Ben Affleck is back in Boston in the latest adaptation of a Dennis Lehane novel, Live By Night.
Ben Affleck is a longtime fan of best-selling crime author Dennis Lehane, and his new movie, Live By Night, marks the second collaboration for these Boston natives; Lehane’s Gone Baby Gone serving as Affleck’s 2006 directorial debut.
But the actor feared he might not get the opportunity to adapt Live By Night – Lehane’s second novel in the Joe Coughlin trilogy about Prohibition era Boston mobsters – after Leonardo DiCaprio snapped up the rights as a potential vehicle for himself.
Thankfully for Affleck, that never came to pass, and today he directs and also co-wrote this DiCaprio-produced glossy period drama as well as starring in the lead role of mobster Joe Coughlin, who graduates from small time Boston thug to running the mob’s liquor trafficking operation in Florida.
Lehane’s other books Mystic River, Shutter Island and The Drop were all award darlings, leaving Affleck with much to live up to on Live By Night.
Showcasing Sienna Miller’s gaudy moll, Elle Fanning’s born again Christian and Zoe Saldana’s sensuous rum-runner against a veteran cast including Chris Cooper and Brendan Gleeson, the film proved an epic undertaking involving massive sets and location work.
Not all of his cast agreed with Affleck’s vision, however, including Saldana, who twice turned down the offer to play his onscreen wife.
“I didn’t audition for this, and I didn’t want it. I said no. ‘I don’t f–ing want to do this movie.’ But Ben was very persistent,” recalls Saldana when STACK meets with her in Los Angeles. “A year and a half later he was like, ‘So did you read the new draft?’ I was pregnant with twins at the time and I was in a foul mood that morning. So we sat down and I was brutally honest with him and then he was brutally honest with me. And that inspired me. He was like, ‘Dare to do this for me. I love this era. I want to do this. I love this story, I love this writer. I believe in this adaptation that I am making, I’m working with the best people because that’s the formula. And I want you to do it with me. Honestly, I don’t want anyone else for this part.’ One, he tickles your ego. Bastard! And two, you want to believe what he sees in you.”
Portraying Coughlin’s first love, Emma Gould, Sienna Miller disappears behind a thick Irish brogue, silk flapper dresses and ’20s era make-up, causing her co-star Chris Messina to note, “She is unrecognisable from movie to movie. If you watch Foxcatcher and then Mississippi Grind and American Sniper and then see this, there’s a chance you’ll watch all four movies and not know she’s in it until the credits roll.”
Miller believes Affleck deserves kudos for hiring the best people in their fields, including award-winning costume and production designers. “It was the most stunning experience to be on these sets. You could open up any drawer in any room and there’d be a 1920s coin, a lighter or someone’s old garter. There was no stone left unturned. It was decadent and luxe and authentic. He really created an amazing atmosphere,” she says.
Fanning, 18, admits she was initially intimidated working with the writer-director-actor. “A lot of my scenes were with Ben so I felt the pressure where I’m like, ‘Oh, I have a scene with the director?!’ So you do the scene and then he’ll say ‘Cut’, and then go and watch it on the monitor. But Ben can do so many things, it’s pretty extraordinary.”
While the actresses don’t share any scenes, Saldana puts it thus: “I’m happy just to know that we are going to share screen time together. It gets really lonely being the only female, so when you know there are going to be kick-ass women coming and going in the story, and their relevance is substantial to the story, you feel great.”
Live By Night is in cinemas on January 26.