Oscar Profile #329: Casey Affleck

Born August 12, 1975 in Falmouth, Massachusetts, Caleb Casey McGuire Affleck-Boldt, known professionally as Casey Affleck, like his older brother, Ben, began his career as a child actor.

Affleck made his film debut at the age of 12 in 1988’s Lemon Sky. Two years later he was playing Robert Kennedy from 12 to 15 in the TV mini-series, The Kennedys of Massachusetts. In 1995, he and friend Joaquin Phoenix had major roles in Gus Van Sant’s To Die For starring Nicole Kidman and Matt Dillon. Two years after that he had a major supporting role in Van Sant’s Good Will Hunting, written by childhood friend Matt Damon and big brother Ben, for which they later won Oscars.

Affleck was introduced to Summer Phoenix by her brother, Joaquin. They began dating in 1999, became engaged in 2004 and married in 2006. Their first son was born in 2004, their second in 2008. The actor found steady work through 2006, but it was the back-to-back success of Andrew Domink’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and brother Ben’s Gone Baby Gone in 2007 that made casting directors sit up and take notice. He received his first Oscar nomination for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

In 2010, Affleck once again earned kudos for his performance in Michel Winterbottom’s The Killer Inside Me, but his next film, the same year’s I’m Still Here co-written with now brother-in-law Joaquin Phoenix, directed by Affleck and featuring them both playing themselves, was a disaster that nearly ended the careers of them both. It also brought two sexual harassment suits against Affleck from two women who worked on the film. The suits were settled out of court, but have hounded the actor-director ever since.

Phoenix rebounded with Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2012 film, The Master, for which he was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar. Affleck rebounded with David Lowery’s 2013 film, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, earning the best notices of his career up to that point.

In 2014, Affleck and Jessica Chastain appeared as Matthew McCaunehey’s grown children in Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi thriller, Interstellar. In 2015, he separated from Summer Phoenix, although the separation was not made public until 2016. He dropped out of Lowery’s remake of Pete’s Dragon in which he was replaced by Wes Bentley. He dropped out of that film to replace Matt Damon in Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea at Damon’s suggestion when he (Damon) had to quit the film due to conflicting commitments. The film he was committed to make, Zhang Yimou’s The Great Wall, released a week before this year’s Oscars, was a box office dud. Manchester by the Sea, which was co-produced by Damon, was nominated for six Oscars including Best Picture and won two, Best Actor (Affleck) and Original Screenplay.

Affleck’s scraggly look all through Oscar season was due to the look he had to have for the film, Light of My Life, which was filming between the awards shows. At the same time, his last film, Lowery’s A Ghost Story opened at the Sundance Film Festival. He next films Lowery’s The Old Man and the Gun with Robert Redford and Sissy Spacek.

Affleck is doing alright for himself at 41.

ESSENTIAL FILMS

GOOD WILL HUNTING (1997), directed by Gus Van Sant

Lifelong friends Matt Damon and Ben Affleck created great roles for themselves as authors of this film about a janitor at MIT with a gift for mathematics who finds himself with the support of an understanding psychiatrist. Damon plays the budding genius and Ben Affleck plays his best friend. Casey Affleck plays Ben’s younger brother in what is also a nicely written role. Damon and Ben Affleck won Oscars for their screenplay and Robin Williams won for his portrayal of the psychiatrist. The film was also nominated for Best Picture, Actor (Damon), Supporting Actress (Minnie Driver), Director, Editing, Score and Song (“Miss Misery”).

THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD (2007), directed by Andrew Dominick

It took another ten years for Casey Affleck to get the kind of roles his brother Ben was getting, but he had two roles in this one year that put him on the map. The first was as Robert Ford to Brad Pitt’s Jesse James, which him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor which created a controversy because many considered him the film’s lead, or at least co-lead. Brother Ben gave him the role of the private investigator, who with his girlfriend and partner (Michelle Monaghan), investigates the kidnapping of a little girl in Gone Baby Gone. The Oscar nomination in that one went to Amy Ryan as the mother of the kidnapping victim.

THE KILLER INSIDE ME (2010), directed by Michael Winterbottom

Jim Thompson’s novel was filmed once before in 1976, but this is the version that everyone remembers. Between the two versions, Thompson, who died in 1977, became popular all over again with Stephen Frears’ 1990 film of The Grifters. The characters in this one are even more rotten, with Affleck a sympathetic deputy sheriff on the surface and a cold-blooded killer on the inside. This film is a far cry from Winterbottom’s previously most famous film, 2007’s A Mighty Heart. Kate Hudson plays Affleck’s longtime girlfriend, while Jessica Alba plays the more volatile role of his main victim.

AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS (2013), directed by David Lowery

Affleck had one of his best roles as the man who escapes from a Texas prison in hopes of reuniting with his wife and the daughter he has never met. Four years earlier he and wife Rooney Mara were involved in a Bonnie and Clyde style standoff, but he surrendered to keep them from killing pregnant Mara. She’s now hooked up with a local police officer (Ben Foster).
All three are excellent, as are Keith Carradine as Affleck’s surrogate father and Nate Parker as his friend. The film received awards recognition for director Lowery and cinematographer Bradford Young (Arrival) whose compositions are breathtaking.

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (2016), directed by Kenneth Lonergan

Affleck has the role of his still burgeoning career as the Boston handyman who takes on unexpected responsibilities when his older brother (Kyle Chandler) dies and names him as the guardian of his 16-year-old son (Lucas Hedges) in his will. Although the film is undeniably sad, it’s never morose thanks to plenty of gallows humor and the fine performances of Oscar winner Affleck, nominees Hedges and Michelle Williams as Affleck’s ex-wife and in lesser roles, Grethen Mol and Matthew Broderick as Hedges’ mother and her new husband. Six Oscar nominations, 2 wins including Lonergan’s Original Screenplay.

CASEY AFFLECK AND OSCAR

  • The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) – nominated – Best Supporting Actor
  • Manchester by the Sea (2016) – Oscar – Best Actor

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  1. Correction, if I may: “Manchester by the Sea,” which was co-produced by Damon, was nominated for six Oscars including Best Picture and won two, Best Actor (Affleck) and **Screenplay**.

    1. Thanks. It’s been a long week!

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