From hard drama to bruising action, Ben Foster’s varied resume declares him an actor willing to go many places for a performance. He all but stole Nick Cassavetes’ Alpha Dog, more than held his own against Russell Crowe and Christian Bale in 3:10 To Yuma, and earned some deserved acclaim for his turn as an American soldier in 2009’s critical favorite, The Messenger.
This week, Foster stars alongside Jason Statham in the action thriller The Mechanic, a noisy remake of the 1972 Charles Bronson vehicle. Statham takes the Bronson role of the professional assassin double-crossed into murdering his boss, with Foster the dead man’s son who becomes an apprentice to dad’s killer. The talented actor brings an unusual level of edge and tension for this kind of film; in return, the movie gave him his share of physical souvenirs.
“I got pretty banged up,” he admits, “but that’s part of the fun. You get the opportunity to scare the **** out of yourself.” Doing so involved performing many of his own stunts — including a spectacular 30-story fall down the side of a skyscraper, attached to a cable. Statham, Foster says, spurred him on. “You wanna step up to his level of athleticism and stone-cold courage,” he explains. “That guy’s got some nuts, you know — he does some scary ****.”
Back in the relative safety of a hotel suite, we sat down with Foster to ask him his five favorite films. And here they are.
You couldn’t get away with making that movie today. It’s wild. It’s a wild film, and it’s the great American dream gone wrong. It’s Citizen Kane on its ass. It’s a man who comes from nothing and builds a world and loses an empire and finds love. I mean, it’s a huge movie; and absolutely insane. I watch that several times a year — it’s a go-to on the road.
I would be embarrassed to begin to talk about Dr. Strangelove, because there has been so much written about it. It’s so bleak. And Peter Sellers is perfect. He’s just perfect. Terry Southern and Stanley Kubrick built this doomsday political satire, in the fists of the Cold War, and made the end of the world hysterical. We’re bumbling idiots, all of us. We’re all walking through dark rooms of our life, bumping into furniture, and it’s shocking. I think we all enjoy watching people who are in authority positions act like bumbling idiots; it satisfies part of our ego, I’m sure, on some level. Sellers’ commitment to those characters… the scene that stands out is when he’s trying to get change to make the phone call to stop the bomb, and that security guard won’t let him break government property to get the change. The frustration of that is as painful as it is hysterical.
Male camaraderie, male love, is a difficult subject to show on film. What does it mean to have one of your best friends pass away? When that unit dies, how do you deal with it? I’m not a married man but I’m sure that when I’m married and have kids I’ll see Husbands in a new light. It’s regular guys trying to make sense of this life, having a good time while they’re doing it; running from their own lives and trying to distract themselves with hookers and gambling and drinking, and they all have families to go back to. They just don’t wanna leave the party. It’s male camaraderie at its most loving and brutal: these guys are terrible to each other, but they’d do anything for each other, and that kind of friendship, those values, mean a lot to me. The way they shot the film, the way they lost funding — there’re these wild stories of how to make a movie that you care about. They lost financing. As the story goes, they put the last bit of money — and they’re half way through the film, they’ve been shooting for six months — they put all the money to throw a party. They got dancers and girls and piano players and I think there was like an elephant, and they invited all these studio heads to come to this party sequence that they were filming — and when they studio saw the scene they said, “This movie’s huge, it’s wild, we’ll cover the rest of the film.” They got the rest of the financing. The scene’s not in the movie — it was never planned to be. So that spirit still excites me. The camaraderie feels familiar.
I think I’ve seen it five times in the past two months. I can’t stop watching that picture. The way they edited that — the dramatic scenes have as much musicality as the dance numbers, but it’s completely naturalistic. A man facing his own death; he’s creating his own end. He’s riffing on Lenny Bruce, riffing on his own material, his need to connect, his love of women, and his own mortality and relationship to family. It’s a staggering film. It’s Bob Fosse’s “See ya, and goodnight.”
The Mechanic is in theaters this week.