Scott Cooper Talks OUT OF THE FURNACE, His Artistic Influences, Filming Christian Bale Working in an Active Steel Mill, & Exploring a Violent but Vanishing Culture

     November 19, 2013


From the writer/director of Crazy Heart comes the new crime thriller, Out of the Furnace.  The story centers on one Russell Baze, who goes in search of his missing brother Rodney when the young man disappears and law enforcement fails to follow up.  Writer-director Scott Cooper took time out of his schedule to talk to our visiting group of reporters about the film.  He listed his various influences for both visual cues and references in the picture, shooting scenes in and around a live steel mill furnace, and showing a violent but vanishing way of life in America.

Starring Christian Bale, Zoe Saldana, Casey Affleck, Sam Shepard, Willem Dafoe, Forest Whitaker and Woody Harrelson, Out of the Furnace opens December 6th.  Hit the jump for the interview.

out-of-the-furnace-scott-cooper-woody-harrelson-christian-baleWhat sorts of films were influential to you in the making of Out of the Furnace?

Scott Cooper: Certainly The Killing of a Chinese Bookie was influential, Badlands and Days of Heaven were influential.  Faulkner, who taught my father English for a couple of years at the University of Virginia, was a major influence.  There are some Francis Bacon references that you’ll see in the film for sure; he’s one of my favorite artists.  The artistry/photography of Walker Evans. Dorothea Lange, Robert Frank, all of those were visual references that I used a great deal when I was trying to find the world and how I wanted to photograph the world and compose the frames for lighting. Typically, my films are darker than most films, just in palette that is. The palette really came out of the Carrie Furnace, the russets and deep golds and browns and silvers; also, these leaden skies were really important to capture the tone of the film. And also, some of Cormac McCarthy’s work, who is somewhat of a descendant himself of Faulkner.

I was curious about shooting the active furnace. I understand there’s a lot of heat, and capturing that environment that’s so dangerous …

Cooper: It’s extraordinarily hot, yes. It was very dangerous. Christian Bale would never even think of having a double. Christian hasn’t used a double, that I’m aware of, for the whole film.  Certainly that work inside the steel mill was done extraordinarily professionally, and he had training, of course, and we had medics and all those things there that you should have, but Christian completed that work in a way that made me feel like he not only could do anything, which he really can, but it was just so believable and authentic that you would never know that was Christian Bale if you didn’t see his face while he was doing it.

Does a lot take part in the furnace?

Cooper: Well, it certainly helps establish the community, it establishes his character, helps establish the type of person because a certain type of person does that work … he doesn’t sell insurance. That will certainly come to bear later in the film.

So we’re not going to see a shot of this 5’4” guy, just his back, and then it turns and it’s Christian Bale. [laughs]

Cooper: No. No, you will see Christian Bale, literally. And I never cut out of that, so it’s Christian for sure.

out-of-the-furnace-scott-cooper-christian-baleAside from crafting a compelling character-driven story, is there something that you want people to take away from this and places like Braddock?

Cooper: Yeah, it’s just a vanishing way of life, really, and it’s an examination of the nature of violence in a society where men solve their own problems. It’s happening in Syria, it’s happening all across the Arab Spring, it happens all too often in America, France.  It’s unfortunate, but it’s a way of life.  There are many things about a vanishing way of life that occur in this film that these men do.

How does the film end? [laughs]

Cooper: Very hopefully. It will leave you feeling refreshed.

Can you talk about the bare-knuckle fighting part? Is that something that happens in this area?

Cooper: How did you know about that?

Everyone’s mentioned it briefly.  Casey had the bruised knuckles.

Cooper: Casey’s knuckles are really scarred, for sure.

Is that a real thing in this area though?

Cooper: Well it even takes place on the lower east side of Manhattan. I’ve seen some there, but yes. When men come home from war and they don’t have anything else to do because they don’t have the skill set to sell insurance or be a medical doctor or physician, they do whatever they can to survive. In this case, bare-knuckle fighting is a way for some of their pent-up anger to manifest itself.

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