"I was told not to tell you," says Willem Dafoe when we ask him, standing in a parking lot around the corner from Hidy's, if he has any scenes outside that cinderblock back office. As a character Dafoe describes as "a bookie with a heart of gold," Dafoe is instrumental in getting Affleck's character Rodney into those brutal underground fights (you can see them filming one of them, inside the Carrie Furnace, above). But it's more complicated than just a man preying on a local veteran hard-up for cash:
He has a relationship with the family and he’s a member of the community, so you know, his business is his business and he can’t be soft there, but he also knows these people, he knows their parents, he knows them since they were little kids. So, it pains him when these guys can’t pay off his debts and he has to come after them.
The importance of family and community runs as a strong undercurrent in Out of the Furnace, which more than any saga of revenge of violence is a story of what happens when a town is abandoned by economic forces utterly beyond its control. And for Rodney, a veteran of Iraq who is stop-lossed and sent on another tour of duty as the film begins, he's been abandoned by the military he serves as well. Here's how Affleck explains the work he underwent to understand the character:
On the one hand, I think he doesn’t have a job. It’s hard to get a job. A lot of these guys come home from Iraq and they can’t find work. Some of them are really skilled. They’ve been engineers. They’ve been trained and educated in many ways and then they come home and they’re delivering pizza. They just can’t find anything and the wage for unemployment is higher than the minimum wage, so suddenly they’re taking a big pay cut and they don’t have benefits, yada, yada, yada.
Bale, who was filming but not doing interviews that day, underwent his own kind of training, learning to work in the nearby steel mill that still functioned, handling blazing-hot materials and working in an environment that, as mentioned briefly in the film, is believed by many to cause cancer. Here's Cooper on the training that Bale underwent to look convincing in what wound up being brief steel mill scenes:
Christian hasn’t used a double that I’m aware of for the whole film and certainly that work inside the steel mill was done extraordinarily professionally. He had training of course and we had medics and all those things 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 so believable and authentic that you would never know that it wasn’t Christian Bale if you didn’t actually see his face while he was doing it.
Our day in Braddock ended with a visit to the place to looms large both in a visit to the town and in Out of the Furnace: the Carrie Furnace. In the movie you see Rodney in a bitter fight inside the furnace, and the film's climax leads there as well, with the massive steel structures looking like a twisted Emerald City in the distance. We were lead through Carrie by Ron of Rivers of Steel, an organization committed to the preserving the steel history of the area. The Carrie Furnace is the only pre-World War II blast furnace to be preserved in non-operational state, and Rivers of Steel provides tours of the site, while working to include it as part of a proposed national park. It's an astonishing place, a tribute to human ingenuity both past and present-- in the midst of those ruined steel structures, there's also a sculpture by a local artist clearly glad for the space. You can see my pictures from inside the Carrie Furnace in the gallery below, and look for the location-- you can't miss it-- in Out of the Furnace on December 6.