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Ben Foster Talks About "Alpha Dog"

By Fred Topel

Ben Foster Talks About

Ben Foster and Emile Hirsch in "Alpha Dog"

© Universal Pictures
Ben Foster is known for taking on challenging roles and playing characters with a bit of an edge to them. Foster's starring turn in Alpha Dog is especially representative of the sort of project the actor likes to sink his teeth into.

Inspired by true events and written/directed by Nick Cassavetes, the story revolves around three days in the lives of a group of Southern California teenagers involved in drugs.

What is it about your character Jake that sets him apart?
“I think he's an addict. It doesn’t make him a bad person in my eyes. And, of course, the actor is going to be different playing the person who's inflicting suffering than the person that's receiving it. Every role, every gig, you have to find a quality and you have to love the person. Not just like him, but love the person so you can care about what they care about. And he cares very much for his younger brother.

He feels wronged by the world, and in a world that he doesn’t seem to fit into and he's trying to some degree. He keeps failing at that, so addiction is just a coping mechanism. Unfortunately, the addiction of crystal meth is such a dangerous and deadly one. You can dehydrate, you don't eat, you don't sleep for days, and you actually begin to hallucinate. And then you have the energy to operate in that territory. On top of which, this man was a national Tae Kwon-Do champion so it creates a very dangerous human being. But I think at its root he is just a wounded individual.”

How do you feel about the divided response to the film?
“Well, so far it's been positive actually, surprisingly. So maybe it's just a freak thing out here in New York. I imagined that it was going to conflict a lot of people, the nature of the material, the nature of the lead characters are not the most likeable human beings. The line between romanticizing and presenting. It's dealing with a lot of frequencies.”

Did you intend to do a slew of troubled teen roles?
“I'm certainly not looking to repeat myself in any way, but I am at an age group that you can go - there are clichés in which you can go,” explained Foster. “I'm an actor and I'm interested in conflicts because that's the nature of drama. So by not repeating myself, I keep looking for different conflicts. But that's it.”

In terms of being good at portraying that type of character, do you feel you have a special insight?
“I think it's difficult being a young person. I think it's difficult being a human being, but the pressures of being a young adult… Every action is defining the type of man or woman that you will eventually become. And at the same time, to figure out that person, that ideal at your root that you hope to become, you have to test those grounds. Sadly, in these circumstances, they go too far.”

What were your teen years like?
“I wasn't a fan of them. How were yours? Yeah, you survive them but you don't think you will, right? The teen years were very difficult and I was really blessed with an extraordinary family and an outlet. I think those two things are major contributors to those who make the right decisions in the end and those who let themselves down. Having an outlet and that can be sports, that can be a form of art. But the reason why I believe these kids are pulling triggers is not hip hop videos, it's not video games. It's not the movies. It's apathy and a lack of care. There's no place to put it. Or they've decided not to because they're privileged white Americans. They don't need to care. And because of that, anything's possible.”

In the film there’s a critical scene where you’re talking on the phone. What are you reacting to?
“Emile [Hirsch] was on the other line. As an actor, I have a younger brother. He's four years younger. I'm not by nature necessarily a violent person but exploring the potential of that in that moment opened something up in me that I didn't know existed. That I will go to the ends of the earth to protect my loved ones. I knew that in theory, but I hadn't really experienced it so it was an interesting day.”

Was it method acting?
“I don't know what you call it. It was just what it felt like. I mean that's the ideal, I think, of anyone who participates in the arts is that eventually there's a catharsis rather than a damaging aspect. And the idea of the method has been so bastardized by kind of untrained people who watch Brando movies, rather than whatever works in the moment. And that particular moment was I was talking to somebody who had my brother. And by addressing it and going to its center, one is able to ideally release it. And then instead of actors who become fatigue and destroyed and distraught over playing a damaged person, you've actually released something. I thought it was a very cathartic experience.”

What was the most intense scene?
“When I get fired. Nick [Cassavetes] said such a beautiful thing to me before doing the scene of getting fired, a really wonderful bit of direction. He said, 'You're a fan of Jeff Buckley, right?' I said, 'Yeah.' 'You know when Jeff just gets up there and lets it go? Just let it go.' He said, 'Rolling.' And that was the type of direction that he would use with me. It's not Buckley coming out, but it's me letting go of something and it's fun. But that thought is coming from a real place.”

Page 2: Ben Foster on the Cast of Alpha Dog, 3:10 to Yuma, 30 Days of Night, and X-Men Spin-offs

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