TOWNIES AND TOONIES
When we meet the character of Doug MacRay, he and his crew are in a van outside the Cambridge Merchant Bank, seconds away from their next robbery. In Affleck's words, Doug is "banging against the walls of his own life, still doing the stuff he knows is bad for him but unable to change."
Affleck continues, "He had a shot at a different future--he had a chance to play pro hockey--but he self-destructed. He got addicted to drugs and spun out, so instead of getting out, he came back and, in spite of himself, ended up even deeper in it. That's where we find him. He's cleaned up a bit, in terms of getting sober, and he wants to leave, but he can't escape his circumstances."
"That's what was most intriguing about this guy," Stockard asserts. "He is at a point in his life where he realizes if he doesn't leave, he's never going to change. It's not just that he doesn't want to go to prison or, worse, get killed, which is what will inevitably happen if he stays in Charlestown and continues to do this sort of work. What he wants more than anything is to be a different person."
"Part of where he is in his life is a function of how and where he grew up," Affleck relates. "His mother left; his father was in this life; and Doug wound up doing the same thing as the friends he grew up with. It doesn't excuse it, but hopefully you see the shades of gray in the reasons he ended up where he is. It's not just cut-and-dried."
"Ben really understood Doug's psychological and emotional journey," King says, "so when he said he was interested in playing the role, we knew there was no one better," says King. "I was blown away, not only by how Ben depicted the arc of the character but by the intensity of his performance."
The arc of Doug's life contrasts sharply with that of Jem, his closest friend and a kind of brother-in-arms, albeit on the wrong side of the law. Unlike Doug, Jem is resigned to the life he was essentially born to and has no compunctions about his criminal pursuits.
Jeremy Renner observes, "Given their upbringing, Jem and Doug had to lean on each other throughout their lives, so they are definitely more like brothers than friends. But now Doug is veering away from the only life Jem has ever known and Jem is trying to reel him back in, to knock some sense into him, as if to say, 'We're bank robbers. That's what we do; that's all we are.' The conflict between them lies within that."
"Doug and Jem have a complicated back story," Affleck comments. "They've been best friends since they were kids, but they have become very different people…people who would not be friends if they met today. However, because they have this shared history of loyalty and love they are bound to each other, and that puts a lot of pressure on Doug. Jem is always on the verge of being out of control, and Doug is the only one who has been able to make sure he doesn't go too far."
Renner agrees that Jem is "a wildcard," noting that his character's propensity for violence added to the challenge of making him multidimensional. "He is not any one thing. He's flawed--maybe more flawed than others, but there are moments when you see another side," the actor contends. "It was important to me that Jem be a fully realized human being and not just some gun-toting thug. I understood that he could be a scary guy, but I also wanted to bring a sense of humor and heart to him."
According to Iwanyk, Renner succeeded. "Jeremy was a revelation. He transformed Jem from being just a crazy menace to someone I was emotionally invested in. My heart broke for him, which is something I didn't anticipate when I first read the script."
"Jeremy captured the dichotomy of this guy who does things that might seem unforgivable, but, by the same token, you still like him," Affleck affirms. "Jem is obviously damaged, but you can see why he is who he is because of what Jeremy brought to the role. He is a terrific actor and such a sweet guy, and that humanity bleeds through the pores of his performance."
Renner says that Affleck--both as a director and as a castmate--made portraying the enduring friendship between Jem and Doug a natural. "I felt like I was working with one of my best friends. Ben empowered me to do whatever I thought was right, and if it worked, he got so excited. He set an amazing tone and made everyone feel relaxed and comfortable. It was great."
The subtle rift that had begun between Doug and Jem is amplified when, during the Cambridge Merchant Bank job, Jem brutally beats the assistant bank manager and then, in a sudden and desperate move, takes the bank manager, Claire Keesey, hostage.
Though the gang quickly releases her, Jem, in particular, gets nervous when they discover that Claire lives in Charlestown, within blocks of them. What if she saw or heard something that could connect them to the robbery? Jem would rather not wait to find out, but, knowing what that might mean, Doug steps in. Affleck details, "In an effort to calm everybody down, Doug says he'll deal with it. He starts following Claire around, which leads to an unexpected encounter. And that sets in motion a series of events that will change his life."
In fact, another kind of "change" is the innocuous reason they meet, when Claire approaches Doug at the Laundromat asking if he has any spare quarters for the machine. Claire has no idea who Doug really is or that they already have a connection. Ironically, it's that connection--the bank robbery and her being taken hostage--which becomes the catalyst for their romance.
Rebecca Hall explains, "It's that thing that happens when relationships are fostered in extreme circumstances: the bonds are much closer. The fact that Claire meets Doug when she is crying and having a bit of a meltdown leads to an immediate spark between them--not necessarily because of any natural chemistry they have, but because she needs someone in that moment and then there he is, this stranger, smiling at her and making her laugh. In other circumstances maybe she wouldn't have gone out with him, but she's open and vulnerable and he appears slightly like a knight in shining armor."
Affleck says he cast Hall as Claire not only because "she is beautiful and incredibly talented, but she has this way about her that feels real. That kind of honesty and normalcy was especially important for this role. You believe she is somebody who could work in a bank. She seems like she could be someone who just moved into this neighborhood."
Hall remarks, "I thought it was fascinating that this sort of, for lack of a better word, 'yuppie' kind of woman--what the local Townies call a 'Toonie'--is making her home there and going about her life even after what happens to her. I thought there had to be something strong and sassy about her, that she refuses to be victimized. It made her interesting to play."
As the connection between Doug and Claire deepens, Affleck says, "She comes to represent the way in which he can finally change…the version of his life that could be different from what he's known."
The more Doug sees alternatives in his life, the greater a threat he is to his crew, as well as to Jem's sister, Krista, though not for the same reasons. Blake Lively, who plays the role, offers, "All Krista wants is for Doug to love her and take her away from there. She's grown up around these tough guys who are doing everything wrong, but they were her only role models. Now she's a single mom who does what she has to do to get by."
Lively adds that Krista's mix of street smarts and fragility was what drew her to the role. "She has layers of darkness and vulnerability and toughness and desperation. Krista could easily appear to be not very redeemable, but I was chomping at the bit to play her because I knew she could be portrayed in a way that made her a sympathetic character, and you could understand her behavior."
Iwanyk says, "Blake brought a perfect combination of pathos, sexiness, sadness and aggression to Krista."
"When I met Blake," Affleck recalls, "I said, 'Here's something you don't hear much in Hollywood: we're really looking for someone older and less attractive,'" he smiles. "But she was incredible. She spent time with people in Charlestown and really invested herself in understanding the character and the depths to which Krista goes to survive."
"In many ways, Krista is her own worst enemy," Lively confirms. "And she's pretty good at dragging Doug down, too, without realizing that's what she's doing. When Claire comes into the picture, Krista isn't even aware of her, but she feels Doug pulling away and she's fighting against the waves so hard."
Someone else who is unaware of the relationship between Doug and Claire is FBI Special Agent Frawley, who heads up a task force investigating bank robberies in Boston. "He doesn't buy the whole idea of this being part of the culture in Charlestown," says Affleck. "He just thinks they're criminals and he's determined to take them down."
Cast as Frawley, Jon Hamm acknowledges, "He is an outsider. But although he is not from Boston, he has a lot of experience with these types of crimes and has been there awhile, so he knows all the players."
This latest string of robberies is frustrating Frawley because he knows who the perpetrators are, but still hasn't been able to nail them. "It creates an interesting dynamic between my character and Ben's character," Hamm says. "A fundamental element of a good heist movie is the interplay between the good guys and the bad guys. Who's going to win? But here, the line between the good guys and the bad guys is less defined because you can empathize with both."
"I'm a huge fan of Jon's, so I felt really lucky to have him in the cast," states Affleck. "When I met with the real FBI agents, I noticed that they projected a certain kind of power and intelligence, and Jon conveyed that. He's acutely smart and there is something about him that innately commands respect. It would be hard to imagine an actor who was more right for this role."
Unlike Frawley, Boston Police Detective Dino Ciampa is a Townie, born and raised. Titus Welliver, who worked with Affleck in "Gone Baby Gone," plays the role. "Dino grew up in Charlestown, but chose a different line of work from Doug and Jem," Welliver says. "Now he's sort of an outcast among that group; we see in one scene that they consider him a 'rat.' They've laid down the gauntlet, and now it's become personal. Dino is hell-bent to get these guys."
Having grown up in the town, Dino knows how to make it personal when interrogating Doug: bringing up Doug's father, who is serving time at the state's maximum security prison in Walpole. Oscar® winner Chris Cooper appears as Stephen MacRay in a single scene shot on location in Walpole--the only movie scene ever filmed there. Affleck remembers, "I had worked with Chris in a movie we did just prior to 'The Town,' and I know he lives in Massachusetts, so I called him up and asked him to play Doug's father. We ended up talking for about four hours on the phone, and he really got into our characters' back story and relationship."
Coincidentally, on the day Cooper filmed his scene Affleck's own father was making a rare visit to the set. "I could see Chris was kind of observing him," Affleck says. "My father has glasses, so Chris went and got similar glasses and did some other things that were actually intimidating to me, which was perfect for the scene. He became the character. All the real guards who were there that day said it looked like he'd been at Walpole for 10 years. We were all blown away by his performance."
The cast and crew were equally impressed by another veteran actor. Pete Postlethwaite plays Fergie Colm, a florist whose business is a front for money laundering, drug dealing, and other criminal enterprises. Though not physically imposing, "it was important that Fergie still be a threatening presence," Graham King notes. "Pete brought great authority to the role; even when he's smiling, he can make you believe it would be dangerous to cross him, which is exactly what we needed."
"Chris Cooper and Pete Postlethwaite both brought tremendous credibility to their roles," Affleck adds. "It's humbling to work alongside actors of their caliber, let alone to direct them."
Postlethwaite, in turn, had high praise for his director, saying, "Ben's ability to reflect the technique of acting in his direction is an actor's dream. He knew when you felt you had gotten it wrong and would like to go again, but, better still, he knew when it felt right and there was no need. I'd leap at the chance to work with him again on his next film."
The filmmakers rounded out the cast with a number of locals, some of whom had never stepped in front of a camera before "The Town." Affleck says, "My goal was to immerse the audience in a sense of place, and having people who come from that milieu helped achieve that. As the character Gloansy says in the movie, it's more 'authenticious.'"
Boston native Slaine, who had made his acting debut in "Gone Baby Gone," was cast in the part of Albert "Gloansy" Magloan, who teams with Doug and Jem in their robbery crew. Slaine says, "Ben knows the area so well. He really has his finger on the pulse of the people there, and that comes through in the movie." In addition to his role, Slaine, who is also making his name as a recording artist, can be heard performing on the song "Run It" in the film.
Discovered at an open casting call in Charlestown, Owen Burke won the role of Desmond Elden, called Dez, the fourth member of the gang. Interestingly, Burke came into the movie with some inside knowledge of the story. "I've actually met a few bank robbers from Charlestown," he reveals. "They were pretty open with me about some of the things they did, so I can say firsthand that a lot of the movie is realistic."
Another local, Dennis McLaughlin, who makes his acting debut as Rusty, Fergie's "muscle," just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Affleck recounts, "We found him while scouting locations. I was walking through this apartment and there's this huge guy, shirt off, sitting on the couch watching TV. He's got a tattoo of Massachusetts on his arm with the colors of the Irish flag and the Charlestown zip code, and I thought, 'This guy is spectacular.' We asked him to come in to read and he ended up being perfect. Here's someone who'd been in prison, got out and worked really hard to turn his whole life around. As Rusty, he's naturally intimidating, but Dennis is really a sweetheart."
Turnabout was also fair play in casting "The Town." Several Townies who had had trouble with the law in the past were cast as cops, and worked alongside several real-life cops who served as extras in the film. "Talent-wise, we had an abundance of riches in Boston," Affleck says.
Executive producer David Crockett affirms, "Many of the people you see in the movie are from Boston, and the majority of them are from Charlestown. During filming, some of those people would come up to Ben and tell him, 'You know, I would actually say it this way,' or 'I might really do it that way,' and Ben would immediately say, 'Do that then. I want to see that.' The bottom line for Ben is authenticity; the real deal trumps everything else because he believes that translates to the audience."
ACCENTS AND ACCURACY
The locally cast actors had one major advantage over their non-native colleagues: they didn't have to learn to do a Boston accent--more specifically, Charlestown. Contrary to the popular stereotype, it's not just about dropping your Rs. "It's fairly nuanced, so the accent can be pretty hard to get," Affleck says. Nevertheless, he recommended that his cast to do more listening than learning, so to speak.
"I was initially nervous about the accent," Renner offers, "but when I mentioned getting a dialect coach, Ben didn't want any of that. He told me, 'Just listen to some of the guys here; you'll get a feel for it.' He didn't want to go too heavy-handed. We just tried to layer it in as accurately as possible, without overdoing it."
Despite the fact that Renner had followed the director's own advice, Affleck admits, "I was amazed at how quickly Jeremy got the accent down and how natural he sounded. I don't know how he did it; he was incredible."
Blake Lively also spent time in Charlestown, picking up both the accent and the attitude of the Townie women. "I spent some time hanging out with them," she relates, "but instead of asking questions or trying to imitate their accent, I ended up just being silent and taking it in. I realized that if I was talking, I wouldn't be listening. I also watched how they connect with one another and how their speech changes, depending on who they're talking to. It was interesting to watch how some of them balanced their sexuality with being tough, like, 'Don't mess with me.'"
Rebecca Hall, who hails from England rather than New England, did not have to tackle the Charlestown accent, as Claire Keesey comes from the coastal Massachusetts town of Marblehead. The actress says, "I listened to tapes of people from Marblehead and what I discovered was that many speak with more of a general east coast dialect. So, apart from doing an American accent, I tried to pick up on those distinct little things that set it apart, which is something I enjoy doing."
There was a more physical learning curve for the actors portraying both criminals and cops, who were involved in the film's extensive gunplay sequences. The men trained with property master and armorer Douglas Fox, as well as stunt coordinator Gary Hymes, to learn how to properly and safely handle a variety of firearms, ranging from automatic weapons to handguns to shotguns.
Jon Hamm also had the benefit of working directly with FBI consultant Thomas B. Devlin, who grew up in Charlestown and went on to spend twenty-four years in the Bureau, eight of those overseeing the SWAT program in Boston. "He was the go-to guy for any questions we had," Hamm says. "It was extremely helpful to have him around. It was also amusing because a few of the guys we had working as extras or in bit parts were gentlemen Mr. Devlin had arrested in their previous careers. So it was always fun to see who Tom had a previous, um, 'relationship' with," he grins.
Devlin's years with SWAT enabled him to do double duty: as both the FBI consultant and a SWAT advisor. "It was a gift to have Tom on the set," says Affleck. "He was very instructive about the inner workings of the agency, and, having come from Charlestown, he really knew the history of the place and the people. He is also emblematic of the fact that the town has produced some great people with strong values and a lot of integrity--something that doesn't get showcased very much."
A number of real police officers also participated in some of the action scenes, which brought added veracity to the proceedings. Crockett says, "The Boston Police, the local FBI office and other police departments in the vicinity really opened their doors to us. We had a lot of assistance from all levels of law enforcement."
"The trickier part of our research," Affleck allows, "was getting into the mindset of the Charlestown underworld, but we found people who were willing to speak to us. Although every conversation ended with, 'Don't tell anyone I talked to you,'" he laughs.
Basil Iwanyk elaborates, "We had a few unofficial consultants--trust me, very important consultants--who added a lot of specificity to the movie. Some of them were pretty tough customers, at least on paper, but they turned out to be some of the nicest guys you'd ever want to meet."