Q: What drew you to this project?
Casey Affleck: It was filmed in Massachusetts. And I like what Disney’s doing. I felt like it was a movie that had a strong message and a good story and good characters. This one is particularly exciting but it also supports the characters and the core values of Disney. And I might sound old fashioned and hokey, but it’s kind of refreshing to see a movie like that.
Q: I know that you’ve done quite a few films in the New England/Boston area. What exactly is it that draws you back to your hometown and how did your familiarity with the area affect the filming process?
Affleck: That’s a good question. I guess I like coming back here just because I’m from here. It’s nice to come home. I’m in California for the time being so I can work; that’s where the industry is. But I’d much rather be here. Boston is also a great place to make movies because they’ve been making movies here for a long time. They’ve got really good crews, which is not always the case. And everyone’s professional. And when the movie comes out and you run into the people who you made it with, from Boston, people in Boston don’t mind telling you if they hated it. So it’s nice to know, you know, where you stand. And you don’t have to guess about whether or not they actually liked it or not. That was a joke.
Q: I was wondering, from living around there, growing up around there, were you familiar at all with this story before you approached the film?
Affleck: I hadn’t heard it before. I wasn’t totally sure that it’s true. But they say it is, you know, and, I guess that’s enough to make a movie. When I did a little research, I was skeptical. I went to the Coast Guard Museum and it turns out it all really happened. It’s quite an amazing story. It’s great when you can find stories like this, totally forgotten, that you really could write a book about. You could bring cheer to the story in a lot of ways. But these days, movies are pretty great for making a spectacle, you know. All the amazing things that they can do now in movies, they can really bring something like this to life. No matter how much I heard about it or read about it, I was still really surprised, by how big the ship was and to think how big those waves must have been to split a 500-foot oil tanker in half. It’s the kind of thing you want to see someone make a movie of so you can go watch it.
Q: How did the film, being set in 1952, change your approach to the performance?
Affleck: There’s a lot of conversation about whether or not we tried to emulate the style, the acting style, from movies from that period because, stylistically, the movie looks and feels a lot like a movie from back then. In other ways, the writing and story telling, thematically, sort of feels like an old movie. So should people behave that way as well? And we decided “no.” So really I just approach it like any other movie as best I can.
Q: I read in the production notes that you were able to shoot at the actual Coast Guard Station in Chatham, where Bernie and the crew returned after the rescue mission. Can you describe for us what that felt like?
Chris Pine: We shot at the lighthouse that attached to the Coast Guard Station in Chatham. We got a chance to visit the interior of the station but I don’t think we shot any more interiors there. But we did get to go to the cafeteria, to the same spot where Bernie and his boys took a photo right after the night had ended. You can’t help but be affected by that. They take out the actual CG 36500 in the bar and they go out to the open waters where it happened, which was quite something too.
Q: Were either of you able to meet any of the actual survivors from the SS Pendleton and, if you were, how did that affect how you portrayed your role?
Affleck: A couple of guys from the CG 36500 came over. I didn’t get the opportunity to meet any of the survivors from the Pendleton. But we got to see a boat that’s similar to a T2 and get a sense of what that was like, which is pretty amazing.
CN: Chris, you play Bernie Weber, who’s the main character of this film. What elements did you bring to your character to honor Weber’s legacy?
Pine: I didn’t know Bernie, and really had only a sense of who he was from talking to Andy Fitzgerald who was on the boat with him that night and Moe Gutthrew, who’s his best friend. And there’s an autobiographical account that Bernie wrote about the night, and then obviously, the book, “The Finest Hours,” and there’s a little audio clip of Bernie describing the events of that night. Those were the things that I used to cull an idea of who the man might have been. What I like about Bernie, from the script that I was given, he was a simple guy that loved his job and loved the waters. He knew what he was doing out there but was obviously affected by a tragedy that happened a year before and didn’t know if he was up for the task of going out that night. I do love the idea of a regular man up against seemingly insurmountable odds and, more than anything, I kind of related to Bernie’s fear, you know. Bernie is a man that wears his heart on his sleeve. And he’s not like many of us that, you know, put on all this armor and try to be macho and tough. Bernie doesn’t think that way. He wears his heart on his sleeve, wants to do a good job and loves his wife.
Q: Bernie’s character was a really huge rule follower in the film at the beginning. And then at the end, he kind of learned the limits of being a rule follower and broke away from that. Were there any situations in your life where you have broken the rules or taken risks in acting or in life?
Pine: Nothing that comes to mind. We all like stories of the mavericks and the guys that go against the grain, and I think what we enjoy about men like that is they usually operate from the sense of an inner moral compass. Bernie, by following rules so closely, had lost his voice and, by learning to speak up for himself and to trust his instincts, trust his gut, trust his knowledge of those waters was, I think, part of Bernie’s evolution. Although I can’t think of anything personally that comes to mind, I think all those kind of experiences, balancing, communicating and understanding ourselves, occur on a daily basis.
Affleck: What Chris is doing there is he’s telling some of the bigger themes of the picture. It’s about the inner compass of a man. There’s the compass, they lose their compass and they still find their way because there’s an inner moral compass that guides them. The guiding light here, for Disney, for Chris, for all of us, is selflessness and heroism in the face of 50 foot waves.
Q: Both of your characters are faced with not only overcoming a big storm, but there are also personal struggles to overcome themselves. How can you relate to your character and his determination in the role you’re portraying when filming?
Pine: In our own tiny way, being in the film business is hard enough and there’s a lot of luck involved in it, obviously. You face an incredible amount of rejection. I assume, just by being alive, that people can feel not part of the group or not liked or that they don’t have friends or don’t have as many friends as they want and feel out of place. And I certainly saw that in Bernie. It’s a great thing but, what we get to do as actors, is that even enough? I’ll never know what it’s really like to be a Coast Guardsman, or really never know what it’s like to go up against 70 foot waves and zero visibility and what it’s like to rescue men off a split oil tanker. There are certain kinds of general human emotions and feelings that you can attach to and bring your own experience to.
Q: Did you learn or take away anything from your experience playing your respective characters? If so, what was it?
Pine: What I liked about Bernie is that he’s a simple guy and I don’t mean that derogatorily. I love Bernie because he loves his job and wants to do it well and he loves his woman and wants to love his woman well, and have a bunch of kids, and live happily ever afterward. He did for a long time. There’s an honesty and a truth to him. He’s just a good, solid man who goes about his business not seeking any sort of pat on the back. It’s just because he wants to do right and he knows that’s the only way he can function. And I learned a lot from him. I think about that, how there is a purity in wanting to do your job well and to serve other people because you don’t need much more than that. Oftentimes in our business, it’s all about stuff that’s completely opposite from getting your picture taken and tweeting and all that stuff that I just think takes away from those good old fashioned values.