‘Filming is kind of a drag, the research is the wonderful part…’ – hmv.com talks to Ben Foster
Ben Foster has played some varied roles in his career, from drug addict Jake Mazursky in Alpha Dog, to cold blooded killer Charlie Prince in 3:10 to Yuma right through to Angel in X-Men 3: The Last Stand and world famous author William Burroughs in last year’s Kill Your Darlings, but Lone Survivor might have been his toughest role to date.
Lone Survivor tells the story of Marcus Luttrell (played by Mark Wahlberg) and his team set out on a mission to capture or kill notorious Taliban leader Ahmad Shah, in late June 2005. Foster played Matthew ‘Axe’ Axelson, the team’s sniper, a role for which he researched extensively, putting himself through three weeks in boot camp in New Mexico and spending many hours with Axelson’s family.
We chatted to him about the role, the intense preparation and his forthcoming role as Lance Armstrong…
(There are a few minor spoilers in this article).
Lone Survivor is about to be released on DVD, tell us about the making of the film, sounds like quite a gruelling shoot…
“You know it always makes me angry when I hear people describe it in that way, I’ve got to watch my step here, because it was a hell of a job, but we made a movie, what those guys did, that was gruelling. We went home to hotels at the end of the day, I loved the shoot though, I loved it all, the training was particularly brilliant, and the guys were giving and patient as hell with us. They built us from the ground up and now I can hit a target at 800 yards with a sniper rifle.”
When did you first become aware of the film? Did Peter (Berg, director) come to you with the idea?
“Pete came to me, I don’t remember exactly when. He came to me years ago, and we both went off and did other things, then he came back with it, so I’d been aware of it for five or six years.”
Were you interested straight away?
“Yeah, absolutely. He told me to read the book and see what I thought. I was struck by how classic the story was in terms of the questions it asks ‘What would you do in that situation?’, the question is as old as war. I really feel like this film celebrates the soldier, as the saying goes ‘Love the soldier, not the war’ and we got a chance to bow a head with those guys and celebrate what they did.”
Before the shoot, you went off to do boot camp in New Mexico, what was that like?
“It was great, I met Marcus and spoke to him on the phone and he said to me ‘I understand you’ve been hired to play Axe, I named my son after Axe, you’d better not fuck this up, so we’d better get to know each other’. I said to him that I was driving from New York to New Mexico, how about I pick you up? He then said to me ‘Just me and you in a car?’, I said ‘Well I think that’s a pretty good way to get to know someone don’t you?’, and then he said ‘If we go on a road trip together, one of two things is going to happen, either we’re going to be best friends or one of us is going to be dead in the desert’.”
“So I said ‘Alright, I hope it goes that way’. So I drove down and I picked him up outside this gas station in Texas and before I got there, he’d already started calling me Hollywood, and he said on the phone ‘Hollywood, what kind of car do you drive?’, I said ‘A Chevrolet Silverado’, he then goes ‘What colour?’, ‘Black’, and he pauses and says ‘I have the exact same truck, we’re going to get on just fine’. We spent three days on the road together and it was a beautiful way to get to know him and then the time down in New Mexico with him and his guys, it was incredible training. They made us a unit and it was such a privilege. Things like that are the best part of the job.”
You met his family too, what kind of experience was that?
“They were incredibly generous with us. I was actually scared to meet them, because it’s an unusual circumstance when you have to say to someone ‘I’m going to represent your husband, or your son, or your brother’ in a film. They were so kind to me though, it was wonderful, they celebrate Axe, they showed me pictures and wedding videos. I feel like some people get ruined by grief, but in this family, they’ve clearly grieved, but they celebrate Matthew, they talk about him with such reverence and love. I learned so much about courage and bravery.”
You’ve played real-life characters before, William Burroughs for example in Kill Your Darlings, how did this compare to that?
“With Burroughs it was a hoot. It was a great excuse to read all his books, study his films, then do a bit of math on who he was before he was a writer because there really wasn’t any material to tell us. The film is a wonderful interpretation exercise, it was saying ‘If he hadn’t quite got his writing routine down, who was he then?’ It was much more contained, a much smaller film. I enjoy the time before filming more than filming, filming is kind of a drag, the research is the wonderful part.”
So what’s next for you? Have you wrapped up work on Duncan Jones’ Warcraft?
“We wrapped Warcraft and the Lance Armstrong film will hopefully be out this fall. And now I’m heading to London to do Streetcar Named Desire. Going to work with Benedict Andrews, who’s a great director.”
When can we expect to see you as Lance Armstrong?
“Hopefully this fall. I’ve got to do a few more scenes in London and then we’re planning some festivals in the fall. I enjoyed researching that too, but I’m really glad to have my leg hair back.”
Are you excited about the role in Streetcar?
“Yeah I am excited. I get to work with Gillian Anderson and play with some beautiful words. This is my second play, I did Orphans last year on Broadway and it’s a really different kind of rigour. You have to keep drilling deeper and deeper into a text, it’s like the difference between a quickie and an all-nighter, and I’m looking forward to an all-nighter.”
Do you enjoy the energy you get from the crowd, especially compared to the delayed reaction you get from making films?
“It’s a different mechanism, films are more like grabbing pieces and putting it back together. On good nights a theatre audience becomes your skin, it’s that intimate. Theatre’s more like sex. And I like that. I hope to be doing a lot of it.”
Lone Survivor will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray on Monday (June 9th) in hmv stores all over the UK.
You can win copies of the film as part of a giveaway we’re running to celebrate the release. For the chance to win a DVD bundle that includes copies of Lone Survivor, All Quiet On The Western Front, Birdsong, One Of Our Aircraft Is Missing, Sands Of Iwo Jima, Born On The Fourth Of July, Jarhead, Churchill, Green Zone and Inglorious Basterds, click here.