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||In Gus Van Sant's last two movies, Casey Affleck has been a scruffy, swearing kid on the sidelines. He's played guys who remind me of the character in the Elliott Smith song "the helpless little kid with a dirty mouth who's always got something to say." It would be easy for him to make these bratty "losers" obnoxious or mean-spirited, but they're never like that. Somehow he manages to be charming and tough in a way that's crooked and pure, and completely unlike most of the guys we see on screen the overly earnest heartthrobs and the brooding "bad boys." Casey was only in around five scenes of Good Will Hunting, and maybe it's just me, but I was sad when the camera moved away from him mumbling and giddy in the back seat of a broken down car and we went back to another scene of Robin Williams in therapy.
His next two films are Desert Blue and 200 Cigarettes, both with Christina Ricci. He has a leading role in the new film by Lisa Krueger, the creator of the beautiful Manny and Lo. Sometime around X-Mas, the Sundance Channel will air ten shorts he co-wrote and directed about a guy who stalks and harasses various celebrities (like Edward Furlong, Vince Vaughan, and Reese Witherspoon) in a desperate quest to become the next boy wonder auteur.
I sort of expected Casey to be grungy and foul-mouthed, but I guess that's why they call acting acting. When I met him, he was couch-surfing at his grandmother's book-filled apartment. He'd rigged up a camera with a Polaroid back and an antique lens, and we went to take photos in a Little Italy cemetery, but the gates were locked. He wanted to jump the fence, but I was afraid of messing with the Catholic Church. So we wandered down to a park, and he took photos of women in spangled saris and a little girl in overalls. After each image emerged, he politely gave them the Polaroids. Later, at an index party, as the paparazzi cameras descended, he bolted out into the rainstorm.
REBECCA: Okay, I'm gonna pull out my little questions.
CASEY: Can I see them?
CASEY: I can't read them? [laughs] It'll be quicker. I can just run down the list.
REBECCA: Gus's friend D-J warned me about you "He's very smart, but he always lies in interviews."
CASEY: It's a defense mechanism. And I'm not that smart. [laughs]
REBECCA: It's funny how there's all these rumours about you and college. Bruce La Bruce told me you were in premed.
CASEY: D-J showed me and Joaquin one of Bruce's movies when we were filming To Die For in Toronto.
REBECCA: You were too young to be seeing that.
CASEY: Yeah, right.
REBECCA: What did you think of it?
CASEY: I didn't really know what was going on. It was like porno. It had the porno introduction where the guy walks into the room. "Hey what are you doing in my house?" "I'm fixing the TV." "You sure are fixing the TV." And then they start fucking. But the sound wasn't synced up although I guess that was some artistic shading Bruce was giving. So instead of remarking on the tinfoil-wrapped fisting that was going on on screen, I was like, "D-J, the sound's not quite synced up." He really scolded me. "Sound doesn't have to be synced!" It took a lot of work to get D-J to respect me after that. A lot of fisting. [laughs]
REBECCA: Bruce wants Joaquin to star in his next movie.
CASEY: Oh, really? I don't know how other people feel about it, but to me it seems he is so clearly the best, most talented young actor of my generation. He's such a genius in To Die For.
REBECCA: That scene where he's dancing with Nicole Kidman ...
CASEY: Oh, I know! He got his little tattoo on his arm [laughs] and he's just being that kid. He's not "acting." That's rare. Still, there's four of five people who get offered movies before him. It just doesn't make sense. I can't understand it. I try to tell people that I know who are making movies, "Listen, get in now on this dude." He's about to have four movies come out, and after that, he'll just blow up. He'll get the respect he deserves.
REBECCA: You were like sixteen in To Die For?
REBECCA: How did it come about?
CASEY: I was living in L.A., auditioning for guest star shit on bad sitcoms.
REBECCA: Did you do them?
CASEY: No, I never did any of them. I moved out to L.A., got an agent, started auditioning. I didn't know anything about how it worked. And since I was really bad, luckily, I didn't get any of those parts.
REBECCA: What kind of parts?
CASEY: Saved By the Bell, [laughs] Boy Meets World. That one really stuck in my mind because I almost got it, and I was like, "Oh no, what happens if I get this? I'll just be standing on the marks and saying the lines for Boy Meets World." And then a friend I was living with Matt Damon at the time he went in to audition for To Die For. When he met Gus, he recommended me and my brother. Because the story was about Pam Smart and set in New England, and we knew those kinds of kids and high schools and the whole accent and style.
So I went in and did a bunch of call backs. For my last audition, I was supposed to read with Alison Folland. I showed up really late because I was still new to L.A. and I was always getting lost. The producer couldn't believe it. She took me out to the hall, stared at me and said, "You are two and a half hours late!" I said I was really sorry and then I got the part. So that's how it all happened. I guess it was just because of Matt, and Matt didn't get it. Joaquin ended up getting it. They told Matt he was too big and too old, so he dropped 20 pounds in two weeks. He still didn't get it, but he must have impressed Gus, and that made it easier to get Good Will Hunting made.
REBECCA: What's Gus like?
CASEY: He's really easy to work with. He's like a hypnotist. You lose track of what you're doing. You think he's just letting you do what you want, but somehow you end up being much better than you ever have been before. So it can't be that he's just letting you do what you want. He's guiding you and shaping things around you. And he has the wisdom to let things change as they happen.
REBECCA: And what did you do after that?
CASEY: After I left L.A., I thought, "Fuck that. I don't want to go back there again." It was like waking up. And so I moved back east and stopped auditioning. But I was pretty bored so I tricked myself into doing this movie. This little kid's movie about racing solar cars across the Australian outback. It was about a bunch of delinquents in this Hawaiian high school who get in trouble and their punishment is to build a car and enter the race. The movie ended up being kind of corny. You're supposed to be cheering for the underdogs, this diverse group of kids the fat friendly kid, the shy artist kid but you didn't really end up caring in the end.
Also, there were these two stars. One was over the hill and the other was afraid her career was coming to an end. They were both really unhappy and always fighting, always staying in their rooms. The whole experience was really disappointing, it bummed me out and as soon as the film finished, I went to school. I just gave up on acting for a couple of years until Good Will Hunting came around, and since it was Gus, it was hard to say no.
REBECCA: Aren't you in college now?
CASEY: No, I'm out of school. I went for a year and a half. I left to do Good Will Hunting, then went back to Columbia last fall for a semester, but I just didn't want to be there.
REBECCA: Why not?
CASEY: I liked the classes, but they weren't about talking or debating. It wasn't how I imagined it. It wasn't how I think it should be. But I still badger one of my professors to give me the books he's assigning, and I go and look at his lecture notes.
REBECCA: For what classes?
CASEY: Columbia has this contemporary civilization program western philosophy and political thought. The professor I keep in touch with recommended Anton Mesmer.
REBECCA: Who's that?
CASEY: Mesmerism. He was around in the 18th century, and had a theory was that there was a basic element through the universe and inside the body, a fluid that could be manipulated to cure illness or create sexual energy or cause people to fall in love. In the end, he got discredited. He went too far. He tried to do a Frankenstein, so people were like, "Get out of here."
REBECCA: So you weren't studying eugenics?
CASEY: You read that in Interview? That's so funny. I ran into the lady who did the interview. I went to this show, this horrible Joaquin Cortes show. This bullshit fucking silly bad imitation of Riverdance just this guy with his shirt off, and all these girls dancing behind him, and he can't even dance. After the show, this family friend brought me up to meet Mr. Armani. I told her, "I don't want to meet Mr. Armani. Please, no!" She's dragging me up. He doesn't care. All day people probably come up to him, "Hey, Ciao!" What's his first name?
CASEY: Yeah, and there's the lady from Interview right there, right with him! She starts yelling in his ear, "That's Casey! He's studying Ebonics at Columbia!" All these people around were like, "You're studying Ebonics?" I was like, "No, not ebonics." I guess she thought I was serious when I said I was studying eugenics ... It was really embarrassing. But ever since then, I tell people I'm studying Ebonics.
The thing about Interview is that it's very flattering. I guess that's all most magazines are. They take the new, up-and-coming star and make them seem like they possess whatever qualities are popular for "rising stars" regardless of whether they have them or not. Then they put the kid's picture, looking dashing in jeans, between two ads. That part of it isn't that complicated, but it seems somehow insidious. Of course, once you do it, you're grateful that they took out some of the stupid shit you said and made you sound more articulate and intelligent than you actually are. It seems like they never say anything bad about actors, they just pump them up.
REBECCA: So you don't have a publicist?
REBECCA: Why don't you want to do publicity?
CASEY: I don't really want to talk about it.
REBECCA: I think it's interesting because most people can't wait to do all that stuff.
CASEY: Part of me feels that my reluctance was really naive and idealistic. Now I realize it's more complicated. Sometimes morality has to be malleable. More and more, I see people who I really admire, who I think are really intelligent and good people, just succumbing to the pressures of their publicist or their studio. I guess it's okay if you always remember that it doesn't really mean anything, that it's just a bunch of bullshit. Once you see that it's only potentially harmful, then you can do it. I see it as a necessary evil. Was Andy Warhol a bisexual?
CASEY: He was? But didn't he have girlfriends?
REBECCA: I think he never had sex.
CASEY: No! Is that true? Is that something that's well known? That I should have known? Really?
REBECCA: He had his flunky pretty boys.
CASEY: Funky pretty boys?
REBECCA: Flunkies. You know ... flunkies.
REBECCA: So have you turned down a lot of movies?
CASEY: I get offered a lot of the same type of thing.
REBECCA: Which is what?
CASEY: The teenage slasher movies like every one of them.
REBECCA: Why don't you do those?
CASEY: They just don't interest me. If the only movies I can do are I Know What You Did Last Summer and that kind of shit, I'll just go and do something else. I enjoy acting, but I could just as well express myself in some junkyard.
REBECCA: What part were you offered? The killer?
CASEY: I don't even remember. It probably wasn't even I Know What You Did Last Summer. The director's probably like, "I never offered it to that fucking kid! He's bad-mouthing my movie!" [laughs] But they wanted me to do Scream 2 and I hate talking about movies I turned down because it sounds judgmental. There's nothing wrong with horror movies. I enjoy watching them. The main reason I turn a part down is if I think I won't be good. If I read the script and think, "I don't get it. I don't really see what's funny about it or what's scary about it." I couldn't do it justice. I would ruin it. If I can't see the humor in it, how am I going to be funny?
REBECCA: That's cool that you're doing Lisa Krueger's next movie.
CASEY: Manny and Lo was so perfect. The whole movie seemed like a little girl's imagination, like her story. It was really personal and honest, and it wasn't trying to be anything other than what it was. The look of it was really original as well. I haven't seen any movie that looked like that. Every shot was so beautiful, every shot was like one of many moving paintings which were part of the same wonderful show. And when I met Lisa most of the time you meet people and they're kind of entertaining and they're a little bit clever or amusing but when I met her I thought this woman is really, really intelligent and special, and I just wanted to do her film.
REBECCA: What's it called?
CASEY: Committed. Lisa's a great writer. When I like someone a lot, I get scared that I'll let them down. My fear of sucking is worst when I feel like someone thinks I'm good. The movie's three months off and I already had an attack of, "Fuck, I better get working. I can not let Lisa down." It's not very constructive, but it motivates me. I'm really looking forward to the movie. Heather Graham's in it. I'm in love with her.
REBECCA: You are?
REBECCA: Have you met her yet?
CASEY: No. I'm afraid.
REBECCA: You're afraid? Do you kiss her in the movie?
CASEY: I play her brother.
REBECCA: Oh, that's no fun.
CASEY: But there's sexual tension between us. [laughs]
REBECCA: You haven't done a love scene yet, right? Oh, you did one in 200 Cigarettes.
CASEY: No, I make out with Christina Ricci ... many times. But no real love scenes. I'm dying to.
REBECCA: You're dying to do one?
CASEY: It's the easiest thing to do.
REBECCA: Really? Actors are always griping about how awkward and difficult love scenes are.
CASEY: Maybe it will be and I'll find out. But when I start to kiss someone lust is the easiest emotion to generate.
REBECCA: But what if you hated the actress?
CASEY: You sleep with people all the time that you hate.
REBECCA: Maybe you do.
CASEY: [laughs] I do ... No, I don't.
REBECCA: Do you play the brat in Committed?
CASEY: I'm tired of playing the brat.
REBECCA: But you're so good at it. You saved Good Will Hunting from being sappy.
CASEY: Oh, come on. You cried, didn't you? Admit it. You cried!
CASEY: So why can't people just say they were moved? Why do they have to say it's sappy?
REBECCA: That's true. Right now, it seems more risky to try and make a film that's moving rather than "edgy" or ...
REBECCA: You're a punk rocker in 200 Cigarettes?
CASEY: Yeah, I'm supposed to be this scary looking punk rocker which was difficult to do [laughs] and I'm chasing around Gaby Hoffman and Christina Ricci. I liked the character 'cause he's one of those guys who, whenever he meets a girl, he thinks this is the one, this could be the one, the only one. So first, he's all torn up over Gaby Hoffman, and then he meets Christina Ricci and he just switches. Suddenly, she's the one.
REBECCA: How did that part come about?
CASEY: I didn't have to audition. That's common, but it had never happened to me before. I just went in and talked to the director and she gave me the part. I never even said the words. Normally, I hate auditioning. I need to stew and think ... let the character develop and grow inside me. If there's any way I can be good, it's not walking into a room, having only prepared for a day, and do some cold reading. I just can't do it. I seem fake. It's like a presentation of the character.
But at the same time, it's been a safety net. Because if I get through six auditions and get a part, it means I'm right for the part. I must really know that guy. The director and I must have the same idea about the character. When I showed up for 200 Cigarettes, the day we were supposed to start filming, I realized we had different ideas about the character. So in the hour between getting hair and makeup and when we were supposed to shoot, we had to reconcile those differences.
REBECCA: Was that difficult?
CASEY: It was a learning experience. I'm sure it will happen again. Directors will have a different idea than I have. It will rarely be a perfect match. And I realized the director was really good Risa Bramon Garcia. When a performance isn't working, it's usually because the actor is trying to do something and they're not able to express their idea very well. It's a muddled expression. A director has to be able to say, "Okay, I understand what he's trying to do and this is how I can get him to do it differently."
I saw that Risa was really insightful so I trusted her and said, "Okay, I'll just do what you think." I also learned to separate my experience on the set from how I felt about my performance in the movie. Because most of the time I just hate myself.
REBECCA: Really? You come across so carefree on the screen. It seems like you're having such a good time.
CASEY: I love getting ready to do a scene, and thinking about it, and talking about it. But the rest of the time, I'm so nervous and obsessed. I'm just tearing my hair out in the trailer. The whole time I'm really tense. This time, I thought, "Fuck it, I'm going to have fun." And I had a great time. I didn't abuse myself with regret "I should have done this, I should have done that."
REBECCA: I'm sad you're not in school. That was basically all I wanted to talk to you about eugenics.
CASEY: Yeah, well since I left school, I've been working on my music career. I would love to be a musician.
REBECCA: Are you serious?
CASEY: When I was a freshman in high school, my drama teacher, an incredible, inspirational genius, the guy who got me into acting, he encouraged me to get the lead in a musical. They didn't have any guys. After two weeks of rehearsal, the music director took me into this room and said, "Okay, you're tone deaf." And he just cut all of my solos and asked me to mouth the chorus parts. So that was the end of my music career. I wish I could just sit around and play music for myself, but I can't. I just don't have the skills ... the skills to pay the bills.
REBECCA: What kind of music do you like?
CASEY: The last CDs I got were Emmylou Harris, Dwight Yoakam, Wyclef, Barry White. I went to the Free Tibet concert. Radiohead, Tribe Called Quest, and the Beastie Boys were the best. Remember the Beasties first album? They changed from mocking rap to being trendsetters. They had a lot of leeway because the suburbs needed them to feel comfortable to embrace rap at that time. Being white gave them an obvious advantage of course.
I met them after the Tibetan concert and they were so old and mainstream looking. That's a simple observation, but that's how they struck me. I didn't even recognize them. But that's one of the ways they were so innovative. They never tried to hide the fact that what they did on stage and their attitude and some of the lyrics in their songs were all just an act. When they're not performing, they don't keep up the "hard guys" act.
REBECCA: What was it like meeting them?
CASEY: I met them at this big table in some restaurant. It was a lot of people from the concert, and I was like friends of friends of friends and wound up sitting next to them. I was really energetic from the concert and running off at the mouth and just being really loose at the lips and doing all the talking. [laughs] And they were quiet and cold. I was like, "Why are they seeming so put off by me?" So I asked one of them, "What did you guys do at the concert? Did you help organize? Perform? Just watching?" And he was like, "Yeah, all that." But not nice. Real standoffish. And his pal kind of snickered and shit.
REBECCA: Were you surprised?
CASEY: No, but I mean, who's the guy who's not like, "I'm in the Beastie Boys?" He has to be real cagey? People bitch about losing their anonymity and then get insulted when someone doesn't recognize them from whatever success they've had. I was probably just annoying though. They probably were just like, "Who's this little fucking Cunanan and how did he get in here?" [laughs]