Making Out For Three Hours, Hijacked Tanks & Aussie Accents On The Triple 9 Set

2 March 2016 | 4:56 pm | Bryget Chrisfield

"We're still waiting to find out what happened to it: whether it's gonna show up on the other side of the border."

As soon as this scribe greets Casey Affleck, he can't resist the urge to practice his Australian accent: "Alright, mate. How's it garn?" When told we hope he won't be cast as an Aussie any time soon, he laughs his head off and says, "UH-oh!" Earlier in the week, Affleck attended the LA premiere of his latest film, Triple 9. "It was nice to see everybody again," he enthuses. When asked how he found the experience of watching the film for the very first time, Affleck reveals, "I don't like to watch the movies all the time, because it's better just to remember the old experience — not have it tainted by whatever feelings you're going to have watching the film. Do you know what I mean?" We sympathise and can completely understand why actors do the red carpet thing, take their seats in the cinema, then sneak out and come back in just before the film's conclusion. "Thank you," he says sincerely.

"Part of doing a kissing scene - that's when you end up with a sore jaw, you know? You're, like, making out for three hours."

According to Affleck, Triple 9 has been in his life for "about six years". "I read the script, met with John [Hillcoat, director] and then he went off and did another movie [Lawless]. And then came back to [Triple 9]," he recalls. Hillcoat describes his research going into Triple 9 as "very extensive". As well as consuming "books, articles, documentaries" to prepare for this suspenseful heist movie during which it's virtually impossible to identify any good cops within the layers of corruption, Hillcoat also spoke to "a district attorney" and "guys in New York that were doing very high level organised crime cases". The director worked with "ex-Latino gang members" as well. "I wanted to also try and show a very contemporary, accurate picture of what's going on in America these days — on the streets," he stresses. Before filming, Hillcoat gave everyone "a book of visual references", essentially "collating all the research over the years into a neat package". Affleck admits he found this reference book "very helpful". "It gives you a sort of sense of, 'Oh, this is what the world's gonna look like [in the film]'. And, you know, the world never looks exactly as it does; so even the grittiest, most naturalistic things are flattened, put into a rectangle and you're only seeing a very small piece of what's around." This book Hillcoat supplied also illuminated "certain themes" that Affleck could tell "were really interesting to [Hillcoat]", specifically "the kind of militarisation of the culture". "I knew that was something he was after 'cause there were a lot of pictures of that kinda stuff: tanks going through streets, you know, downtown areas of American cities and things like that."

Hillcoat shares, "A little amusing story with the tank, is that I found out that the tank that they had in Atlanta was three times the size of the one that you see briefly in the film. So I was determined to get the right scale and the closest one was from New Orleans, from Louisiana, and so we brought that up [to Atlanta] and it vanished en route to set - someone had hijacked it. And we're still waiting to find out what happened to it: whether it's gonna show up on the other side of the border - that the cartels got to it - or whether it became part of the right-wing survivalist paramilitaries, whether they scooped it up." We suggest that making a tank disappear can't be easy and Hillcoat agrees, "No, exactly! The mind boggles. So we ended up with this tiny one that then we were gonna enhance in post-production with visual effects, but we ran out of money so you have a small-scale version." In Hillcoat's film, the tank still looks impressively out of place driving down a city street (to an Australian, anyway). "Yep," the director agrees, "and of course the battle zones in these neighbourhoods are lower socioeconomic neighbourhoods and they bear the brunt of this excessive force and this war that's going, basically, in the streets."

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Triple 9 boasts an extraordinary ensemble cast including Chitewel Ejiofor, Kate Winslet, Anthony Mackie, Woody Harrelson and Aaron Paul to name a few. It's pretty exciting to imagine them all hanging out together waiting to be called to the set, but Affleck enlightens, "By and large the only people I saw were Mackie and Woody and Teresa Palmer." So just the people who were in his actual scenes then? "Yeah, pretty much. I mean, I saw Chiwetel a bit; he liked to hang out at college bars, which is weird." We wonder whether this may have been because more fans would come up and say 'hi' in such establishments, but Affleck counters, "I don't think so. I think he just thought that it was an amusing - I don't know why." Cheap drinks, perhaps? "Yeah, he's got some money," Affleck chuckles.  

Chris Allen, Affleck's character in Triple 9, is a cop who constantly chews gum. Hillcoat explains the gum chewing was a decision they made "to pinpoint and define his character, and his ex-military background, and really - for Casey - he just wanted that pure, driven feeling that he was like this ball of energy and this force that would not stop". Affleck clarifies, "I'd spit [the gum] out at the end of every take." When asked whether he ever got a sore jaw, Affleck laughs, "I'm sure I did at some point," then digresses, "Part of doing a kissing scene - that's when you end up with a sore jaw, you know? You're, like, making out for three hours."

"We were pretending to be, you know, policemen and we'd say like, 'Now would I put the handcuff on his right hand or his left hand?' "

He's got a lot of films, plus a TV series, coming out this year so we ask if Affleck could please list these in order. He makes a noise like a malfunctioning drainage system while he thinks and then concludes, "It was Triple 9, The Finest Hours, Manchester By The Sea and then Lewis And Clark." On whether it's hard to schedule juggling so many projects at once, Affleck chuckles, "I wish there were that many, but usually when people ask if I'm available the answer is, 'I'm wiiiiiide open.'"

Given that Triple 9 was the first of these projects to be filmed, Affleck points out, "There was a lotta time beforehand to do some research, play with guns, run around with the cops a bit." And Hillcoat mentions Affleck even hung out with gang units to prepare for his role in the movie, which sounds pretty terrifying. "It wasn't that terrifying because I don't think that they were actually gonna, you know, do probably the most dangerous shit when they were there with us. But we got a little taste of it and enough of an education to feel like we knew what we were doing in a movie, and enough exposure to have some sense of what their life was like so that it would sort of inform how we would play the scenes. You know, it's such a cliche isn't it? - the actor on the ride-along - that, like, at this point you can probably learn the same shit from just watching any other movies where the actors did their ride-alongs with the cops. But, you know, it gives you something intimate and personal and that sorta helps to make all that gunplay - which could be seriously childish, and [utterly] unrealistic, sort of like two kids in the recess yard - feel like it has higher stakes. And it's very real and it kinda helped; that makes the movie feel a little bit more realistic and immediate."

During filming, Affleck was appointed a character model in Atlanta and jokes, "Yeah, these poor bastards! We'd call them up day and night from our movie set. We were pretending to be, you know, policemen and we'd say like, 'Now would I put the handcuff on his right hand or his left hand?' and they're in the middle of, like, they've just been shot at and thrown out a window and they're trying to answer questions. They were so helpful. They were incredible; unimaginably patient with us. I spent quite a bit of time and I liked them lot; they were very, very sweet guys." 

Hillcoat praises Affleck: "It was from his own training that he often would... come into the location and he would use that experience to ask some very challenging questions that would, at times, change the whole scene, but for the better." Before filming a scene that's set in an abandoned housing project, "Our adviser was late on set," Hillcoat continues. "We had it that one of the guys, Anthony Mackie's character, enters [through] the back door and gets Casey to go in the front door - and they're gonna find their source and meet inside. But as Casey said, with his training knowledge, they would never separate and they would go in together... Finally we confirmed with the adviser that that's right and it made the scene so much better."

Now that he's a dad, we wonder whether Affleck chooses his roles more carefully. The actor tries out his Aussie accent again, "Yeeeeah, mate... I had kids." He's a funny bastard, alright, but we remind Affleck that we now have his pitiful attempts at an Australian accent recorded to Dictaphone. So who knows where it'll end up?! "Oh, nooooo!" he laughs before returning to his normal speaking voice and actually answering the question. "It really, really has... I've become much more aware of the choices I make and what they contribute to the world that my kids are in."