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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The 47-year-old actress recently curbed her cravings for calorific treats in support of her husband-to-be, Ben Foster, who has been getting his body in shape to play disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong.
She explained: “My fiancé did a movie recently, playing Lance Armstrong, and he was on an 800 calories-a-day diet. I said, ‘In solidarity, I am going to go on the diet with you,’ even though I really want to go to an In-N-Out Burger.”
Robin also said her 33-year-old partner has given her a new lease of life and made her feel young again.
She added: “I know I’m almost 48, but I feel like I’m 30. I feel like I’ve digressed and now I’m going to live my 30s again.”
Lone Survivor has surprised many. It’s the story of Operation Red Wings – a 2005 reconnaissance mission which found four Navy SEALs ambushed by anti-coalition militia on an Afghan mountain – adapted from SEAL Marcus Luttrell’s memoir of the events. Written and directed by Peter Berg, who last coughed up the hideous Battleship, it’s everything that film wasn’t: heartfelt and exciting in all the right places. No 1 at the US box office, it’s doubled its $40m budget and garnered frenzied reactions from both ends of the political spectrum.
This was very much a passion project for Berg, whose father was a Marine. He’d been working on it since 2007; after getting to know Luttrell and the families of the 19 SEALs killed in Operation Red Wings, he embedded with an active SEAL platoon in Iraq for a month. Ben Foster, who plays sonar technician Matthew “Axe” Axelson, one of the four ambushed SEALs, recalls when he first spoke to Luttrell. “He said, ‘You know I named my son after the man that you would play – you can’t fuck this up.’ I said, ‘All right, I’ll do the very best that I can.’ And there was some stillness on the phone, and I said, ‘Well, let’s spend some time together.’” Foster collected Luttrell from Texas and over three days they bonded on the trip to New Mexico.
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