Christian Bale (left) plays Casey Affleck’s brother in “Out of the Furnace”
LOS ANGELES – In “Out of the Furnace” (opening Friday), Christian Bale plays Russell Baze, a hardworking steelworker in Braddock, Pennsylvania — a working class, rustbelt town that obviously has seen much better days. The mill is about to close, due to foreign competition, and Bale’s Russell character is simply trying to hold his family and his life together.
He’s nursing a dying father, plus dealing with his younger brother Rodney (played by Casey Affleck), a troubled Iraq War veteran who has all kinds of problems — including a serious gambling addiction that has him indebted to a bookie [Willem Dafoe] with strong local crime connections. On top of all that, Russell gets himself thrown into prison, after being convicted of driving drunk — causing the death of an innocent kid.
During a recent interview, the Oscar winner talked about the issues raised in the film about bad things happening to basically good guys, being the “rock” of a family group, relating to economic issues facing many Americans in dead-end jobs — plus playing opposite Woody Harrelson, who portrays one heck of a scary villain.
Q: Did shooting this in the real town of Braddock make it easier to understand the culture of the people who live and work there — like the character you play?
A: Absolutely. I’m not American, but I know there are many, many people in America who will understand the facts of life in a town like Braddock, Pennsylvania. People who work hard, try to pay their bills, but are barely keeping their heads above water. A lot of people have family members — or know of people who do — who are troubled, for all kinds of reasons. It can be gambling or drugs or psychological problems. Having to support family members like that is a huge challenge. But people do it out of loyalty — knowing it’s not only the right thing to do, but something they just instinctively feel that have to do.
Q: I understand you actually had locals as extras in the film. Real people who live there. That also had to help.
A: We did, and we did get to know them as well. We got to know those people, ate with them, drank in their bars and got a sense of life in that town. One thing that stuck with me: One man I met told me he had never been east of Scranton — a town just a few miles away! That’s true of people all over the world — many people, maybe most people, don’t ever travel more than a few miles from where they were born. They defines you. I’ve lived all over the world and I’ve seen that, so I know it’s true.
Q: Wood Harrelson plays a meth manufacturer and dealer. Plus he’s perhaps one of the scariest characters we’ve seen in awhile. How was that playing opposite him?
A: It’s funny, because Woody is one of the nicest, sweetest guys you can meet. But he’s also one helluva great actor. He just threw himself into that part beautifully. It was terrific to watch him create the character of Harlan DeGroat was inspiring for me as an actor.
He was so terrifying, but that’s what made him believable.
Q: Along with loyalty and being supportive of family members in trouble, this film also has a strong message about revenge and finding justice — even if it happens outside the law. Your thoughts about that?
A: Obviously, I don’t advocate doing that personally, but I must say I understand how a guy could be pushed to seek justice for his family and himself — especially when he thinks the official authorities are not doing enough to achieve it. Frustration — particularly when it comes to official institutions can be a very hard thing to accept. It also can lead you to do things you otherwise would never think of doing.