The Finest Hours is set in 1952, when a small 36500 Coast Guard boat was called to go out over “the bar,” off the coast of Chatham, Massachusetts, to attempt the rescue of members of a tanker that was ripped in half in a record-breaking storm. Everyone knew the rescue could be a suicide mission, but this crew of four attempted it knowing the risks they were taking. Led by an engineer-turned-captain, the crew of the tanker had to try to stay alive on a dying ship long enough to give rescuers the chance to reach them, despite not even knowing if anyone knew where they were. Together, all these heroes make up an amazing story that you have to see to believe.
Coming out January 29, the Finest Hours is a nailbiter of a movie that you have to see.
Until then, I’ve got some cool facts and sound bites to share from a few cast members of the Finest Hours. I was lucky enough to attend a press junket — and even luckier to sit at the end of the table near the talent — and interview these actors on their roles.
· Chris Pine (“Bernie Webber”) & Ben Foster (“Richard Livesey”) – PAIRED
· Casey Affleck (“Ray Sybert”)
· Holliday Grainger (“Miriam”)
· Director Craig Gillespie
What a lineup, right?
I learned a lot about this stellar group of stars, and thoroughly enjoyed every portion of the junket. All four groups, as listed above, were unique and energetic, whether the celebs were alone or paired up. Chris Pine is feisty and Ben Foster and him appear to have quite a friendship; they were fun to listen to and I can imagine them being quite a team on the set. Casey Affleck is well-cast in his role of Ray Sybert, as his answers throughout the entire interview were methodical and well thought out. Holliday Grainger is enviably beautiful and trim, and Craig Gillespie just seemed so joyful and thrilled to speak with us.
We first got to speak with Casey Affleck. He seemed extremely comfortable to speak with us and I have to admit I was not entirely familiar with some of his prior movies; I have made it a mission now to watch them all. He is such an intelligent and eloquent speaker, yet he’s got a sharp wry humor that came out in a few places. When asked what he thought about the personality of Sybert, the quiet engineer thrown into the role of a captain, he referenced being tethered to the script to guide for much of it, but also said “Craig and I talked about being kind of a librarian on an oil tanker and I think he was that kind of a guy. It doesn’t seem like he’s going to suddenly, you know, Clark Kent style rip his shirt off and just be like this bold, you know, like overtly all external gestures super hero kind of a dude.” While I think no one would have minded had he ripped his shirt off, he portrayed that approach perfectly.
I got the opportunity to ask him if the many hours of being on a set that was tilting and moving, being cold and having water thrown at him, was he now less or more interested in getting back out on the water in a boat — it was something I kept thinking while listening to them talk about the filming, and while I was watching the film itself, as I am not a boater. I get motion sickness in a heartbeat. His answer to my question “Boat lover or boat hater now?” was candid, and he admitted to not really being a big boat person, yet he has since filmed another movie about being on a boat, and he had this to say about boating overall: “It’s really pretty even in the winter time, you know. It’s calming, you know, and maybe part of it is getting away from all the like cell phone signals and you know there’s a lot – there’s a lot these days attacking you. It’s like sensory overload and going out on a boat is a nice antidote to that.” Words of wisdom.
Holliday was immediately thrust into questions, as press junkets run on an appropriately tight schedule, and she never bat an eye. She plays Miriam, the love interest of Bernie Webber, a woman who is probably a little more assertive than many were back in that time period, yet it didn’t hold her back. She was asked about her thoughts on playing a non-traditional woman from the ’50s, and her answer was very insightful, nailing the fact that Miriam really was quite traditional in her values yet her bravery was timeless. Well put, Holliday, well put. I loved the role of Miriam and wish I’d gotten the chance to meet the real live inspiration for the role, as her attitude had a lot to do with the final outcome in the movie. There was a lot of talk about how she was the only female on the cast, yet her concern was her accent, which is something else she nailed. Holliday had the opportunity to meet Miriam’s real-life daughter and learn a lot about the time period and what life was like back then, and it comes across in her portrayal of strong-willed and loving Miriam.
Director Craig Gillespie had a monumental task ahead of him when he took on the project of the Finest Hours. He compared it to a set as challenging as Apollo 13, and after learning about the details of creating an ocean set that could accurately make us feel like we’re on the waves and seeing the hulk of the tanker, bobbing in the monstrous waves with 33 people on board, all with dwindling hope and growing fear. Craig shared that they had a lot of details to consider, including the scene with the 36500 crossing “the bar,” particularly knowing the entire film was being shot in 3D. They had the advantage of having the production designer, Michael Corinblith, from Apollo 13, to help with the legitimacy of every scene, and a trip to the coast to experience Chatham personally, though they ended up there in December and had to deal with the extreme cold.
I asked Craig about advisors on set to help ensure the boat scenes looked legitimate, because however they’d done it, it was successful. He explained to me that the 36500 has a 10,000 pound keel, allowing it to spear itself into the oncoming waves and not tip over. In some of those scenes, the actors were getting 2000 pounds of water dumped on them and they had to continue to act through it, despite the cold and physical discomfort, which let another member of the press to inquire if the personality differences between Chris and Casey meant differences in directorial approaches: “Honestly every actor has their own way of working. And it’s really I feel like you got to best serve them and make them comfortable. And Chris and Casey certainly had different styles and it’s really just sort of feeling what they need and you know where they need sort of encouragement or focus or what they’re feeling and it’s the same throughout all of them.”
We had a brief break — in which the press was a little rambunctious — before Chris and Ben came in. What a duo. It was fun having a little pre-interview discussion with Ben about the location of the cords on our corner of the table; no matter how many times you interview a celeb, it’s still a bit of a “wow, I’m actually having a normal conversation with xx” moment and Ben didn’t disappoint. I sat there waiting on the segment to begin, notebook, water and pen in front of me, as Chris and Ben quickly ate some chocolate chip cookies from the catering area. (What a spread they’d laid out for us all.) As I’m looking down at my phone in the interim, I hear “Avengers? You’ve gotta be kidding me!” A lighthearted moment as Chris teased me about my Avengers notebook — it was one of those memorable moments, and there was even a superhero reference later on in the interview that had everyone laughing. (And I love my Avengers notebook even more. I cleared out the Target aisle when they were $1 due to my Marvel obsession and the fact these notebooks are the perfect size to go in my press bag or purse.)
Chris and Ben were genuinely having a good time, and my first thought was that they must keep the crew on their toes. (They reminded me a little of the interaction between Chris Evans and Jeremy Renner.) They had a lot of humorous interplay and clearly have a lot of respect for each other. Right from the beginning, they were both upfront that they are not heroes by any means; they were merely portraying them for the camera and could not begin to be on the same level of the people who really put their lives on the line each day to rescue strangers on the water. When asked if they could do what those men do, they both said they’d like to think so but it was a true privilege to spend time with the real heroes, the real members of the Coast Guard, as they relived some of their finest hours.
Someone asked Chris what lured him to the role: “Just the simplicity of it. I love stories that are not all that complicated but that are really well told. I love a clichéd story and this was a beautiful throwback story with a good romance. A guy that loved his girl and wanted to get back to her. A guy that was really scared. Was up against seemingly insurmountable odds. Overcame them. Found his manhood. Found his courage.” I love it when you get such a simple yet candid and honest answer.
Ben happens to be from Rhode Island, so he has a natural attachment to this part of the country. His response to a similar question as Chris’s, about why he signs onto a project? Equally cool: “I think it’s really important that we’re reminded of a world that chooses to put someone else in front of them. This world is increasingly self-centered and self-aware and it really warms my heart and gives me some hope, which is I think is what we need. There are men and women putting their lives behind somebody else and their saying that’s a human, I want to take care of that human. So for me to sign on yeah. If there’s like bait that’s yeah that’s how you hook me, thanks.”
Every press interview I do is a little different, and each one stands out for a different reason. This one is because this crew took on a story that happened a long time ago and made us not just pay attention to the heroics of the crews of those ships, but they made it relevant to today’s world, where people are entranced by electronics and not always jumping in to put the needs of others first. They brought it back home, showing us all how important it was both then and now. It truly is about the finest hours of these amazing men (and woman) that I have since read up on because it’s a fascinating story, and because I’ve always been extremely interested in shipwrecks..in spite of, or because of, my disinterest in actually riding on boats. (But sign me up for a zipline or skydiving expedition!)
Go see the Finest Hours. It opens on January 29. And head back to my blog on Friday, where I share my review of the movie. (One hint: It’s good..very good.) For a teaser, here’s a new trailer that’s a little different from what’s been playing a lot on television. Enjoy!