Gillian Anderson walks into a rehearsal room in south London having just hit her head with her own car door at the end of the school run. The large swelling on her right temple does little to dent her beauty – those sculpted cheeks and large, compelling eyes – nor her sharp intelligence, but it is a cause for concern.
“Headbutting children again,” teases Ben Foster, her co-star in a new production of A Streetcar Named Desire, as we fuss around, finding an ice pack, while Anderson settles down, elegant in a yellow chiffon dress, laughing at her own incompetence.
Seeing them side by side, you can’t imagine more suitable casting for Tennessee Williams’s dark, daring play about sexuality, need and madness. Her refined delicacy and his grounded intensity make it easy to see them stepping into the roles of the damaged Southern Belle Blanche DuBois and her volatile brother-in-law Stanley Kowalski, parts made famous on Broadway in 1947 by Jessica Tandy and Marlon Brando, and on screen four years later by Brando with Vivien Leigh.
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WGTC: In 2013, you appeared in three great films – Kill Your Darlings, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and Lone Survivor – in three very different roles. How do you decide on the roles you take?
Ben Foster: Well, first of all, I’m happy you liked those films. That’s nice to hear. I like to learn about things I don’t know a lot about. Also, it’s whatever crosses my desk at the time. Does it feel right in my hands and in my body? With those scripts in particular, I got to work different muscles. But it wasn’t planned all at once. You speak with the director, you read the script, and you see if there’s a way to collaborate and communicate, if there’s a shorthand. As I get older – and I don’t even want to sound like such an old dog, I’ve only done this for 22 years, something like that – if you’re going to go to bed with somebody, you want it to be exciting. I don’t know how you pick it, it’s just got to feel right.
WGTC: One of your performances that resonated with me was in the 2009 film The Messenger, which is very under-appreciated. How did your role as a war veteran in that film bring new shading or perspective to playing a Navy SEAL in Lone Survivor?
BF: I suppose like all experiences, there’s an accumulation. I saw the results of the war at Walter Reed Hospital with amputees doing research for The Messenger. I saw that side of it. For this picture [Lone Survivor], it was spending time with those who served actively. Getting to spend time with the family of the man that I was to represent was a great privilege. To speak with the Axelson family and sharing their love of their husband and son and brother, and just hear stories of this man… it goes beyond a film experience. It was a deeply human experience that I’ll always treasure.
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We recently chatted with actor Ben Foster about making the fact-based drama-thriller Lone Survivor wherein he played Sonar Technician (Surface) Second Class Petty Officer Matthew “Axe” Axelson. The Peter Berg-directed movie stars Foster, Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, and Emile Hirsch as four U.S. Navy SEALs trapped and outnumbered against Taliban gunmen in the mountains of Afghanistan.
IGN Movies: What for you was the thing you’ll probably take away the most from your experience making this movie and from what you learned about Axe the man?
Ben Foster: Getting time to spend surrounded by the team guys, it shaped my perspective I think far beyond my understanding. The warrior/philosopher mentality is unlike any group of men I’ve ever met before. Gaining a friend in Marcus [Luttrell] and having the opportunity to spend time with the Axelson family, it just spoke more like a bowed head or a prayer — two are soldiers, two are warriors — than making a movie.
IGN: Has this been a subject you’ve wanted to explore in film? If I remember correctly, weren’t you up for Black Hawk Down way back in the day?
Foster: You’ve got a good memory. Yeah, I did bootcamp for Black Hawk, and I got injured on the last day of bootcamp. They told me to go home. It really broke my heart. I just kept running after my leg started hurting. I kept running with their guys. That was a dumb-ass move, as my leg turned black. [Laughs] Not really in shooting shape. I guess just being drawn to men in service, those that choose a life to serve, I suppose it’s just an excuse to spend time with decent folk — learn about a craft, an occupation, something people dedicate their lives to, selflessly. That’s the best part of my job, meeting these special people, be that in military fields or teaching fields. It’s when work becomes so rare, how privileged I am just to spend time with them. Right now, you’re asking me questions. My great joy is asking them questions.
IGN: I would imagine you’ve got your fair share of alpha males involved in just making the movie, let alone the type of men that you’re portraying. Was it a kind of friendly but competitive environment for actors? I would imagine you guys had some good-natured trying to one-up each other physically kinda thing?
Foster: Sure. Yeah, early on in prep for this, down in San Diego, we would spend time in Coronado and — I won’t say the bar’s name, but it’s a SEAL bar — there was a group of guys about to be deployed, and I asked, “All right. You’re a team guy. There’s no real leader of the team. Who is the silverback of the team?” He said, “We’re all silverbacks.” It’s such a high-level warrior philosophy. It’s having absolute trust in your fellow man, in his training. They say buds is a gut check. Buds, as I was told — and I’m no one to talk — but as I was told, it’s just a gut check. You’re either a quitter or you’re not. The game here is, don’t quit no matter what. If you don’t quit, then the training begins. But buds is about, when you’re on the field, beyond all the training that you learned, you know that something inherent is taking place, and it’s a brutal ritual. It’s unbelievable ritual training, a kind of psychological and physical suffering. It’s not haphazard. But it allows you, when you’re on the field, to look at your man or feel your man and know who’s behind and who’s in front and who’s on your flanks, and trust that they’re going to keep their shit together and operate, and not quit. That’s better than an extra round in your gun.
Lone Survivor is now available on Blu-ray.
Ben Foster will make his London stage debut in a new production of Tennessee Williams’ A Streeetcar Named Desire, beginning performances July 23 prior to an official opening July 28 at the Young Vic Theatre for a run that is booking through Sept. 6.
Foster will play Stanley Kowalski, joining the previously announced Gillian Anderson, who will play Blanche du Bois, in a production that will be directed by Benedict Andrews.
Also in the cast is Vanessa Kirby as Stella, Blanche’s sister who is married to Stanley. The cast also includes Clare Burt, Lachele Carl, Branwell Donaghey, Otto Farrant, Nicholas Gecks, Stephanie Jacob, Corey Johnson and Claire Prempah.
Foster made his Broadway debut last year in a revival of Lyle Kessler’s play Orphans, opposite Alec Baldwin and Tom Sturridge.
Lone Survivor, the amazing drama starring Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster is coming to DVD and Blu-ray on June 9th from Universal Pictures (UK). With loads of additional content including featurettes and audio commentary, this is sure to be one of the biggest home entertainment releases of 2014.
To celebrate the release, Universal have released a new featurette entitled ‘Look Inside’ which focuses on the making of the film with cast & crew input.
When asked about her relationship with Ben Foster, the 47-year-old says she has an issue with society’s double standard.
“It’s such a shame that society has this fixation because if it was the inverse — a younger woman with an older man — not many would bat an eye,” she says.
“I think we roll our eyes at older men with younger women and go, ‘Oh, he’s going through a midlife crisis and he just needs a young hot body.’ That’s the cliché. But an older woman with a younger man—it’s almost judged the way different religions judge doctrines of other religions. It’s so intense. And it manipulates people. It’s very infectious.”
We’re hesitant to use the term “breakout”, but there’s no denying it’s been a big year for Ben Foster. From playing a Seventies cop in indie drama Ain’t Them Bodies Saints to his scene-stealing portrayal of beat novelist William Burroughs in Kill Your Darlings, the 33-year-old actor has been delivering performances that haven’t just stolen scenes but whole films from under the noses of bigger stars. “I haven’t been bored – which is great,” Foster says modestly down the phone from Vancouver, where, incidentally, he’s currently at work on Duncan Jones’ big-budget adaptation of Warcraft. (“I start filming Monday. It’s a lot of moving parts, but I think Duncan is doing a hell of a job.”) Then he’s starring in Stephen Frears’ Lance Armstrong biopic, due later this year.
But first, there’s Lone Survivor, in which Foster plays one of a group of Navy SEALs stranded behind Taliban lines in the Afghan war. Directed by Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights, er, Battleship), it’s not only a spectacular and bone-crunchingly real depiction of the Afghan conflict, it’s one of the best war films in years. Ahead of the release, Foster talked to GQ about injuries, his relationship with Mark Wahlberg, and what Tour De France cycling does to a man’s thighs.
GQ: Let’s talk about the falling-off-the-cliff scene. Peter Berg has said he had to stop you from jumping yourself – but a couple of stunt men did get quite badly injured, didn’t they?
Ben Foster: My stunt guy – who I had done a couple of pictures with – he got very badly hurt: pierced lung, ribs, all that. It’s a strange line, making movies. You try to blur the lines for yourself and try and get as close to “it” and start, I guess, erasing those boundaries. As a boy, you [think] “Well if the stunt guys can do it and they did it real life… I don’t want to break my leg, but I’d like to learn how to do this. To fall down a mountain… intelligently.” [Laughs] Because the men that we were playing did throw themselves off mountains to hopefully extend their lives – they did it for real, without planning. So there was an internal vertigo going on constantly, being surrounded by the SEALs on set. It’s not so much yelling at everybody to do something stupid; these are intelligent men, these are philosopher-warriors. But being in that environment, you want to test yourself.
Is there an innate competition to it, when you have all these atheletic guys on the set at once?
For sure. It was odd, because it was never suggested or encouraged. They [the SEALs] are very – as a community – extraordinarily bright, very patient, and professional in what they do. They are unlike any men I have met. So be it falling down a mountain or target practice – live-fire training – you want to get as close to it as possible, in order to serve the film and serve these men that you’re telling this story about.
What’s the worst physical pain you’ve ever endured? I read you were due to be in Black Hawk Down but tore some muscles in boot camp…
My leg turned black; I kept running on it for a few miles after I’d torn my leg. You don’t feel that until later once the adrenaline cools down and the pain response starts beeping away. As you get older and you do more stunts it’s less about that – knock wood, if you break something, you break something – but it’s really about the joints. When it gets cold your back hurts, your knee hurts [laughs]. Hollywood ages you. They say it’s a glamour industry – it’s not! We’re more like weathermen. You just start hurting.
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