Casey Affleck On Being “Unusually Calm” During Crisis In THE FINEST HOURS

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Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) being unusually calm in THE FINEST HOURS. Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.

Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) being unusually calm in THE FINEST HOURS. Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.

Courtney Howard // Film Critic

Casey Affleck isn’t exactly an actor who’s made a career off of “safe bets.” Usually selecting roles in more daring films helmed by filmmakers with strong visions (THE ASSASINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD, TO DIE FOR, OUT OF THE FURNACE, AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS), the affable talent battles a few of the bruising elements of Mother Nature’s wrath in THE FINEST HOURS, starring as the SS Pendleton’s first assistant engineer.

In director Craig Gillespie’s harrowing adventure, after the T2 tanker split in half during a brutal nor’easter storm at sea, Ray Sybert is called upon to lead the remaining men aboard the ship. It’s a story of survival, unshakable courage and true heroism.

Casting Affleck (who, incidentally, gave shoulder massages to a few members of the press during our roundtable interview session) in the role was a bit of a no-brainer for Gillespie. What it really boiled down to was making sure the part was substantial enough for the audience to care about Sybert and the obstacles (both emotional and physical) he and the remaining crew faced on that sinking vessel.

“Starting on the script with Scott Silver, we were trying to figure out how do we make this guy interesting? The really interesting dynamic on the Pendleton was all the officers died – there was nobody in charge. For Casey’s character, we really liked this idea that he is anti-authority. He detests them – it’s kind of like the working man complaining about the boss upstairs. So when he gets that role thrust upon him, he’s gotta be the guy that he hates.”

What resonated with Affleck was Sybert’s quiet reserve during times of chaos.

“He’s someone who doesn’t go about making a big show out of everything, you know? He’s sort of flat, dry, quiet, but considerate and kind – not like bitter or grumpy. I made it a point to be kind to the other characters so you see his reluctance to lead isn’t because he doesn’t like people. He’s not like the Grouch. He’s more like a librarian at sea. There were a bunch of scenes where you find me reading. He’s sort of bizarrely, unusually calm and composed in a way you’d think was believable and possible and striking because it was different.

People, in my experience, behave so differently in situations that are super stressful like that. You’ll find people who are supposed to be the take charge leaders and they panic. Then there’s the guy who happens to be their janitor, or whatever, who says, ‘I’ll take care of the situation.’ That’s what we wanted to do with this guy.”

Joking around or not, he later went on to say he added a little bit of the director into his role as the Pendleton’s de-facto leader.

“I tried to put a little of bit of Craig into the character. He has a very dry, very flat, you know – like it’s almost a syndrome. With all the chaos and shit on the set, he’d always have a very nonplused, understated reaction to things. So I started using little mannerisms of his. I think he subconsciously was like, ‘oh. I like this guy.”

THE FINEST HOURS opens on January 29.

About author

Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.