Watching Christian Bale And Casey Affleck At Work On The Set Of Out Of The Furnace
Braddock, Pennsylvania is a city named for a loser. A plaque on the east side of North Braddock, located 8 miles downriver from Pittsburgh, commemorates Braddock's Defeat, a turning point in the 1755 French and Indian War. Named for a defeated British general in a war now rarely remembered, Braddock, Pennsylvania somehow still remains, a cluster of half-empty storefronts and homes perched on a steep slope above the Monogahela River, looming over a massive blast furnace that sits quiet, hulking and as defeated as Braddock himself.
Just around the corner from that plaque and down by the furnace too, Hollywood has improbably come to town. Director Scott Cooper first heard of Braddock while on tour promoting his debut feature Crazy Heart-- the town's mayor John Fetterman has done extensive media appearances to bring the town's plight to national attention, which means Braddock was not like most depressed former industrial towns even before Cooper came calling. A thriving part of the steel industry until the Carrie Furnace shut down in 1982, Braddock now stands alongside Detroit and Gary, Indiana and any number of other Rust Belt towns as a symbol of America's lost industrial might. We've seen the pictures of rusted-out factories and crumbling towns; what Cooper wanted to bring to Braddock was a story, about what happens when the world collapses around you but also how a community moves on together. That fact that this story includes movie stars-- Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Willem Dafoe, Zoe Saldana, Sam Shepard and Forest Whitaker-- means that, when Out of the Furnace opens on December 6, Braddock will emerge into its biggest spotlight yet.
On an overcast but gloomily beautiful day in May of last year, Cooper did something maybe even more uncommon than dragging a full Hollywood production to a ruined steel town-- he invited a group of journalists to a set of a movie that doesn't include explosions, superheroes or giant set-pieces of a any kind. That day production was set up in Hidy's Cafe, a bar and restaurant in an anonymous brick building that sidles up to the underside of the Rankin Bridge. The bar had been renamed The Cellar Door for the shoot but barely transformed, with Hidy's handwritten signs all over, warning patrons not to sell drugs inside and offering the salmon burger (actually ordered by Woody Harrelson's character in the film).
The production team added Christmas lights but little else, and moved into the bar's back office to shoot that day's scene between Willem Dafoe and Casey Affleck. As the owner of The Cellar Door with significant ties to local criminals, Dafoe's character John Petty is helping Affleck's, Rodney Baze, get into a local bare-knuckle boxing match. In the scene Affleck pleads and pleads, Dafoe refuses but eventually gives in, making the phone call as Affleck shadow-boxes in the corner.
BR> But wait-- I wasn't supposed to tell you about the bare-knuckle part. When we catch up with Cooper later that afternoon and mention the bruises applied Affleck's face and knuckles, then ask about the bare-knuckle fighting, Cooper asks "How did you know about that?" Cooper seemed to delight in our complete confusing about the plot when we arrived on set, given that when the project was first announced it was called an adaptation of Brad Inglesby's script The Low Dweller, about "a man recently released from prison forced back into criminal life to settle an old score." There are more elements of that story in Out of the Furnace than Cooper might have wanted to reveal at the time-- he and Ingelsby are credited as the co-writers of the final script-- but Cooper was committed to maintaining a level of secrecy usually more familiar with horror films or Christopher Nolan projects. Now that a trailer is out there, both the bare-knuckle boxing and the revenge plot are out in the open-- so enjoy knowing more than I did on set by watching the latest below:
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