PARK CITY, Utah — Actors Ben Affleck and Rosemary Dewitt play two central characters in the much-anticipated “The Company Men," which premiered last weekend at the Sundance Film Festival. Affleck, a native of Boston, plays Bobby Walker, a hard worker from a working class background in Framingham who has his sense of identity threatened when he loses his high-paying corporate job. His wife Maggie (Dewitt) helps him as he discovers his identity outside of the cutthroat corporate world.
Blast got a chance to sit down with the actors at Sundance as part of a roundtable interview with other journalists. We talked with them about the film’s message concerning the American dream, corporate America and the unique realities of an actor’s life. Watch below for a clip from the interview, and keep scrolling to read the interview.
BLAST: Ben, how did you find your character?
Ben Affleck: There was a little bit of internet research to start. John (Wells, director) showed me some internet sites with people who had gone through this experience and then it was really constructing a biography. Then I went home and talked to some people from Framingham. I kind of keyed into that town because I knew a lot about it since I am from Boston, so that wasn’t that hard.
BLAST: Where is your character from exactly?
BA: The character is from Framingham, which is really suburban. It’s right out by route 128 about 10 minutes outside of Boston. It could be kind of suburban anywhere, but it isn’t. It’s got specifics too. So I went there and keyed into it and talked to some people. I went and visited some companies and talked to some folks who still had their jobs, which I thought was kind of interesting even though their companies were in for some big layoffs. Then I put the character based on that. There was a kid I went to school with who I really based most of it on. I like to find one person I know really, really well to base it one because you have a ready made, full biography of like 20 years which does all this work for youâ€¦ I’m lazy I guess.
To me the character struck me as a guy who worked really hard on this goal that he had. He started out with relatively modest means, go to college, work really hard, get this job and work your way up the ladder. Have the Porsche, have the nice house, get the job, get the promotion, kill himself for the company and the promise was then you will be happy. That is the American dream and then he lost it all. And there is this feeing of betrayal and emasculation and confusion and loss that was really powerful to look at.
BLAST: John talked about how there is a sense of distrust between employees and employers now. Did you get that feeling when you were talking to people who still had jobs?
The people I talked to just have this thing that reminded me of stories you read about in American history. "The Trail of Tears" or something. These forced marches where people would die but you keep marching. There is this internalized fear that people are dying but you’re thinking, "I gotta live.” I’m sorry about him, sorry about them but there wasn’t a lot of pause to mourn anybody else. Most people would go and would get forgotten because if you start worrying or pausing for those people, you would die too. People really viewed their job in the very primal caveman way of going out with a stick and providing for your family. You’ve got to go kill the lion or whatever and bring it back to the cave. You eat the lion or the lion eats you.
BLAST: In your professional careers, have you ever felt that gutted by the loss of a job or something that went wrong in your own careers where you were able to tap into that for your roles in "The Company Men?"
Rosemary Dewitt: I fell like that is part of the gig of just being an actor. I know actors who are out of work for years at a time. And if they thought their worth was equal to what their career was or what their resume was, they would probably jump off of a building. Someone said to me very early on in my career,"When you go into the room to audition, pretend that you have a little Uzi in your bag." And I was like that is such a violent image. But they said “No, your Uzi could be ‘my grandmother thinks I’m awesome’ or ‘I did something really good today for my next door neighbor.'” I think everyone needs that sort of stockpile of what’s really important, because your stuff will go. Your career’s going to end. I watched my dad when he retired and all these men are like “What are we doing today?” The thing about the movie is it asks you to ask yourself those types of questions, which when people say "Why see this movie?" You have to ask these questions — everybody does.
BA: Actors are really unusual in that they live that reality from the beginning. You get really inured to that. You start out as an actor…it is really unstable. You never have that kind of stability that most other jobs have promised. You always know your next job could be your last. So you audition for something and get that, who knows if you’ll get the next audition. And you learn that lesson rather quickly. I think every actor internalizes that on some level and lives with it. But it is also why see people get moved by actors who make big comebacks. I was reading a book about old Hollywood and there was this speech that Sinatra gave about how he thought he was washed up at 37. And then he got "From Here to Eternity," but before he was having to borrow money. Actors’ lives, even Sinatra’s, have those movements in them. But most Americans’ jobs aren’t like that. We expect, and, I think, fairly, that if you give this much time to a company that they are not going to just saw you off on a whim.
RD: And that’s the promise. Go for the stable job. Go for the one that gives you the 401k. Don’t go be a creative person because then you are going to be dealing with uncertainty for the rest of your life. You might not have any pension. When you go for that you expect the company to take care of you.
BA: that’s the exchange.
RD: That’s the thing, because I think a lot of people in corporate America could have chosen something creative.
BA: They would have been sculptors if they had wanted instability.
RD: I remember someone saying they were going into sales, and I asked, "What are you selling?" And they said, “It doesn’t matter. I’m going into sales."
BA: They would have started drinking at lunch and painting if they wanted uncertainty.
Rosemary, what do you keep in your "bag," if not an Uzi, for maintaining that confidence or edge?
RD: I think it changes. I don’t know that it always gives you a measure of confidence. I think as I get older I try to figure out there is more. There are times — I hate to admit it — that you don’t get the job or you hear some criticism that sends you reeling in a way, that has you saying, “Come on. I know this. I’ve learned this lesson." For me it falls into the category of wanting more.
It is always a competitive process for you guys. This job is very competitive. How do you handle that?
BA: You try to learn the lesson that it shouldn’t be. That it’s not. I’ve always tried to feel like there is a role for everybody and that there are a lot of great actors. And I root for other actors. I like other actors and directors and writers. I respect them. I know people who feel like every time someone else succeeds they’re taking food out of their mouth and I know people who don’t. And I have always tried to be the latter. I have my smallness inside me, and my better half, and I’ve tried to veer towards the better half. I think we all struggle back and forth with it, I know I do. It’s tough. This movie speaks to the way that materialism and corporate America tries to solve that by trying to tell us, “You know what is going to make you feel better about that? Better than the Jones’s and not worrying about the next guy? Buy this new blender. You know you should try this other snowboard even though you’ve never snowboarded before. How about a carbon fiber 10-speed? And we accumulate stuff.
RD: It is such an outward-looking competition. Saying “What does that person have?” or “Is this person taking something away from me?” And I feel like in this movie it goes from the outward to what does a country club membership mean? I mean really what does it mean? It just means that you can go play golf.
BA: What it means to people is that they have elevated themselves and become part of an elite. So they raise themselves up from others so they feel special, they feel better that they have accomplished something. It’s literally buying self-esteem. Some people get self-esteem that way. The only real way to get it is by doing estimable things, but that’s the hardest to do.
Brooklynne Kelly Peters contributed to this story.
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