Casey Affleck in Karlovy Vary: “Science fiction stories are a favourite of mine so they find their way into a lot of things I do.” Photo: Film Servis Karlovy Vary
Casey Affleck, who once told me he began acting as a way to get out of going to school, has returned to the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival with his second feature as a director, Light Of My Life, an intriguing sci-fi saga.
He made it at the same time as he was promoting Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By The Sea, for which he won an Oscar. He is also the writer and takes the lead role alongside newcomer Anna Pniowsky (also at the Festival), who plays the daughter of a man struggling to survive.
The premise suggests that women are suddenly wiped out by a mysterious disease. This includes the wife of Affleck’s character, played by Elisabeth Moss, but his young daughter survives.
Affleck, 43, who has starred in Gone Baby Gone, directed by his brother, Ben Affleck, and was nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar for his performance in The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, says: “Science fiction stories are a favourite of mine so they find their way into a lot of things I do. First I came up with this bedtime story about animals that couldn’t go on Noah’s Ark. I wrote that as an animated film but nobody wanted to make it so then I added the scene of a parent telling it to his kid.”
During his Karlovy Vary encounter he explained that he sometimes learns what he is doing while he is doing it. “I started writing it about a father and a son but my kids thought I was writing about them and didn’t like it. So I based it on my niece a little bit. So much of the film is based on my experience as a parent.”
Affleck said it was the Zika virus breaking out that got him thinking about gender more. “I remember thinking what a strange phenomenon it was with one gender more susceptible to it than the other.”
He made his directorial début in 2010 with I’m Still Here – a controversial mock-u-mentary that saw Joaquin Phoenix fool the world into thinking he was retiring from acting to pursue hip-hop.
“Well, I like Andy Kaufman a lot,” said Affleck. “I was thinking about making something that would reflect the way people watch things now. I grew up when there was no Internet and I was struck by how captivating real footage can be: just a kitten playing the piano or someone falling down the stairs. When I saw The Blair Witch Project, I thought it was real! It’s a very strange movie and people were annoyed by it mostly. More people were mad at us than even saw the movie.”
Meeting the crowds in Karlovy Vary - Casey Affleck, writer, director and star of Light Of My Life Photo: Film Servis Karlovy Vary
Before Light Of My Life came to fruition he had thought of making something completely different - a remake of Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. “I showed it to the financiers: it was completely naturalistic and for most people a complete snooze. They were horrified.” He was last at the Festival with A Ghost Story in 2017, directed by David Lowery, for which he won the President’s Award.
Affleck cited his favourite acting experiences have been collaborations with his brother Ben, with David Lowery, Gus Van Sant and Andrew Dominik on The Assassination Of Jesse James By Coward Robert Ford.
“I was kind of a lead in that movie and Brad Pitt was the supporting character, which everyone thought was preposterous. The first cut of the movie was over three hours long and Brad dies at two hours, 28 minutes, so they went: ‘Well, that’s when the movie should end. No one wants to watch the movie after Brad Pitt dies.’ At least not with me in it – so it got considerably shorter.”
Affleck attended a school named after civil rights activist Rosa Parks. He recalled: “She came to our school once. I was playing a lion in a play and my mane fell off and I froze. So without any costume I just roared.” Afterwards he lined up with his classmates to meet Rosa Parks and she told him: “I liked your roar.” Affleck suggests jokingly that he has been chasing that feeling ever since - “roaring for Rosa Parks.”
Did the Oscar change his life? He replied “There is my life and who I am and there is the part of me that goes out there to promote the movies. Sometimes that is comfortable and sometimes it is uncomfortable. There is always a difference between who you are and what strangers think about who you are.”