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Casey Affleck on Working with Director David Lowery, Rooney Mara on ‘A Ghost Story’

Variety logo Variety 7/4/2017 Will Tizard
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The creative team behind “A Ghost Story,” which received its European premiere at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival this week, has developed a sympatico relationship they intend to return to again, says Oscar-winning actor Casey Affleck, director David Lowery and the producer duo behind the idiosyncratic film and their next venture, “Old Man and the Gun.”

After finding their groove with 2013’s laconic western noir “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” the group, including producers Toby Halbrooks and James M. Johnston, was determined to return to small films, working as close colleagues.

“Everything I do is very personal,” Lowery says. “I don’t really think too much about why it is.”

Inspired by the true story of a bank robber with an incredible string of successful heists — and jail escapes — the group brought the “Old Man” script to Robert Redford and the project recently wrapped filming, with Elisabeth Moss, Sissy Spacek, Danny Glover and Keith Carradine.

Lowery confesses he was surprised how fast his script for “A Ghost Story,” a decidedly offbeat supernatural tale, came together. “I usually take forever to write anything.”

Affleck, who took the best actor Oscar this year for “Manchester by the Sea,” says he couldn’t quite grasp the concept for “A Ghost Story” on his first read but had enough faith in Lowery to know it would all turn out well. With the film’s portrayal of a musician named only C killed off after the opening scenes and skipping forward and backward in time, it’s perhaps not surprising that the director’s vision needed to be seen to be fully grasped.

But Lowery, for his part, was certain who had to be beneath the sheet with cut out eyeholes.

“As soon as it was done, I called Casey and Rooney (Mara) right away and said ‘You have to be in this.’”

Affleck was also willing to help Lowery discover the limits of what an actor can express without a visible face or body. The answer turned out to be an awful lot, the two discovered, even if subtitled thoughts are needed at one point when C’s ghost spots another spirit living in the house next door.

Lowery went with a classic 1.33:1 aspect ratio, he says, because the framing would help to trap Affleck’s character between dark edges.

“On a thematic level, it’s basically about a character who’s stuck in a box for eternity.”

Lowery brings a unique mood and tone to his films, Affleck says. “I really like his sensibility. I like the things he likes.”

Actors are at the mercy of directors, he adds, walking into their world when they arrive on set.

“If you feel at home and you can live in that world that makes your job that much easier.”

As for working with Rooney Mara again, who last shared the screen with Affleck in “Aint Them Bodies Saints,” the actor says he knew she would work for the role of C’s lover, whom his ghost obsessively watches but can’t interact with.

“She can show a huge range of emotions with her face in moments where she’s just alone,” says Affleck. “She doesn’t need a whole ton of dialogue to communicate a lot of things.”

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