It’s been a year of highs and lows for actor Casey Affleck who plays a ghost in the new David Lowery film, “A Ghost Story.” For most of the movie, playing now, he’s silent and cloaked in a white sheet with eye holes cut out as he returns to his home to look in on his still-living partner played by Rooney Mara. It’s a weird, wild, sometimes funny and breathtakingly gorgeous film that will leave you thinking about the big ideas of love, life, eternity.
Affleck, coming off a best actor win for “Manchester by the Sea” and an awards season marred by intense public scrutiny around a past civil sexual harassment lawsuit, is dipping his toes back in the spotlight to promote the film. He spoke about about his past year and moving on from it.
Even though “A Ghost Story” isn’t a scary horror style film, there’s something about it that’s very haunting.
AFFLECK: It’s been great how much people have responded to it. Usually you have some sense of what a movie is going to be, and this is probably the film that turned out most differently than what I expected.
This is one film where a ghost costume really matters.
AFFLECK: I can’t think of another single costume in another movie where so much of the movie depended on it working. The sheet looks simple, but it wasn’t just a sheet, and it was hard to get it to look that way. It was a perfect balance of not being exactly scary, but not seeming silly and also not seeming slapdash.
What made you choose to do a movie where you are acting through a sheet most of the time?
AFFLECK: I may be unusual, I can’t say for sure in this regard, but when I heard that I was like, “I’m totally in.” The idea of being hidden somehow was so appealing to me. And David doesn’t have to persuade me. I have so much fun working with him and Rooney and his producers. It was a three-second conversation.
Rooney Mara eating the pie has certainly been one of the most talked about parts of the film.
AFFLECK: There was quite a bit of build up to that. What kind of pie is it going to be? Where is the pie coming from? Who is making the pie? Rooney had strangely never eaten a pie which is the weirdest thing. There are lots of things I haven’t eaten, but you’d think a pie is something you’d have come across at some point.
“A Ghost Story” definitely makes your audience think as it’s a rather contemplative study. Do you think this will keep it more in the indie theaters than breaking out to mainstream audiences?
AFFLECK: I don’t really consider myself a cinephile. I have pretty mainstream tastes. I have an appetite for some difficult movies like Tarkovsky movies or Bela Tarr movies. But I also kind of really just love “World War Z,” too. And I love this movie. I think it’s really, really moving and romantic and sweet and full of ideas that I wasn’t really aware of.
A good movie tends to bring out all of these ideas from other things that you read and this movie does that in a way that’s really accessible. I don’t think it’s a weird, esoteric, experimental art house movie at all. It’s very touching, just not dumbed down.
Three times with David has been a charm. What do you think his future holds?
AFFLECK: I think he’s one of our most interesting directors. I would bet that he has a very long career marked by very different types of movies in the same vein as the Coen brothers or Stanley Kubrick. And I bet, just like those guys, there will be a few masterpieces in there.
Your next feature is “Light of My Life” which you’re directing?
AFFLECK: Just finished a first cut. It’s torture. You have to sit there with something you wrote, acted in, were there every day directing. You see the first (cut) and think, “Wow, I’ve made one of the worst movies of all time.” I’ve been reassured by directors who I really love who make great movies that that’s always their experience, too.
The past year brought you both highs and lows. Do you have any reflections on that experience?
AFFLECK: There were very high moments and there were some difficult challenges. Winning an Oscar was such a high it was an out of body experience. I was genuinely honored by that and the other awards for “Manchester.”
Publicizing a movie is, you know, something that I’m used to. That’s part of my job, and I have no complaints talking about the work. The challenges of being spoken about personally in the media were very sobering, and they really hurt, especially my family which is what I really cared about.
And it was confusing because it was all so at odds with my core values. The more kindness and compassion we can find for all people, the better all our lives will be. And I believe harassment of any kind is completely unacceptable. Bullying and mistreatment of anyone is totally abhorrent. Everyone should be treated with respect in the workplace and anywhere else. That’s what I teach my kids, and it’s how I try to live my life.
However, I couldn’t and can’t talk about it as it related to me because everyone involved signed something saying we wouldn’t talk about it and that it has been settled to the mutual satisfaction of all parties. That’s all we can say. So I am just trying to move on. Period.
Ultimately, I am really glad that there’s a heightened cultural awareness around those issues. I took my kids to the Women’s March in Vancouver where I was working, and there were a lot of people there. It was a family event and I got the sense that this generation of kids growing up, my own included, are going to be filled with a sense of activist empowerment and they’re going to be loud voices for social justice. I think that that might be the silver lining.