LIVE BY NIGHT
Live by Night
Oscar winner Ben Affleck (“Argo”) directed and stars in the dramatic crime thriller “Live by Night.” Affleck also wrote the screenplay, based on the award-winning best-seller by Dennis Lehane; it marks the second collaboration for the fellow Boston natives, following the acclaimed drama “Gone Baby Gone.” What you put out into this world will always come back to you, but it never comes back how you predict.
Taking fatherly advice is not in Joe Coughlin’s nature. Instead, the WWI vet is a self-proclaimed anti-establishment outlaw, despite being the son of the Boston Police Deputy Superintendent. Joe’s not all bad, though; in fact, he’s not really bad enough for the life he’s chosen. Unlike the gangsters he refuses to work for, he has a sense of justice and an open heart, and both work against him, leaving him vulnerable time and again—in business and in love.
Driven by a need to right the wrongs committed against him and those close to him, Joe heads down a risky path that goes against his upbringing and his own moral code. Leaving the cold Boston winter behind, he and his reckless crew turn up the heat in Tampa. And while revenge may taste sweeter than the molasses that infuses every drop of illegal rum he runs, Joe will learn that it comes at a price.
“Live by Night” is produced by Leonardo DiCaprio (“The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Out of the Furnace”) and Jennifer Davisson (“The Ides of March,” “Orphan”), under the Appian Way banner; and Ben Affleck and Jennifer Todd (“Alice in Wonderland,” “Across the Universe”) for Pearl Street Films. Chris Brigham, Dennis Lehane and Chay Carter are serving as executive producers.
Starring with Affleck are Elle Fanning (“Maleficent”), Brendan Gleeson (“In the Heart of the Sea,” the “Harry Potter” films), Chris Messina (“Argo,” “The Mindy Project”), Sienna Miller (“American Sniper,” “Foxcatcher”), Zoe Saldana (“Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Avatar”), and Oscar winner Chris Cooper (“Adaptation,” “The Town”).
Behind the scenes, Affleck collaborated with three-time Oscar-winning director of photography Robert Richardson (“JFK,” “The Aviator,” “Hugo”), Oscar-nominated production designer Jess Gonchor (“True Grit,” “Foxcatcher”), Oscar-winning editor William Goldenberg (“Argo”), and Oscar-nominated costume designer Jacqueline West (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Argo”). The score is composed by Harry Gregson-Williams (“The Martian,” “Gone Baby Gone”).
A Warner Bros. Pictures presentation, an Appian Way/Pearl Street production, “Live By Night” is currently slated for limited release on December 25, 2016, and wide release on January 13, 2017. It will be distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company. This film has been rated R for strong violence, language throughout, and some sexuality/nudity. www.livebynight.movie
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
JOE I don’t want to be a gangster.
I stopped kissing rings a long time ago.
MASO It no longer matters what you want.
You’re in this life.
The son of a high-ranking Boston cop, Joe Coughlin went overseas to fight valiantly for his country, but quickly found himself utterly disillusioned by the war. He ultimately finds himself back home in, as he tells us, a life he didn’t expect…paying the price for the American dream. “Joe fully acknowledges that he’s chosen to be an outlaw in a town run by gangsters, with the Irish and Italian mobs at war,” offers writer/director/producer Ben Affleck, who also plays Joe.
“What I find most intriguing about him though is that, while he breaks the law and makes his own rules, it’s his own morality that prevents him from considering himself one of them, a gangster.” But it’s Joe’s inherent sense of decency that could be his undoing. “Live by Night” was a true passion project for Affleck, who says, “As a filmmaker, this was a chance to pay homage to the classic Warner Bros. gangster movies of the 1930s through the `70s.
I grew up watching them and they had an epic, sprawling feel that really took you into a different world, a different era.” Affleck adapted the screenplay from author Dennis Lehane’s novel of the same name; the two first collaborated when Affleck made his acclaimed directorial debut with his screen adaptation of Lehane’s crime thriller Gone, Baby, Gone. Lehane served as an executive producer on “Live by Night.” “Creatively speaking, Ben and I are a unique fit—and it’s not just the Boston thing, though the Boston thing is big,” Lehane smiles.
“There’s something special about Ben’s aesthetic. His first time in the director’s chair was with ‘Gone Baby Gone,’ and he did such a beautiful job, I love that film. So when I heard he was going to adapt Live by Night, I was happy to be working with him again. And like before, watching this book transmogrify in Ben’s hands, from the screenplay on, was a special thing.”
As a lifelong film buff, Affleck posits that the story has all the tropes that made him a fan of the gangster genre in particular: beautiful women, dangerous men, cops, the mob, shootouts, car chases…the whole fiery, combustible mix. “As soon as I read Dennis’s book I knew that there was something there for anyone who just really likes to have a great time at the movies.” Leonardo DiCaprio’s production banner, Appian Way, held the rights to the book, which Affleck read at the suggestion of DiCaprio’s producing partner, Jennifer Davisson.
“Our company is constantly looking for stories about great men—which doesn’t necessarily mean good men, just that they have greatness in them in one way or another—and what they sacrifice for that,” she explains. “One of the things Dennis does so well is dissect the male ego in a really complex and interesting way, and that’s something I think Ben does equally well. We had the property, but when Ben was reading the book, it was clear how much he liked it and that it was right for him. When we read Ben’s beautiful script, the same Lehane sensibility jumped off the page.” Producer Jennifer Todd agrees.
“Ben is attracted to Dennis’s stories, and this one in particular really excited him: the time period, the characters, going from Boston to Florida. It all felt like nothing else we had looked at. Add to that the central character Joe, who is not quite a bad guy and not quite a good guy but caught somewhere in between the two, so he makes his choices, but he feels the consequences.
Where does he really belong?” Joe leaves Boston after a short prison stint for the warmer environs, and even hotter underground rum trade, of Tampa. In addition to working in and around the greater Los Angeles area, the production shot extensively in various sections of Boston, especially Lawrence, and recreated the exotic Florida locales in various parts of Georgia, which better represented the Tampa from that era.
In collaboration with Affleck, designers Jess Gonchor and Jacqueline West and their teams recreated the time and place, with Robert Richardson capturing it all and William Goldenberg cutting. Affleck notes, “Diving into this world, this era, with Bob and Bill and Jess and Jackie all encapsulating it so deftly, and all these great actors populating it and turning in tremendous performances, made this one of the most enjoyable films I’ve been involved in. Everyone came in and did such a great job that it felt like we were there, in that life, going through that experience.”
The three women Joe crosses paths with in the film—in one way or another—are portrayed by Elle Fanning, Sienna Miller and Zoe Saldana. They are joined by Brendan Gleeson and Chris Cooper on one side of the law, and Remo Girone and Robert Glenister squarely on the other. Joe’s most trusted friend and fellow felon is played by Chris Messina.
JOE I lived one robbery to the next. A good day was filled by sleep, and a good night spent running too hard to look back.
For the ten years following the war, Joe Coughlin managed to live like an outlaw—under his policeman father’s roof, no less—before it all caught up to him. “The things that Joe witnessed as a soldier made him decide there wasn’t any meaning to the rules we follow in life, to playing it straight,” Affleck states. “He even sees the organized hierarchical nature of the gangster life as an equal anathema to the hierarchy of the military. He wants no part of that, no part of taking orders from anybody. He’s going to make his own rules.” And he does so with a fair amount of success, so long as he keeps it, as Affleck describes, “small-time, running around with just two other guys and doing little stick-ups, that kind of thing.” But it isn’t Joe’s distaste for authority, or even an ill-chosen robbery, that causes him to make his gravest error. It’s love. And it’s that singular emotion in its many forms—from passion to compassion—that will continue to be his downfall for years to come.
JOE You don’t think I’m strong enough?
GRACIELA I don’t think you’re cruel enough.
Molls & Dolls
It all started with an inside man. When we meet Joe, Affleck offers, “He’s already in a bit of hot water. He’s involved in a secret affair with Emma Gould, the girlfriend of Irish mobster Albert White.” Like Joe, Emma flaunts her independence, precarious as it may be. “She’s controlled by Albert, so she’s thrilled by her relationship with Joe, the danger of it is exciting,” he adds.
Sienna Miller, who portrays Emma, says she shares Affleck’s enthusiasm for the genre. “I’m obsessed with the Prohibition era, so to be in this film is a dream realized, but more important to me was the fact that Ben had written the script and would star and direct in it. Having seen his previous work, I would have dropped anything to be a part of this and to play such an exquisite role.
“Emma’s the quintessential gangster’s moll,” Miller continues, “serving drinks in a speakeasy where illegal poker games go on, being squired about on the arm of her married boss and sleeping with the enemy behind his back. She has a steely center that serves her in navigating a world that is dark and murderous and misogynistic, and that leads her to embark on a romance with Joe that is beautiful and transient and ultimately tragic. It’s very clear from the outset that she’s a strong, no-nonsense Irish lass doing what she must to survive.” Miller crafted a lovely County Cork-inspired lilt to play the feisty flapper from Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood, who serves as a catalyst for Joe’s resentful side to emerge.
“Sienna was just perfect for the part, it’s like she was born to it,” Affleck relates. “She got me speaking with an Irish accent all the time, she was just so good, so nuanced. Everything she did in the movie was purposeful and delicate, textured.” After Joe’s relationship with Emma goes up in flames, Joe serves a brief stint in prison for a heist that had gone horribly wrong.
Upon his release, with vengeance in his heart, he signs on with the Italian mob and is dispatched to Tampa. Joe quickly begins making the rounds of the locals involved in the manufacture and distribution of rum, and almost immediately encounters the exotic Graciela. He is instantly intrigued, even more so when he learns that she and her brother control something integral to the success of the rum business: molasses.
Zoe Saldana plays the part of Graciela, a Cuban living in Ybor, a multi-ethnic, multiracial community of hardworking immigrants, known for the production of cigars. “Joe’s been working with barbaric, violent criminals his whole life, so there’s an integrity to the people, Graciela’s people, that Joe finds appealing,” she suggests. “And Graciela is unlike other women he’s known. She’s educated, she’s traveled and studied music and art. She’s very cultured and also very smart when it comes to her family’s business.”
Joe loves Emma, but he learns what love actually is from Graciela. “What Joe and Emma have is urgent, dramatic, immature in some ways,” says Jennifer Todd. “What Joe and Graciela have feels more grown up, grounded, and based in something real.” Perhaps what sets Graciela apart from women like Emma is what she really wants out of life.
“I don’t think Graciela woke up in Cuba and said to herself, ‘I want to date gangsters, I want to live on the dark side,’” Saldana adds. “I think she wants a full life with a good man, a home, children.
The more time she spends with Joe, the more she realizes that she could have all that with this man. She sees who he really is, who he could be, if he could wash away all the bad that he does at night by doing good during the day. She sees his redemption.” Affleck states, “Zoe was amazing. She was able to convey all the strength and confidence and elusiveness of the character that draw Joe in, but it’s Graciela’s expectations of him that give him something to strive for, which Zoe played so quietly yet powerfully.”
Todd concurs, adding, “We were lucky to get Zoe because she has all these beautiful qualities, a lightness and grace, that suit Graciela so well, and she already speaks Spanish, but she applied an exquisite Cuban accent to her dialogue.” Like Miller and Saldana, Elle Fanning, too, utilized an accent for her role as Loretta Figgis, the sweet, at times naïve daughter of the Tampa police chief. However, for the Georgia native, it was simply a matter of returning to her roots.
It was the many other facets of Loretta’s journey that would prove an exciting challenge for the young actress. “At first, Loretta has such sparkle, this girl with a twinkle inside her who is looking for adventure in life, she’s so excited to follow her dreams. Oddly, it’s when she loses that sparkle, loses that twinkle that she had, that she discovers her real purpose in this world,” Fanning reveals.
Loretta’s initial meeting with Joe is very brief. The next time they come in contact, the tables have definitely turned. Both the children of policemen, the comparison ends there; their paths have taken them in very different directions. Still, Joe can’t help but have a measure of respect for the slip of a girl who could, with just a few words, bring his world crashing down around him.
The script called for a couple of lengthy monologues, one of which took place in front of a large crowd, Joe included. With Affleck’s blessing, Fanning took the opportunity to speak her lines aloud for the first time when cameras were rolling. “I just wanted to go for it, to feel that energy, and Ben was so helpful and so giving—both as a director and as an actor in the scene.”
“Elle gave Loretta such an angelic presence and, at the same time, a broken innocence,” observes Jennifer Davisson. “It’s trickier than it sounds to do that, but it was important for the character and she got it.” “Elle’s an extremely gifted actress,” Affleck states. “In the book, the character starts out at 13, but in the script I wrote her to be closer to the cusp of womanhood, someone who was straddling that line of being a girl and being grown up. I thought it would make Loretta’s storyline even more heartbreaking.”
Fanning was just 17 during production, yet, Affleck adds, “Despite being so young, she completely relaxes into the part; she doesn’t push, so it’s very natural, very real. She really does break your heart in the film.”
ALBERT WHITE You feel guilty about what you do, so you spend your life hoping someone will punish you for your sins. Well, here I am.
Mob Bosses & Career Criminals
Depraved and indifferent. Qualities every Mafioso knows are key to a successful life filled with power, money and—for anyone standing in the way of those virtues—murder. In the Prohibition-era setting of the story, power and money come mainly via the trafficking of illegal booze. Killing those who stand in the way is simply a trick of the trade. Though invited by Italian don Maso Pescatore and strongly urged by Irish boss Albert White, Joe has made a concerted effort to avoid working for Boston’s established gangsters.
In fact, he and his stick-up crew have stuck it to White in more ways than one, and their escapades have not gone undetected. White is the first to put Joe on notice, but while the outsider is well aware of the inner workings of White’s organization, Joe underestimates how much White knows, or how far he will go to win a point. English actor Robert Glenister, who takes on the role of the Irish mobster, describes White as “the personification of evil. He makes no bones about what he does and why he does it.”
Glenister says his challenge was to show White’s human side. “He’s a survivor, but in his world, at that time, you had to act brutally, ruthlessly, if anybody challenged you. Joe crosses him and that makes Albert a very unhappy man. One with psychopathic tendencies, certainly, but still a man.”
After Joe suffers the ultimate loss by White’s hand, he finds that in order to exact a measure of revenge on White, he has no other choice but to work for the competition. Remo Girone, a well-known Italian actor, plays Pescatore. “Albert White does the same things that Maso does, but it’s a problem of territory. One wants to prevail over the other, and that’s the problem,” he says. “Maso has a son, but he’s not clever. When Joe comes out of prison, he wants revenge on Albert White, so he decides to work for Maso. Maso sees Joe is clever, very clever, a good manager, so Maso gives him power in Florida.”
“I wanted the actors playing Albert and Maso to be faces the audience wouldn’t be overly familiar with,” Affleck says. “Sometimes in movies you see a bad guy, but it’s an actor you know and love, so on some subconscious level, you root for them. But these characters are such really, really bad guys, I didn’t want the audience to be comfortable with them, I didn’t want them to trust them, just like Joe doesn’t trust them. That said, Remo works a lot in Italy and Robert in the UK, so they’ll be well known to some, but they’re both such incredible actors that I think they pulled it off.”
Joe’s one trusted comrade-in-arms throughout the story is Dion Bartolo, played by Chris Messina, who previously worked with Affleck on “Argo.” Because Lehane describes the character in the book as heavy, Messina put on over 40 lbs. for the part. “Ben’s a tall guy, big shoulders, and I’m smaller, so when I was working on the role and trying to figure out how I would look like his bodyguard, like I could protect him and be in gunfights with him, I decided to bulk up a little,” Messina recalls.
“I learned that Frank Nitti, who was Al Capone’s right-hand man, was smaller than Capone, but they called him The Enforcer and everybody was scared of him. I showed up at the camera test and I had some extra weight on, and Ben liked it, so I kept going. A lot of ice cream and beer and pasta—it was a good time, to be honest!” “Chris thought since he couldn’t grow taller, he’d get wider,” Affleck jokes.
“In all honesty, Dion is scary mainly because of what he’s willing to do within this very merciless criminal environment, this mob world, and Chris radiated Dion’s inner strength.” Dion and his brother, Paulo, are the other members of Joe’s little group. “They’re childhood friends, running their own gang and doing petty theft, small heists,” Messina says. “But there’s loyalty, a strong friendship and love between these guys.” The story takes the threesome in different directions, but Dion is the one Joe takes to Florida with him to help run Maso’s operation.
“Once they get down to Tampa, they have more money, more clout…they’re moving up the ranks from outlaw to gangster,” Messina allows. Apart from size, the actor sees the one critical difference between the two friends as the way they look at their lives. “Dion doesn’t question who he is, who he’ll always be. He’ll live this way and die this way. Joe is always grappling with that, with what kind of man he wants to be.” Messina says that a favorite aspect of the shoot was the “oners,” the scenes shot in one long take.
“We did a lot of complicated oners—the card game in the beginning is one of them. They’re very interesting, all the elements have to be working, and they’re a lot of fun.” He admits they can also be nerve-wracking. “You don’t want to be the guy who screws up the great take,” he laughs.
CHIEF FIGGIS I won’t insult you by asking the nature of your business, so you won’t have to insult me by lying.
Joe Coughlin isn’t just the son of a cop. His dad, Thomas Coughlin, is the Boston PD’s Deputy Superintendent and an imposing figure in his own right, with or without the uniform. To play him, Affleck turned to renowned Irish actor Brendan Gleeson, who was delighted to be a part of the project. “Working with Ben was massive, he’s a fantastic actor and filmmaker,” Gleeson says.
“Then, to actually be in a movie about the Prohibition era and play an Irish cop, well! It was hugely exciting. Dennis Lehane is something else, and the script was spectacularly well written, too. Ben allows long scenes to play out, so you have an emotional journey within a scene. It was a privilege to be a part of it.” One of Gleeson’s most memorable moments on set came in the first scene he shot.
“I have to say, I was a little more than thrilled to be back lit by a whole pile of 1920s cop cars and a whole bunch of these great looking cops. For me, that was movie magic.” Affleck appreciated the gravitas the veteran actor contributed to his role.
“He brings this quiet integrity to Thomas, this interesting sort of curious disapproval that filters into some fatherson relationships in which it seems like the father’s always criticizing the son and the son feels like he can never prove himself or get enough respect. He just played the character so masterfully, it was a treat to watch him work.” “The Coughlin men have a complicated relationship,” Jennifer Davisson says.
“Clearly there is love between father and son, or Thomas would have given up on Joe years ago, or Joe would have distanced himself from his father. But that love is steeped in a turbulent history, and we can’t know the whole of it. Is Thomas right? Is Joe right? Is what the father did to protect his son really protecting his son? Brendan did a phenomenal job of putting that moral dilemma up to the audience to decide.” And just as Joe walks a line between wrong and not-so-wrong, “Thomas is not particularly good and not particularly bad, either,” Gleeson offers.
“In his line of work at that time, he’s negotiating a situation where the moral compass is pretty skewed. I think he attempts to maintain a fairly stringent one, but nothing happens without compromise. There’s a fluid morality in everyone.”