Ben Foster talks ‘Ain’t Them Bodies Saints’ and Hollywood’s bad habits

Don't be fooled by the scowl: Ben Foster is not the bad guy! (Credit: Larry Busacca/Getty Images)
Don’t be fooled by the scowl: Ben Foster is not the bad guy!
Credit: Larry Busacca/Getty Images

Since the start of his career as an actor and a producer, Ben Foster has sought out the more interesting, engaging and harder to categorize roles available. His latest, the thoughtful, ambiguous “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” by writer/director David Lowery, offers him just such an opportunity. But roles like this are few and far between these days, he admits. And he has some choice words to say about the current state of the Hollywood blockbuster.

This film shows remarkable restraint in its storytelling. What stood out to you?

Reading it felt like listening to an old American country-western song. It had all the makings of something that Willie Nelson would’ve sung about. David Lowery put so much of himself in this because he’d been working on it for so very long, and he’s a great study of film. The way he made this movie, he’s interested in the space between words, and I think he did a damn fine job of capturing that.

It also offers a great look at three characters — played by yourself, Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck — without taking any sort of moral stance on their actions.

Isn’t that nice? [Laughs] It’s interesting, I spoke to somebody who came up to me and they said, “God, I thought you were the bad guy in the film, but you’re not the bad guy in the film. There’s not really a bad guy in the film.” And I thought, how strange, how we’re so conditioned to expect an A-B-C line of events and narrative in a film, where David is much more interested in hope, love and longing, and he explores these qualities aesthetically, the way that someone may live and behave in their house alone. He would rather spend eight hours examining how one lives in their space without speaking than to have a dynamic action scene.

Do you think it’s sad that it’s so refreshing to see a movie like this?

It’s frightening, going to the movies these days. It’s a time of transition. We are being grabbed by the scruff of the backs of our neck and having our face shoved into money burning. That’s what cinema has turned into. So yeah, I think it’s refreshing that someone like David Lowery releases the restraints and allows space to exist.

That’s a good way to put it.

Burning money! That’s why we go to movies these days. We just want to see a big pile of millions of dollars burn on camera. That’s what we watch. It’s event-oriented. It has to be an event, a ride. It has to be brain-numbing. Now, of course there are examples that work. I loved “World War Z” — that was a great ride. What Brad Pitt did with that, it was a great ride. But that’s few and far between. You chose the word sad. Yeah, I’m mourning the loss of people being with each other, the exploration of being with people and how confusing it is to be a person, how clumsy it can be at times, how we’re all trying to connect on some level. I think we need more of that to be reminded that we all feel this way rather than having our heads punched in by talking cars and men in tights.


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