Casey Affleck for “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”

Not merely content to be known as the younger brother of Ben, donning supporting roles in the Oceans films, the actor is coming into his own, firstly starring opposite Brad Pitt in the Western drama The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, based on the acclaimed novel, and next in the powerful drama Gone Baby Gone, directed by brother Ben. Already scoring raves for both films, the actor spoke exclusively to Paul Fischer at this year’s Toronto Film Festival on the eve of his Jesse James premiere.

Even at the end of an intense day of talking to the press, Casey Affleck was all smiles as we chatted in a Toronto hotel room, where the 32-year actor had been holed up to promote his starring role opposite Brad Pitt in Australian director Andrew Dominic’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Playing the latter, about whom little is known, Affleck says that “the biggest thrill for me was a chance to work with the guy that made Chopper, which is how I first heard about it, that the guy who made Chopper is making another movie. So I said ‘Well I want to be in that f***ckin’ movie because he is great as were those performances,” enthuses the actor.

“Then I read the book and I thought ‘Damn, that’s good’, then the screenplay was even better than the book, because it deconstructed the conventions of westerns and the kind of archetypes, the good hero and bad guy. Andrew obviously has a kind of uncanny ability to kind of understand behavior, then articulate his direction in such a way that it would help an actor to get to the place that he wanted him to get to.” For Affleck, whose career took off with supporting roles in the American Pie franchise, “for me another one’s not going to come along like this because sometimes there’s great movies but its about a forty year old woman and Nicole plays it but this was the part that was for me,” Affleck says laughingly.

Assassination recounts the final days in the life of outlaw and robber Jesse James, seen in this movie as both ruthless and paranoid. Even if Affleck had wanted to immerse himself in researching Ford’s life, there’s little to go on. “There’s hardly any information available about Robert Ford, except one kind of famous photograph, which was really helpful because his face is very telling. It’s like this rigid posture, he’s holding a gun, he’s posed for this picture and his face looks like dawn is just breaking on his face. He’s looking a little bit confused but also holding himself in a posture of pride, but also he looks a little bit like he’s just waking up. Other than that there was almost nothing. I tried to talked his relatives but couldn’t even figure out who actually was a relative and who was lying. So I mostly had to go off of the screenplay and off of Andrew, which was the best resource because he had this like just incredible reservoir of information and a sort of intuitive understanding of who the character was.”

Affleck pauses, smokes a cigarette as he muses on a different project, starring in Gone Baby Gone, which marks the feature directorial debut of older brother Ben. The actor smiles, knowingly, when asked to recall the experience of being directed by his brother in a comp;ex drama revolving around the disappearance of a child, with Affleck cast as one of two detectives handling the case. “I expected that it would be something special and different, being that he’s my brother and he’s a director, but the only difference was that we had this common language, that we could understand each other,” the actor explains.

“Other people what be like ‘What the hell are they talking about?’ and we did referencing from our past, because we understand and spoke the same way. We just made conversations happen quicker and be more productive and we also sort of felt comfortable disagreeing, which we don’t always. If we disagreed, he’d go ‘Absolutely no. That sucks’. And he would say ‘No. This is what we’re doing’. So no one felt like ‘God I wish I’d said this’ or ‘This isn’t really what I want to be doing’. It was like a marriage where people are really communicating well and it was also great to spend some time with him.”

Asked if he is surprised by Ben’s own evolution from actor to director, Affleck feels that at least from his perspective, “It doesn’t feel that dramatic. I guess people slog away by themselves for years on end and suddenly they do something and everyone goes ‘Wow, where’d you come from? Out of the blue. Amazing!’ and you go ‘Out of the blue? I’ve been f***ng doing ten auditions a week, reading a hundred scripts, studying …’ . So I’m not surprised because I always knew that Ben was a kind of natural leader with leadership qualities. He was also very intelligent and he has good taste plus he’s done a thousand movies so he’d better learn something. So I always thought ‘When’s he going to direct?’ “