part has yet to be cast. What’s most frustrating, it seems, is that Foster is one of the more capable prospective leading men in the game, a guy who fits into the movies where things blow up, and who is believable in the movies where everyone makes very human mistakes and kicks themselves hard for doing so.

“Pornography,” Foster jokes, when I ask him what he’s been up to lately, “in clown masks.” In truth, he’s been roaming from place to place, opportunity to opportunity. Sometimes, he’s hiding in a trailer in the woods of Northern California, trying to keep his sanity. Sometimes he plays the hero, like in X-Men: The Last Stand, as Angel. Other times, he plays the maniac, like in 3:10 to Yuma. Sometimes, like today, he’s not playing at all, just waiting endlessly in hotel suites on press days, moving everything slightly off-kilter in the room, because that’s how he likes it. The role Foster was born for is out there. Until then, he’ll be waiting, loaded and ready.

Track List: Ben Foster’s Special Delivery

As an American solider assigned to pass along awful news in The Messenger, Ben Foster proves, once again, he can run circles around the competition. Here are the songs that got him into a GI’s state of mind.

I make different playlists for every movie I’m in,” says Ben Foster, while on break from filming a remake of The Mechanic with action star Jason Statham. “These songs, specifically, got a lot of rotation while I was working on The Messenger.” In that film, the 29-year-old actor—best known for his roles in 3:10 to Yuma and Alpha Dog—co-stars with Woody Harrelson as Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery, whose military responsibilities include informing families that their loved ones have been killed at war. His performance has already garnered a nomination at this year’s Gotham Awards, but Foster, who admits he hasn’t yet been able to shake the role, says, “If you make a chair and someone likes your chair, it feels good. And if someone says, ‘This is one of the best chairs I’ve seen all year,’ that feels great. but it doesn’t change the fucking chair.”

AA Bondy’s “Rapture (Sweet Rapture).” This is a great song about being at the end of your rope with nothing left but hoping for hope.

Jena Malone’s “Trouble.” She is one of my favorite human animals. She always sounds like she’s singing to herself in a cooling bath. We used to walk down the street making up songs, singing about people we saw, about the wheels spinning by.

David Bowie’s “Breaking Glass.” How do you pick just one David Bowie song? This one by the Thin White Duke makes you feel like you’re sitting nude on a lizard—and you like it.

Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s “You Will Miss Me When I Burn.” Will Oldham isn’t only a terrific musician but also one hell of an actor. I wish he’d do more talkies.

The Dead Weather’s “So Far From Your Weapon.” I have a terrible crush on [lead singer] Alison Mosshart. She is a savage onstage. I love the experience of being at a live show, in a collective membrane of ears. It’s dangerous and sexy rock ’n’ roll, the way it should be.

Townes Van Zandt’s “Pancho and Lefty.” He is a national fucking treasure. There’s a terrific documentary about him called Be Here To Love Me. He has the ability to express the most complex human emotions in the simplest of ways. He’s a holy man of music.

Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman.” This song makes me want to swallow cars whole.

Jeff Buckley’s “The Way Young Lovers Do.” I remember the first time I heard him. A friend of mine turned on his music in the car, and I said immediately, I have to see this man. And my friend told me, “He’s already gone.” We just sat and drove and listened to the whole record. I felt like I had been cheated and lied to. Following that, I became a serious wine, candles and Jeff Buckley kind of guy, spending nights by myself writing bad poetry.

The Langley Schools Music Project’s “God Only Knows.” In the mid- 1970s, this Canadian school choir covered pop songs from the ’60s and ’70s, like this one by the beach boys. If I had to choose one desert island album, this would be the one. Paul Dano turned me on to these guys.

Talking Heads’ “Heaven.” The first movie I ever saw was [talking Heads concert film] Stop Making Sense. I was sort of weaned on David Byrne, so he’s had a big impact on me. “Heaven,” he says, “is a place where nothing ever happens.” Amen.

BEN’S FAVORITE BOWLING ALLEY: LUCKY STRIKE LANES, NEW YORK CITY

[Photo by Davis Factor]

Live From New York… It’s ‘BB Hearts Hollywood!’

For more party pics, click here!

image (From left to right) Photographer Paul Cupo and Molly “MySpace” Gottschalk, with friends Lucas Wilson and Charlotte Davis.

“I think I’d rather get into writing… and acting,” says Molly Gottschalk, made famous for winning a MySpace competition with photographer David LaChapelle—and later becoming his muse. It’s not that she doesn’t still love photography; rather, she’d like to explore her options. And one can’t help but wonder whether or not her move to Los Angeles has had something to do with this change of heart. It’s appropriate too, given that she’s here to celebrate the release of BlackBook magazine’s “Hollywood Issue” at hidden nightlife hotspot Socialista.

Lights dimmed, K-Y Intrigue projected their logo as if promising what would become a fantastic fête. Guests sipped on St-Germain cocktails—that one with rose petal was dangerous—while deejays E.B. and Johnny Sollis spun for a packed house. Alexandra Richards (not Theodora as had been originally Observer-ed) found herself stuck in Spain, and to signal the night’s loss, the brothers donned DIY “NO SHOW” shirts.

Emmy and Golden Globe-nominated actress Amber Tamblyn, 3:10 to Yuma star Ben Foster, actors Danny Masterson and Josh Madden, New York nightlife icon Sophia Lamar, and designer Alexander Wang kept the party going well into the night. Actually, that’s a lie. Wang wanted McDonald’s too bad to resist, and left a little early. We stayed until the lights came on, however, and ducked over to the Beatrice Inn for, what, our 48th drink.