What Casey did next: the insider at Hollywood's dark heart

After starring in The Killer Inside Me, Casey Affleck made a documentary about Joaquin Phoenix. He talks fame, family and debauchery with James Mottram

Casey Affleck must be getting comfortable with controversy by now. Back in 2007
Gone Baby Gone, the Boston-set crime drama he made with his older brother Ben at the helm, was pulled from the London Film Festival because its plot bore a close resemblance to the kidnapping of Madeleine McCann. This summer Michael Winterbottom's Jim Thompson adaptation
The Killer Inside Me, in which Affleck stars as a psychotic sheriff who brutally pulverises two women, has caused outrage. And now he's set to cause tongues to wag further with his directorial debut,
I'm Still Here, a documentary about his brother-in-law, the twice Oscar-nominated actor Joaquin Phoenix.

According to the Los Angeles Times, when the film was shown to US buyers earlier in the year, it "overflowed" with Hollywood-style debauchery. Phoenix is seen snorting cocaine, enjoying oral sex with a publicist, ordering call girls and treating his assistants appallingly. It features lashings of male full-frontal nudity and even a "stomach-turning sequence in which someone feuding with Phoenix defecates on the actor while he's asleep". So how does it feel to be behind one of the most talked-about films of the moment? "I'm not sure that everyone is talking about the movie," Affleck sighs. "I think it might feel that way because it's such a teeny-tiny world, Hollywood. But I guess it's more pressure and it's more exposure than many first-time directors have."

In truth, the buzz around the film has been building gradually, after it became clear that the 34-year-old Affleck, who is married to Phoenix's younger sister Summer, had been filming his brother-in-law ever since he announced he was quitting acting to pursue a career as a hip-hop artist. Then came Phoenix's February 2009 appearance on David Letterman's show. Sporting a wild-man beard, sunglasses and a deathly complexion, reactions to his monosyllabic interview answers ranged from concern that he was heading the same way as his late brother River Phoenix, who died from a drugs overdose, to the notion that his behaviour – and Affleck's documentary – was an elaborate hoax.

"Well, it's not a hoax," Affleck tells me. "There's no hoax about it. I really wanted to do something that showed somebody that was very private and was also very, very, very well known. I wanted to do a super-intimate portrait of them. And I wanted to do something now because I knew that he was quitting acting to embark on this journey, this transition, to a music career – which he has been doing for a long time, by the way. It just seemed like it came out of the blue to everyone, because they just didn't know that about him. And I thought something interesting would happen over the course of that transition – and I was right."

The film is the result of two years of work, and a much longer friendship. "Joaquin and I have been very close friends since we were teenagers," says Affleck. They first met in 1995 on Affleck's big-screen debut, Gus Van Sant's To Die For, then became roommates and have remained "very close" ever since. It was Phoenix who introduced Affleck to his sister, who then became his girlfriend for six years before they married in 2003 (and since have had two sons, Indiana August, six, and Atticus, two). Given all this, Affleck remains one of the very few in a position to explain Phoenix's desire to call time on his acting.

The obvious line is that Phoenix, who had checked into rehab in the wake of playing Johnny Cash for the 2005 biopic Walk the Line, burnt out. Maybe he just felt he couldn't go any further with his career, I suggest to Affleck. "That's a good guess," he says. "It's a good guess for someone that doesn't know him. It certainly sounds plausible. I don't really think that that did it. Walk the Line, although it was what he became known for... I don't think the experience of making the film had an impact on him as much as people might think, just because he got nominated for an Oscar and everybody liked it. It was just one of those things."

If the film offers a unique insight into the warped nature of celebrity, Affleck's own career has certainly prepped him for it. Whether it is starring with A-listers such as George Clooney and Brad Pitt in Ocean's Eleven and its sequels, or seeing the media furore that surrounded his brother's called-off wedding to Jennifer Lopez, Affleck has been a bystander, watching the celebrity carousel spin them all ever faster. "People spend 20, 30 years of their life being not-famous, and then they get famous, and millions of strangers suddenly know them and it's very off-putting," he says. "I think everybody wants to keep the opportunities that fame affords you – the money and the work. But there aren't so many people that like the rest of it. I certainly don't."

Raised in a working-class suburb of Boston – his father a bartender, his mother a teacher – Affleck's blue-collar background has kept him grounded. When his brother became famous, winning an Oscar for co-writing 1997's Good Will Hunting, Affleck – who had a small role in it – stayed largely in his sibling's shadow. Less immediately handsome (he lacks his brother's Dan Dare-like jaw-line, and his blue eyes seem more sleepy), he plied his trade in little-seen arthouse movies like Gerry and Lonesome Jim. "I've never experienced anything but a modicum of success or total failure," he grins. "I don't expect much else when I go do a movie, to tell you the truth."

But all this changed in 2007, when he starred alongside Brad Pitt in Andrew Dominik's elegiac Western The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, which saw him nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Yet the film failed to set alight the box-office, and Affleck escaped further media scrutiny. "I think it was a shame that more people didn't get it," he laments. "It was kind of a disappointment... in terms of what people are seeing and what people like to see. It's a little depressing because I think it's an intensely beautiful movie with great performances – my own notwithstanding."

The Killer Inside Me is another matter. While Affleck's turn as Lou Ford is a masterclass in menace, his blank features chilling in their lack of pity, the film was widely deplored for its full-on scenes of violence, which included Affleck punching Jessica Alba into a coma and kicking Kate Hudson in the gut repeatedly. When the film premiered at the Sundance festival, one outraged female viewer stood up and yelled "How dare you?" at director Winterbottom. "I wasn't at Sundance but I heard the audio of it online," says Affleck. "It didn't sound like much – one person's thoughtless righteous indignation about violence in movies. It was not well articulated."

On release for over a month in the US, so far it's recouped a miserly $146,444 – no real surprise given the intensity of the violence, something that Affleck nevertheless argues was necessary. "The only way to depict this violence is to make it realistic," he says. "Otherwise you glamorise it. Movie after movie after movie shows violence in an ordinary way where the victims are dehumanised and people are jailed left and right and nobody cares about it. There's never blood. It's usually shown in a super-stylised, unrealistic way. I would prefer that all movies show violence in a realistic way. Because it's upsetting and it should be upsetting."

Next up is a possible collaboration with Ridley Scott on The Kind One, a 1930s-set drama in which he'd play an amnesiac who works for a mobster. Yet another violent crime film, following Gone Baby Gone and The Killer Inside Me, this is something of a coincidence, Affleck assures me. "The things that I want to do never come along. The thing is, you have to stay open. You might think 'What I want to do is a Jane Austen movie!' But they never come along! But if you think 'I want to do a crime novel', Pride and Prejudice will show up on your doorstep. It's just the way it is for me, and you've got to take the best of what's available and try to stay open to everything."

While that may be true, Affleck is not afraid to admit that he's quite choosy when it comes to his roles – a trait that sets him apart from his brother, who almost blew his career on a series of throwaway rom-coms. "I guess I am very selective," he nods. "Selective as I can be. It's hard sometimes. You say 'no' to a million things and then you're broke and you have to take something that might not be as good as some of the other stuff you said 'no' to." He lets out another sigh. "I wish that I could win the lottery and then I could sit back and work on only the things I love! But then so does everyone else in the world."

'The Killer Inside Me' is on general release. 'I'm Still Here' will be released later this year

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor