If there’s a writer/director that strives to live by the adage of “keeping it real,” it’s Scott Cooper. The former actor burst on to the directorial scene with 2009’s country music drama “Crazy Heart” to rave reviews and two Oscars for Best Actor Jeff Bridges and Best Original Song by Ryan Bingham and T-Bone Burnett. Cooper may have left the New Mexico locale of his debut effort behind, but the gritty honesty of his storytelling remains. The Virginia native uses the Rust Belt and the Appalachians to tell a story of revenge, retribution and struggle in “Out of the Furnace.” He recently sat down to discuss working with a new slate of A-list actors, the complexities of being a writer/director and his collaboration with Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder.
What was it like working with A-list talents such as Christian Bale, Casey Affleck and Willem Dafoe in only your second film?
SCOTT COOPER: When you work with actors who fully realize their characters as these did and care as much as they do about giving three-dimensional performances, it’s truly about as good as it gets as a film director. You become very spoiled, because they’re so good and so passionate about what they’re doing and, ultimately, the finished product. It’s very, very gratifying.
How important was it to film on location in a place like the mountains of Pennsylvania?
SCOTT COOPER: It was critical on location. I wrote it for Braddock, Pennsylvania and I wasn’t going to make it a film if I didn’t shoot in that small town. I also wanted to conversely show the mountains of New Jersey, which are the shadow of the Empire State Building. I wanted to show two worlds that are very underrepresented in American cinema – the type of blue collar milieu and very honest, hardworking people that are too often overlooked in films today. It was critical that I shoot where I wrote the film for. Much like I did for “Crazy Heart.” I wrote it for Santa Fe, L.A. and Texas and was able to shoot in all three places. It was very important that I shot in Braddock.
As a writer, do you have a personal attachment to the material that makes it difficult when you go into editing?
SCOTT COOPER: As William Faulkner would say, “You’re killing your darling.” He would kill certain paragraphs or chapters. His stories still held up and he knew it was the right thing to do. You’re always doing that as a filmmaker, as a writer, and as you rewrite and in the cutting room. But it’s really important that you make those decisions with a great deal of thought, because I never do anything wantonly and I become obsessive. But I always simply want to tell the truth. That’s what I’ve done with this film, and shined a light on what America has gone through in these last five very turbulent years, and portray honestly and sometimes very brutally and truthfully.
Leonardo DiCaprio was one of the producers. Was he very hands-on in regards to the making of the film?
SCOTT COOPER: Yes, Leo has been a big supporter of the picture. His take on the material has always been very valuable. He’s made many, many films, and while he’s not a director, he’s spent a lot of time in cutting rooms. When you’ve spent time in the cutting room with Martin Scorsese, you get the best film education that anyone could hope for, so Leo has been a very valuable asset.