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Ben Foster doesn't watch his films —unless it's 'Hell or High Water'

The esteemed actor talks about having a blast playing a happy psychopath in the new thriller.
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    Ben Foster and Chris Pine play brothers who go on aen epic bank robbing jag in "He|CBS Films

Ben Foster loves him some “Hell or High Water.” But that’s not just because it’s his new movie. The acclaimed actor, 35, is picky, especially when it’s his own films. A rare exception is the low-budget thriller, which takes an alternately pitiless and hilarious look at two ne’er-do-wells (Foster and Chris Pine) who embark on a marathon of bank robberies in Texas, unaware that they’re being pursued by an especially methodical Texas Ranger (Jeff Bridges). Foster tends to play intense, in films like “The Messenger” and “Lone Survivor” and shows like “Six Feet Under," but in person, he’s a bit more up for a laugh.

You just got off your second run on stage as Stanley Kowalski in “A Streetcar Named Desire.” I’m sure that’s not an easy one to shake off.
Stanley’s hard to kick. I didn’t realize how much “Streetcar” was driving me. Stanley Kowalski doesn’t go down quietly.

And you had to bulk up for it.
I gained a bunch of weight. Each guy needs something a little different. I’m stripping down for this Scott Cooper film [“Hostiles”], which is a Western. I play a short guy with a whip. I’m not doing very well, frankly, being in Austin, eating barbecue and drinking beer.

Dumb question, but is it harder to bulk or slim down?
I mean, eating — who doesn’t like food? Eating’s great.

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You’ve done unusually intense preparation for some of your roles. Did you have to do anything approaching intense for this?
It was a very aggressive diet of whiskey and hamburgers. I trained hard for it. [Laughs] Tanner [his character] is an animal. He’s a man who enjoys his appetites. So I indulged some myself.

You’ve played sociopathic or psychotic characters before. But sometimes they’re menacing and dark. Tanner looks like he enjoys being bad.
I agree. He enjoys his life. He enjoys the transience of this human experience to the hilt. He knows he’s not going to get out alive. He says to his brother, “I never met anyone who got away with anything.” That’s a big key for Tanner. It ain’t gonna end pretty. So, in the meanwhile, wheeeeeeee!

He seems fun to play.
I’ve never had as much fun on a gig as I did on this one.

This isn’t a comedy, but I laughed more at this than I do most comedies.
Good! I think it’s funny as hell.

You don’t really do a lot of comedies. Do you want people sending you more comedy scripts?
I don’t really watch a whole lot of movies, but I’d rather watch Louis C.K. or “Arrested Development” than most dramas. I don’t have a bias for comedies. It depends on what crosses my table. I sure like to laugh more than anything. It might be better than sex. Funny sex might be the best.

How often do you get scripts of this quality?
I’d say every eight years I’ll read something this good. The last one was Oren Moverman’s film “The Messenger.”

This was on the Black List, which wrangles up the best unproduced screenplays. Do you try to keep your feelers out for projects on that?
I don’t look at those things. I don’t really care. [Laughs] Either I get it or I don’t. I got this one, which was amazing.

So you try to avoid the business angle of movies?
I’m aware of it and I actively ignore it. I like building things. I’m a builder. I come in, I’m hired, I shoot the film. If they want me to come in and participate it’s a privilege. It’s exciting to build. But I can’t think of it in business terms.

I read you don’t watch your films. Have you seen this?
Yeah, I actually watched the film! And I like it! It’s the first one I’ve watched in years. But I don’t enjoy watching what I do most of the time. I’m usually pretty disappointed with how it was handled. That’s the hard truth about it. Filmmakers and financiers come under pressure to serve a certain result, and that’s not necessarily the one we started with. I come in and I build, and sometimes they handle it well, and sometimes they don’t. I try not to worry about it and move onto the next one. This, on the other hand, I’m going to go see again tonight, which is unheard-of.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

 

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