Casey Affleck only got a couple of hours sleep before discovering that he’s been nominated for Best Actor for his performance in Manchester by the Sea — which also got nods for Best Picture, Best Director and Original Screenplay for Kenneth Lonergan, Best Supporting Actor for Lucas Hedges and Best Supporting Actress for Michelle Williams — but he didn’t mind being a bit tired. “It’s really the best way to wake up,” he says. “I can’t think of a better way.”
The last time Affleck was Oscar nominated it was for 2007’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. When asked to compare the two experiences he says, “I just didn’t know jack back then — I wasn’t smart enough to appreciate what it really means to have all these people who you’ve seen forever and admired as actors and artists to acknowledge you. I wasn’t able to take that in and appreciate what was good about that moment. This just feels a bit calmer and better and deeper and nicer.”
It no doubt helps that Manchester by the Sea is a project he’s been involved in one way or another almost since its inception. Lonergan has credited Affleck — a longtime fan and friend of Lonergan’s since he appeared in a 2002 London production of This is Our Youth — as being instrumental in the process of making the film, first as a reader of drafts of scripts before he was even attached to play the role of Lee Chandler, and then as a creative partner while filming. “I have a very deep connection to Kenny and his work and to this project, more so than almost anything before. It’s just really great to get to share all of this with him,” says Affleck.
Affleck is currently in production on Light of My Life, a father-daughter film he’s writing, directing, and starring in. When asked what lessons he learned from Lonergan before undertaking this project, he says, “You always learn something on a movie. Sometimes you learn bad habits. Sometimes you grow cynical and detached. With the good movies you learn a lot — not always something you can write down in a sentence — but you get stretched and pulled in a bunch of different ways. You go out to do the next one and you feel capable and and a bit bigger. Manchester was a really big stretch. I now feel a bit steadier on my feet,” he says. “There are a lot of things that Kenny did that I admire. I thought the way he could focus on telling a story, it’s a reminder of not having to jump and down and shout and make a big deal out of everything. That goes for being an actor and a director — to really rein it in, to show some restraint, and tell try to be as honest as you can.”
He credits many of the directors he’s worked with as guiding lights. “I’ve been bizarrely lucky to work with some people who are great directors. I just try to sort of copy what they do as much as I can and I’m not afraid to admit it. I steal the things they do, parts of their process, and how they work with actors. [The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford director] Andrew Dominick is great. Kenny, Ben [Affleck, who directed him in Gone Baby Gone], David Lowery [Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and the current Sundance darling A Ghost Story]. They’re all totally different. I’m trying to take the best parts of them and sort of Frankenstein together my own director personality.”