It was 1952 and a massive storm ripped the SS Pendleton in two in Chatham, Massachusetts. Director Craig Gillespie brings this based on a true story about the heroes, both the Coast Guards and the ship survivors, in the Disney film, “The Finest Hours”.
We spoke to Craig and the films’ stars, Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, and Holliday Grainger recently about dramatic film, in theaters on January 29th.
Chris, who stars as shy Coast Guardsman Bernie Webber, said this was a role unlike any he’s ever played before. “When I first met Craig, he kept on mentioning “Rocky” as kind of the touchstone for the character,” Chris explained. “I thought that was a very adept, adroit perceptive way in. Especially how Scott wrote the script. He’s a kind of, he’s not the sharpest or swiftest guy in many ways, but he’s also very, very adept at his job. He knows that boat. He knows those waters and as much as he’s racked by fear and doubt, he does really know how to use his hands. His body. He’s a soft guy. He’s scared. He’s like a puppy dog. He wears his heart on his sleeve. He loves his woman. He’s just earnest. There’s no complexity above and beyond what you see with Bernie is what you get. I love that un-cynical throwback quality to him.”
When Bernie hit the sea, the Coast Guard by his side was Richard Livesey, played by Ben Foster. Richard, though he didn’t think Bernie could pull off the rescue, went along without a second thought. “These are guys who put others before them,” he said. “It’s so humbling doing a job like this where you get the opportunity to spend time with the men and women of our military. And not just, because it’s the American military but because these are men and women who have chosen to serve their fellow man and that just speaks to humans.
So a guy who said “Yeah, I’m gonna go on the boat even though everybody else is saying no. That’s his job. That’s what he does. He’s not looking to tell all his friends what a brave guy he is on Twitter. He’s doing it because that’s his job and it’s the right thing to do. So in terms of the drama of the piece of Mr. Webber’s hero’s journey, it’s more of a privilege for myself to spend time with the real guys, the real Chatham Coast Guard. But an equal measure privilege to spend time with such wonderful actor as Chris. And he’s doing work that I haven’t seen him do before. And I haven’t seen in a movie in a very long time. I haven’t seen this kind of underdog. I haven’t seen this kind of quality of true blue. There’s so much cynicism in cinema these days and what Chris pulls off I think is as striking as the ocean that we’re on.”
Casey took on the role of Ray Sybert, the guy tasked with saving what was left of the military tanker and his shipmates. Ray, much like Bernie, had a lot of heart. Casey explained why that was an important quality, “I think that the movie in part is about two men who though different, in some ways are similar in that they are not in a role that usually requires acts of heroism or leadership. But they step up into that role because the circumstances demand it. So part of that is kind of galvanizing people, corralling everyone, overcoming their resistance in order to try to get them to do something that is selfless and courageous. And I think it takes a lot of heart to do that to think of everyone else and not yourself. One of the things I loved about the script was that it really was this intimate story about people trying to help each other in an incredibly stressful scary time. And you know that felt like a very sort of positive environment and so it was kind of an uplifting story in that way and you don’t see that that much.”
Craig discussed what it was like casting Chris, Ben, and Casey was important to the film, “Casey I’d wanted from the start. He’s such an unusual character and I felt he could be so complex and so unexpected in his choices that it really excited me for him playing that role. And then there were the three core parts with Ben as sort of this sounding board for Bernie. And you can feel the resistance of the Coast Guard station within him and he can do so much with so little words and in some ways it was amazing the restraint that he had through the film. And some pivotal moments and some pivotal choices, you know, where, this thing we will either all live or we’ll all die and Ben doesn’t even look at Chris and I kind of love that.”