Casey Affleck on His Golden Globe-Winning Performance in Manchester By the Sea and Why It’s His Most Personal Film Role Yet
Though he typically doesn’t watch his own films, the actor said this one was an exception: “I really felt very, very close to it.”
Casey Affleck has been steadily working in Hollywood for a little over two decades now, along the way demonstrating vast range both in drama and comedy and even a knack for directing. But it’s in the last decade that he’s really stretched himself as a performer, starting with his Academy Award-nominated turn in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and culminating in his devastating performance in the acclaimed Kenneth Lonergan drama Manchester by the Sea, a part for which he won a Golden Globe and is widely expected to be nominated for an Oscar that, some say, he’ll likely take home. Though he typically doesn’t watch his own films, Manchester was an exception. “I’d been through something kind of profound experience with Kenny, and I wanted to have some closure on it,” he said. “I really felt very, very close to it.”
What was the first thing you ever auditioned for? The first thing that I remember auditioning for was a weather commercial in Boston, and I got the job. The idea of the commercial was that you ought to watch the weather in the morning so that you know what’s gonna come later in the day. So there were a bunch of kids all in their different homes who were watching the weather and they knew to bring an umbrella to school that day because on the way home it would be rainy. I was a kid who didn’t watch TV in the morning and so he went off to school without an umbrella and shorts and a T-shirt and on the way home he got soaking wet.
And then you got the bug? I didn’t even really know that that was acting. I didn’t know what that was. The only reason I was there was because my mom’s friend was a local casting director in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and so she would bring us in for things like that because we were just kids that she knew. And if she was casting for kids, she would ring the bell. So I didn’t ever think about acting really as a way of spending your life or as a way of expressing yourself or as a way of making a living until I was in my late teens. Then I moved to Los Angeles after I graduated from high school and did what everyone else does, which is look for an agent, badger them for auditions, and complain when you don’t get any.
And was To Die For the first big thing? That was the first good audition I ever had, and that was the first job that I got. Gus Van Sant’s performances are always good in his movies. I think he has got a great eye. We became great friends, and you know I attribute to him a lot of the opportunities that I’ve had in my life and also partly the joy that I get out of making movies, because he made a strong positive first impression on me.
So, tell me the history of Manchester By the Sea. Was it Matt Damon or Kenneth Lonergan who approached you about doing the movie? It was Kenneth Lonergan. He had sent me the script to Manchester by the Sea while I was in Atlanta shooting another movie; this was over two years ago, almost three years ago. And he said, ‘I’ve written something for somebody else to direct and I just wanted you to have a read, and let me know what you think.’ And so I read it immediately because I’ve loved everything that he’s written, and I’ve read his plays multiple times and seen his movies several times. Then I called him back and told him how much I loved it and gave him some other feedback. And then six months later or eight months later he called and said, ‘I’m gonna direct it. Do you wanna be in it?’ And I said yes.
As a kid, had you been to Manchester already? I had never been up to that part of Massachusetts. When I was a kid we didn’t really leave Cambridge, which was the town where I grew up in. We almost never really went anywhere, and definitely never up there, so I didn’t know what it was like. And the first thing that we did was start talking about the part and then I started talking about how to get the movie made. He said, ‘I don’t know if we’ll be able to get it made, but you know let’s try.’ And so we went out and tried to recruit other people to help us you know find a financier and so forth, and then he put together an incredible cast. He’s as good at casting as any director I’ve ever worked with; he just really knows who’s gonna be right for the parts. And I sat in on a few auditions with him for the young man who would play my nephew [Lucas Hedges], and it was a real education watching him work with actors.
Did you read with him or you just watched the audition? I read with him. It was an opportunity for me to rehearse a little bit, and then once he cast the part we had a few weeks of rehearsal. Then we started shooting the movie, and as you know those kind of movies, little independent movies, it’s a race against the clock, so once you start, there’s no stopping; there’s no slowing down. And so all of that rehearsal time, all the time we put in, months and months talking about it all it really paid off for me.
Emma Stone, Natalie Portman, Michelle Williams and More Are the Best Performances of the Year
Stone wears Chloé tunic; Wolford leggings; her own rings. Beauty: Covergirl. Affleck wears Louis Vuitton jacket and shirt.
Portman wears Dior dress; Mish New York earrings. Beauty: Dior. Negga wears Carolina Herrera dress; Lalaounis earrings. Beauty: Laura Mercier.
Adams wears Prada shirt; Djula earrings. Beauty: Giorgio Armani. McConaughey wears Burberry shirt.
Driver wears AG T-shirt. Mortensen wears Alternative Apparel henley.
Williams wears Louis Vuitton dress and bodysuit. Beauty: Nars. Edgerton wears Burberry T-shirt; Rolex watch.
Kidman wears Chanel dress; Tiffany & Co. earrings. Beauty: Chanel. Ali wears Simon Miller T-shirt.
La La Land
“My real name is Emily Stone, but when I started acting, that name was already taken by another actress, so I had to come up with a different one. For a 16-year-old, picking a new name is an interesting prospect, and back then I said, ‘I’m now going to be Riley Stone!’ So, for about six months I was called Riley. I landed a guest spot on Malcolm in the Middle, and one day they were calling, ‘Riley! Riley! Riley! We need you on set, Riley!’ and I had no idea who they were talking to. At that moment, I realized that I just couldn’t be Riley. So I became Emma. But I miss Emily. I would love to get her back.”
Sonia Rykiel sweater; Commando briefs.
“I was attracted to Gold because it reminded me of my dad. He loved shady deals. He’d much rather do a shady deal with fun people than a good deal with a bunch of straight-asses. He invested in diamond mines in Ecuador, and there were no fucking diamonds there. It was a scam, but he loved that. That’s the spirit of my character, Kenny Wells. There’s a little poem we have in the movie—‘Bird With No Feet Sleeps in the Wind.’ And that’s it: If Kenny, or my dad, gets the money or not, does it really matter? Would he change? No. Not that guy. These are people who are going to con, finagle, and boot-scoot their way in the side door. They never had the front-door entrance to the American Dream.”
AG jacket; Current/Elliott T-shirt; Levi’s jeans; John Hardy bracelet (right); Ann Demeulemeester boots.
Arrival and Nocturnal Animals
“Tom Ford became my muse on Nocturnal Animals. My character, Susan, was very personal to Tom, and so I based my interpretation on him. Tom would ask on set, ‘Why is Amy using her hands like that?’ And I said, ‘I’m copying you, Tom!’ I used him. I used him up.”
Gucci shirt; Djula earrings.
“Playing Jackie Kennedy is scary. I was nervous at first, and I started by doing a lot of research. The biographies on her are all a little bit trashy, but the transcripts of her interviews with the historian Arthur Schlesinger were really helpful. He taped everything, and you can hear Jackie’s voice. Her intellect and her wit and what she’s bitter about are immediately apparent. At the same time, I was going to costume fittings and makeup tests. When I put on the Jackie wig, the physical and emotional sides came together. The hair itself is so iconic that once you have it right, you can start to see Jackie. I don’t really look like her, but I felt like I was in her skin.”
Paterson and Silence
“Silence is the story of two Jesuit priests on a journey from Macao to Japan in search of their mentor, a priest who may have renounced his faith. When Martin Scorsese asked me to come to his house to talk about the movie, I already knew that for 28 years it had been his passion project. We talked about Silence, but when Scorsese starts a sentence, ‘When we were shooting Raging Bull…’ you can’t help but say, ‘Yeah, okay, tell me everything.’ So we talked for a long time, and finally he asked me if I would be willing to lose weight for the role. It made sense: How can you play a 17th-century persecuted priest while eating great meals? So I lost around 51 pounds. The weight loss was only bad in that, you know, I’d try to figure out how to play a scene and I had no ideas, because I was so damn hungry. Then I’d have a scoop of peanut butter and suddenly everything turned on!”
Dior Homme jacket; Rag & Bone Standard Issue T-shirt and jeans; Rolex watch. On model: Wolford stockings.
Hell or High Water
What was your first audition? My parents were both actors. I had just graduated from college, and my father had gone in for an audition for Gilmore Girls. He told the casting directors, “My son is back in town. Will you have him in for a reading?” So it was nepotism at its best. I can’t remember the role—maybe a boyfriend to someone? I got my start playing boyfriends, husbands-to-be, and princes.
In Hell or High Water you play a kind of modern Western antihero. You don’t speak much. When I read the script, the image that came to mind was of a man on a porch squinting through harsh sunlight into the distance, but not talking. I have a lot of similar memories of my father, where we are sitting next to each other and not saying much. Westerns have a stoic silence I’ve always appreciated. These days, we have so many distractions. I have minor ADD, so if anything grabs me and keeps me from petting my dog or collaging or just daydreaming, I immediately pay attention.
Brunello Cucinelli sweater; Sandro trousers; Loewe shoes.
Michael Kors henley. Model wears Araks robe; Stella McCartney Lingerie bra; Fifi Chachnil briefs; Falke stockings; Gianvito Rossi shoes.
“When I auditioned for the part of Mildred Loving, I had to sort of disappear into her character. Usually, I don’t create a costume for an audition, but this time I wore a summer dress. I knew that coming in the door looking like this woman would have an impact. A year later, I learned I got the part. At the premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, I walked up the steps of the Palais in full makeup, and I walked down the steps with mascara dripping. It was such an emotional experience. All I could think was that I needed to blow my nose before it dripped all over my frock.”
Prada top and skirt; Fabiana Filippi top (underneath).
“I’m a pretty good actress. You could say that, right? Well, to play Katherine Johnson, a mathematician who figured out a way to get NASA astronauts into space, I had to be believable as a math expert—and I failed math in college. Precalculus looked like Chinese to me. Even with two tutors, I still failed. So God has an incredible sense of humor, because now I am playing a mathematician! Even on set, they would have a professor there to try and teach me. I said, ‘Show me what I have to write and I’ll memorize it, because I’m not gonna get it.’ Take that, math! I won: I became an actress.”
Monse shirt; La Perla bra; Forevermark by Natalie K earrings; Jimmy Choo shoes.
Rules Don’t Apply
“I never knew Howard Hughes, so I’m able to take liberties, to allow my imagination to go to work. I like to quote Henry Ford, who said, ‘History is bunk.’ I like to quote Winston Churchill, who said, ‘History will be kind to me, because I intend to write it myself.’ And, in Rules Don’t Apply, I quote Mr. Hughes himself. He said, ‘Never check an interesting fact.’ ”
Jeffrey Rüdes sweater.
Manchester by the Sea
“I used to love movies that made me cry, and now all movies seem to make me cry. I don’t like that so much. I have my own things to cry about. I remember being young and sitting on the floor in my father’s apartment watching The Elephant Man on his black and white TV. When the Elephant Man did his speech—‘I am not an animal’—I started sobbing. That’s a tearjerker. That film made a superstrong impression on me. It set a certain standard in my mind of what was possible.”
Louis Vuitton pants; Falke socks. On model: Alexander Wang sweater.
A Monster Calls and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
“Recently, I seem to be doing a lot of dying onscreen. Lizzie, my character in A Monster Calls, has cancer, and I became obsessed with the way someone’s voice changes as their body deteriorates, and how they change the way they hold their body. Cancer patients would tell me things like, ‘You become obsessed with painting your nails, because your body is out of control.’ It became harder and harder to play Lizzie. I don’t think I’m going to die anymore.”
Giorgio Armani dress; Djula earrings; Tacori ring.
Allied, It’s Only the End of the World, and Assassin’s Creed
“It might sound weird, but I always cry at the end of Step Brothers. I’ve seen the movie 10 times, and it still touches me at the end, when Will Ferrell sings. You don’t expect to cry watching that type of comedy, but I always do.”
Burberry trenchcoat; Loro Piana sweater; Chopard earrings.
Hell or High Water
“I remember doing an interview years ago and being asked if I was one of those actors who takes the part home with me. I answered, ‘No. Not really.’ My wife happened to be in the room, and she started to laugh. Apparently, I had been playing a terrible person—a killer or someone who buries people alive or something—and she definitely noticed. I wasn’t fun to live with.”
Boss coat; A.P.C. jeans; the Frye Company boots.
“When I was cast in Slumdog Millionaire I was 17. At our first major screening, I walked the red carpet in my school shoes and a terrible suit I found on the high street, in London, with my mum. My costar, Freida Pinto, was very beautiful, very glamorous, and they said, ‘We can’t have this kid walking the red carpet with her! He’s spoiling the whole picture!’ So they gave me a new suit and fixed me up. It was a bit like Pretty Woman.”
Hermès sweater; Frame Denim jeans.
The Edge of Seventeen
Where was your first kiss? My first kiss was actually onscreen. I was in a graduate-thesis film called She’s a Fox, and I had to kiss two guys in it. I think I was 12. I was very nervous. One of the guys was shorter than me, and he had to stand on an apple box… Awkward! He told me, “I’m going to pretend I’m kissing my mom!” I was pretty sure that’s not the thing you say before you kiss a girl, so I looked at him and said, “Okay, I’m going to pretend I’m kissing my dog!”
Where was your first real-life kiss, then? At my house, by my front door. Which kind of sucks, because every time I walk through my front door I think about it. The kiss was a little messy, and I looked at the guy and said, “No, no, you can do better.” That’s not what you’re supposed to say, but I said it anyway.
Max Mara bralette; DKNY pants; Cartier earrings; Jimmy Choo shoes.
Max Mara bralette; DKNY pants; Cartier earrings.
The Witch and Split
You say you don’t like watching horror films—so what’s it like for you to act in them? I’m a real scaredy-cat. I’m not good at being frightened. But I do like acting in a horror movie, because I get to feel so intensely. You put yourself in these extreme emotional situations, and it wears you out in a great way. Afterward, I go home and get a good night’s sleep. The work chills me out: I’m a lot more stable since I’ve been in scary movies.
What frightens you? Revolving doors. I worry they’ll cut me in half. Strangers will see me tense up and hold my hand as I’m going through them. I’m constantly worried that I’m not going to make it through the door alive.
Gucci jacket, shirt, and pants.
Midnight Special, Elvis & Nixon, and Nocturnal Animals
“Doing a sex scene is just like having sex, except without any of the pleasure. The horror, fear, anxiety, sadness, and loneliness of sex is all there to enjoy—but none of the happiness.”
Saint Laurent jacket, shirt, and tie; Tiffany & Co. watch.
Hacksaw Ridge and Silence
“The majority of my process in playing a priest in Silence was praying. I’d never really prayed before, and I developed a relationship with a power greater than myself—call it God, call it love, call it what you will. It became very natural to me, and I realized that we’re all praying all the time. There’s that human impulse to worship and to long for a connection to the divine. Unfortunately, in our culture we are driven to worship things that are false and empty. I had a year of exploring this idea of what we are truly longing for and how we actually go to the places that can feed that longing. We all get glimpses of eternity every day. It’s just a question of whether we’re looking up from our iPhones long enough to notice.”
Alexander McQueen jacket and pants; A.P.C. shirt.
Maggie’s Plan and 20th Century Women
What is your karaoke song? It’s the nerdiest one ever: “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” by Billy Joel. It’s one of those songs that if you were a certain kind of teenage girl—me!—you thought knowing all the words would help you get a boyfriend. And then, about 30 seconds too late, you realize that it won’t. But it remains my song. I had the same thought about “Modern Major General,” by Gilbert and Sullivan. I thought guys were looking for a girl who could memorize a lot of names, but they didn’t care about that. They just cared about getting a hand job or something.
Do you have a cinematic crush? I would have to say Melanie Griffith in Working Girl—the first time she meets Harrison Ford at the bar. She’s all done up and she tells him, “I’ve got a head for business and a bod for sin.”And young Harrison Ford…what a dreamboat! But it’s her I truly love. She’s so compelling and funny. She’s sexy without being plastic. I think a lot of people miss seeing women that way.
Proenza Schouler dress; Guidi boots.
Were you a dramatic child? Yes, I used to stand in front of the mirror and try to make myself cry. I would also try different accents. I was living in an imaginary world, usually with Michael Jackson. He was going to rescue me! I used to draw pictures of me and Michael getting married, and I would send them to his fan club. I would imagine Michael waiting for me at the gate of my school, eager to whisk me away to a happier world.
Why Michael Jackson? I imagined myself as a Peter Pan kind of character, and Michael represented that existence. He was my guy.
Miu Miu coat, sweater, shorts, and shoes.
Manchester by the Sea
“As a little kid, my first love was IMDB [the data bank for movies and television]. I would memorize the birthdays of child actors. I really wanted to be an actor, and I related to the kids in the industry. But now that I think about it, memorizing their birthdays is not cute at all—it’s a little serial killer–ish.”
Prada sweater; Brooks Brothers boxers.
What was your favorite birthday? When I turned 40, my husband, Keith [Urban], drove me up to the top of this small hill in Australia and sat me down. He had put together this huge fireworks display. It was just for the two of us! It was sexy.
What is your pet peeve? When people say they will do something and they don’t. And I know it’s terribly demanding, but I don’t like it when my husband doesn’t answer his phone. I have to keep calling and calling, and I get anxious. Does that make me high-maintenance?
What movie has made you cry? Last year I saw Room, and I was absolutely devastated by it. I’m raw as I get older. I have to be careful what I let in.
Where was your first kiss? This is crazy: We were playing hooky from school. I had my first kiss while watching The Shining. Is that not weird? And we did a few things other than kiss too! I didn’t see a lot of the movie.
Chanel sweater, dress, shorts, and shoes; Bulgari earrings.
Have you actually watched it? Sometimes I don’t like watching movies, especially if I’ve had such a great experience. I don’t really want the memory sort of tainted by seeing some version of what you remember that’s totally different or it’s not quite right. And let’s be honest, you know that not every movie turns out well. You can start with a great director and great actors and have a great script and it still just doesn’t work. It’s kind of a mystery how that happens. On this one, though, you know I really felt very, very close to it, and I felt like I’d been through something kind of profound experience with Kenny, and I wanted to have some closure on it. I didn’t want to not see the movie. I wanted to know where he wound up with it, and I sat and watched it.
It must’ve been hard. Well, it’s a lot because movies are such a collaborative endeavor. It’s not just your work that’s up there. You know there were scenes that I did where I didn’t know exactly what I was doing. And sometimes there’s scenes where I go ‘Wow, that was exactly what I was doing.’ And both are kind of a surprise. But that’s the nature of the beast. It’s what’s challenging about watching the finished thing. It’s like, you know, painting a painting with someone else; they’re painting over stuff that you did and you think you’re crazy.
Golden Globes 2017: See What Everyone Wore on the Red Carpet
Natalie Portman in vintage Prada and Tiffany’s jewelry at the 2017 Golden Globe Awards.
Millie Bobby Brown in Jenny Packham at the 2017 Golden Globe Awards.
Jessica Biel and Justin Timberlake at the 2017 Golden Globe Awards.
Blake Lively in Atelier Versace at the 2017 Golden Globe Awards.
Helen Lasichanh and Pharrell Williams at the 2017 Golden Globe Awards.
Winona Ryder in Viktor & Rolf and Fred Leighton jewelry at the 2017 Golden Globe Awards.
Naomi Campbell in Atelier Versace at the 2017 Golden Globe Awards.
Drew Barrymore in Monique Lhullier and Harry Winston jewelry at the 2017 Golden Globe Awards.
Janelle Monae in custom Armani and Forevermark Diamonds at the 2017 Golden Globe Awards.
Nicole Kidman in Alexander McQueen and Fred Leighton jewelry at the 2017 Golden Globe Awards.
Felicity Jones in Gucci at the 2017 Golden Globe Awards.
Brie Larson in Rodarte and Forevermark Diamonds at the 2017 Golden Globe Awards.
Emily Ratajkowski in Reem Acra at the 2017 Golden Globe Awards.
Amy Adams in Tom Ford at the 2017 Golden Globe Awards.
Sarah Paulson in Marc Jacobs at the 2017 Golden Globe Awards.
Reese Witherspoon in Versace at the 2017 Golden Globe Awards.
Lily Collins in Zuhair Murad at the 2017 Golden Globe Awards.
Caleb McLaughlin, Finn Wolfhard, Noah Schnapp and Gaten Matarazzo at the 2017 Golden Globe Awards.
Kerry Washington in Dolce & Gabbana at the 2017 Golden Globe Awards.
Jessica Chastain in Prada at the 2017 Golden Globe Awards.
Hailee Steinfeld in Forevermark Diamonds at the 2017 Golden Globe Awards.
Issa Rae at the 2017 Golden Globe Awards.
Natalie Morales at the 2017 Golden Globe Awards.
Sistine, Scarlet, and Sophie Stallone at the 2017 Golden Globe Awards.
Ruth Negga in Louis Vuitton and Gemfields x FredLeighton jewelry at the 2017 Golden Globe Awards.
Mandy Moore in Naeem Khan at the 2017 Golden Globe Awards.
Evan Rachel Wood in Altuzarra at the 2017 Golden Globe Awards.
Thandie Newton in Monse and Harry Winston jewelry at the 2017 Golden Globe Awards.
Priyanka Chopra at the 2017 Golden Globe Awards.
BEVERLY HILLS, CA – JANUARY 08: 74th ANNUAL GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS — Pictured: Actress/producer Viola Davis arrives to the 74th Annual Golden Globe Awards held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 8, 2017. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)