The Messenger's Ben Foster: 'I Love and Hate What I Do'
With awards season in full swing, Movieline has launched a new recurring feature called "For Your Reconsideration," where we speak to the talented people whose contributions to the year in film are worthy of a second look. This week: Ben Foster from The Messenger.
For years, directors have counted on Ben Foster to add verve and nerve to a host of supporting parts in films like 3:10 to Yuma, X-Men: The Last Stand, and Alpha Dog, but Oren Moverman's The Messenger affords him a different opportunity: the chance to harness all of his skill and become a leading man. As Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery, Foster expertly illustrates a man who's unmoored upon his return from the war, yet pulled into the gravity of two very different people: his new partner in a casualty notification unit (Woody Harrelson), and a young widow (Samantha Morton) who Will becomes consumed with after being forced to give her the bad news.
Foster had some bad news of his own to report when he called me last week to discuss the role. Once we'd gotten past that, the 29-year-old actor opened up about the effect of playing so many emotional parts, the way he reconciles his tattoos with his character, and how his feelings on the war are forever changed.
Hey, Kyle. I'm just leaving a hospital and getting into a cab. Excuse me if I start muttering to a cab driver in just a second.
Were you shooting in a hospital?
No, I was injured in a stunt and came in for an MRI. This is often how we spend our days in movieland!
Have you injured yourself doing a stunt before?
So this is old hat for you.
[Laughing] The hat is done! I injured myself in the boot camp for Black Hawk Down. On the last day, I tore my abductor muscle in three places, then got to set and I couldn't do it. I lost a job in Morocco. On this particular job, I'm almost done, so I'm not losing any jobs from me being too physical.
You wouldn't normally think of acting as a profession where you need to get a lot of MRIs, but I guess you never know.
You never know. Work hazards, man!
Anyway, The Messenger. You know, when your character is first assigned to be a part of this casualty notification unit, he's not looking forward to it, he knows how emotionally taxing it will be. Obviously, it was going to be taxing for you as an actor to play out those scenes, too. Did you have any similar reservations that the part would take a lot out of you?
I wouldn't say they were "reservations" necessarily. It's what we're interested in as actors -- we're interested in the qualities of experience, and some of those experiences are difficult, particularly in dramas when conflict is the engine. I was excited to ask these questions with these people. How do we really deal with grief in our own lives? More importantly, when we have to deliver this news to strangers and we haven't dealt with the traumas of our own lives, we get sick. The hope is that it would be a cathartic experience.
Do you find that to be the case, that when you finish shooting a film like this, you feel like you've satisfied something?
To lesser or more degrees. When it's the opportunity to ask challenging questions, rather than prove a point, there can be healing in life. Sometimes, the time frame of the picture doesn't allow for a complete flushing, but that's why, ideally, you take time off after and reevaluate and consider and rest.