Disney's The Finest Hours is the daring story of the Coast Guard's most courageous mission, as New England was battered by a brutal nor'easter in the winter of 1952. Considered the greatest small-boat rescue in U.S. history, four men – coxswain Bernard C. Webber and his crew Andrew J. Fitzgerald, Richard P. Livese and Ervin E. Mask — would later receive the service's highest decoration for heroism, the rare Gold Lifesaving Medal.
At a recent interview with The Finest Hours cast, the actors shared the heroism behind the real-life characters they portray and the old-fashioned virtues of days gone by giving us a closer look at bravery that occurred during those finest hours.
The Finest Hours storms into U.S. theaters on January 29, 2016 in Digital 3D™ and IMAX® 3D.
The Finest Hours Cast Interviews
Q: Casey, your character and the character of Bernie had a lot of heart. Why was that important for both of them as the lead as far as the rescue part?
Casey Affleck: I think the movie in part is about two men who, though different in some ways, are similar in that they're not in a role that usually requires acts of heroism or leadership, but they step up into that role because the circumstances demand it. Part of that is kind of galvanizing people, corralling everyone, overcoming their resistance in order to try to get them to do something that is selfless and courageous. I think it takes a lot of heart to do that and think about everyone else that’s involved and not just yourself.
One of the things I loved about this movie was that it's really this intimate story about people trying to help each other in an incredibly stressful scary time. That felt like a very positive environment. It was an uplifting story in that way and you don’t see that that much. Visually it's sort of meant to be a throwback. It’s set in a certain period, but it’s also thematically in some ways. It's old-fashioned and has simpler ideas about valor and virtue.
Q: Chris, you mentioned that this role was unlike anyone you’ve ever played before. What was different about Bernie to you and was that what made the role appealing?
Chris Pine: When I first met Craig, he kept on mentioning Rocky as kind of the touchstone for the character. I thought that was a very adept, adroit perceptive way in. Especially how Scott wrote the script.
He’s not the sharpest or swiftest guy in many ways, but he’s also very, very adept at his job. He knows that boat. He knows those waters, and as much as he’s racked by fear and doubt, he does really know how to use his hands. His body.
He’s a soft guy. He’s scared. He’s like a puppy dog. He wears his heart on his sleeve. He loves his woman. He’s just earnest. There’s no complexity above and beyond what you see with Bernie is what you get. I love that un-cynical throwback quality to him.
Q: Holliday, she [Miriam] was a very non-traditional type of girl. When she was in the Coast Guard station they were like; none of the other women do that. I really loved her personality. Is that what attracted you to the role?
Holliday Grainger: When I first read it I thought she was quite traditional in all her values, and in the sense of she definitely has very strong traditional family values of wanting to get married and start a family. That’s very important for her. I think what defies the time period is her lack of a care for social conventions. So I think for her it’s, it’s definitely what I love about the character of Miriam, is that she is quite similar to Bernie in some ways. She’s very instinctive and very self-assured, and goes with what she feels is right.
When she wants to get married she feels it’s right so she’s gonna go for it. If everyone is saying her fiance is in danger, he’s about to be killed, this man doesn’t know what he’s doing, I don’t know if there’s a question in her mind, she’s got to say something. In that respect, her kind of values are quite old fashioned but her bravery is definitely something that is quite timeless. Even now-a-days her self assurity would be something to be respected.
Q: Were there challenges for you in trying to balance those two things? Her lack of care of social conventions and still the traditional values of the 1950s. Was that difficult at all?
Holliday Grainger: Yes, massively to be honest. The first couple of times I read the script I couldn’t initially see how I would play Miriam. I found the two quite difficult to balance. It wasn't until I met Miriam’s daughter, Patty, and she took me on a tour around Chatham and introduced me to a woman, a contemporary of Miriam that knew Bernie and Miriam, and listening to her totally opened my eyes to the mindset of that time. The strength being, you don’t have to be a completely independent woman to be strong. There can be a strength in your instinct and standing by your man, and that doesn’t mean that you are any less strong or self-confident.
Q: Chris and Ben, the evolution of both of your characters together was probably my favorite relationship in the film. What was it like playing that role, especially you Ben? In the beginning you come in and you’re just this strong Coast Guard guy and you're going to go in there for the Coast Guard, not so much for Bernie. And in the end, you come out of that boat really having a new-found respect for him. What was it like shooting that character?
Ben Foster: It’s as you said these are guys. These are guys who put others before them. It’s so humbling doing a job like this where you get the opportunity to spend time with the men and women of our military. And not because it’s the American military, but because these are men and women who have chosen to serve their fellow-man and that just speaks to humans.
So a guy who said, “Yeah, I’m gonna go on the boat even though everybody else is saying no.” That’s his job. That’s what he does. He’s not looking for a selfie. He’s not looking to tell all his friends what a brave guy he is on Twitter. He’s doing it because that’s his job and it’s the right thing to do. It’s the right thing to do.
In terms of the drama of the piece of Mr. Webber’s hero’s journey, it’s more of a privilege for myself to spend time with the real guys, the real Chatham Coast Guard. An equal measure privilege to spend time with such a wonderful actor as Chris. He’s doing work that I haven't seen him do before. I haven't seen in a movie in a very long time. I haven't seen this kind of underdog. I haven't seen this kind of quality of true blue. There’s so much cynicism in cinema these days and what Chris pulls off I think is as striking as the ocean that we’re on.
Q: Do you guys understand these people putting themselves after others? Would you be able to fill their shoes in real life?
Ben Foster: We’re make believers. The idea is imagining. I believe we would all hope that inside all of us we have the capacity to do the right thing when we need to. Without plan. Without the availability of a big plan. Without the spiritual compass to go do the right thing. I think we all want that. That’s the importance of these movies right now. This is about real, not superheroes, real people doing real things. I appreciate the Avengers like anybody, but it’s great to see real people doing real things for the good of their fellow-man. I hope so.
Press: All right, Chris.
Chris Pine: I have no idea and I guess I’ll never know until I’m thrown into that situation. I think we all have that gene to do good and to do right. Some of us are called to do it more often than others. I think if this was like 10,000 years ago, Ben and I would be the guys after the hump was done. We’d be in front of the fire going check it out. Those guys did this.
That’s what we were called to do. That’s our job in the social fabric as entertainers to reflect back to the community. These are good things. These suck. Model yourself after that. Don’t be that guy. That’s why the movie business exists. That’s why television exists. That’s why theater exists, is because we see ourselves reflected back. So my job is the reflector but in a certain situation, I don’t know. I would hope so. I would hope I would have the balls and the fortitude and the courage like these guys have.
Q: Was there anything in your personal life that helped motivate you or feel your portrayal of the character for both of you guys?
Ben Foster: What we do is a job and it’s not that exceptional. It’s a great privileged job, no question. But you do a thing. Being around these men and women who do this for a living, the Coast Guard, the real Coast Guard and the real military, people who are in the service industry, journalist who actually ask questions because they care. Wherever care is involved, it’s so humbling. I hope some of that’s rubbed off on me over the years. We pale in comparison to these men and women. I don’t know if it’s about relating. It’s more about celebrating the other.
Q: Casey, I love how you portray your character. You’re a quiet guy who gets thrown into this leadership role. In a lot of movies like that the quiet guy is suddenly turned bold and daring and becomes a brash leader, but somehow you are able to hold on to that core part of this character that was still quiet and thoughtful. What prompted you to make that kind of choice in your portrayal of him?
Casey Affleck: Sometimes you do without a plan. I would love to take credit for that, but I think that it was like you decide on a character and certain elements of it and the rest of it you’re sort of making it up as you go.
Craig and I talked about being kind of librarian on an oil tanker and I think he was that kind of guy. It doesn’t seem like he’s going to suddenly Clark Kent style rip his shirt off and be like this bold, overtly all external gestures super hero dude. That’s sort of not the point. The point is that sometimes circumstances present themselves in which people can be heroic without the gestures of heroism, if you know what I mean.
Q: You mentioned that you were terrified of the accent. How did you overcome that fear?
Holliday Grainger: The first day I was shaking in makeup trying, ‘cause I find it quite difficult. Usually if I go into an accent most British or most American accents I’ve done before, general American, I’ve done Texas and I’m very used to listening to them, but I had not previously ever listened to a Boston accent.
I spent most of my time trying to tune my ear into the accent before I could even start working on it which I’ve never had to do before. There was a lot more practice and it didn’t come as naturally to me as most accents always have. It was a lot of like listen and repeat, and we had a great voice coach Wendy Overly who really helped me hone in on certain sounds that were sticking out.
Q: How does it make you look at those that are still out there doing this sort of job? Being from Boston you know there’s a huge community just like the community that gathered around the guys here. They were coming together and putting food out for when the survivors came in. How does it make you look at like the Coast Guard and the fishermen who are still out there?
Casey Affleck: You know those can be hard jobs, but I think people love doing them. I wouldn’t think of those guys as victims of something. I think that the few that I met really, really love what they do. A lot of people are professional fishermen although that industry is sort of dying off because their business has been gobbled up by bigger corporate fishing entities, but I think it’s a really hard job.
I’ve often thought about doing other things in my life. I started acting early and I’m 40 now. I think well maybe I'll try other things, but I can tell you it won’t be in the Coast Guard or going deep-sea fishing because it's not for me. But you know being a fireman, or a policeman, or any of those jobs where you’re there to help people, there are times when you are asked to put your own life on the line for someone else’s and that takes a special kind of person I think.
About Disney’s “The Finest Hours”
Disney’s “The Finest Hours” is the unforgettable story of the Coast Guard’s courageous mission, which is directed by Craig Gillespie and stars: Chris Pine; Academy Award® and Golden Globe® nominee Casey Affleck; Ben Foster; Holliday Grainger; John Ortiz; and Eric Bana. Produced by Jim Whitaker and Dorothy Aufiero, the screenplay is by Oscar® nominee Scott Silver and Oscar nominees Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson based on the acclaimed non-fiction book of the same name by Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman. Doug Merrifield serves as executive producer. “The Finest Hours” storms into U.S. theaters on January 29, 2016 in Digital 3D™ and IMAX® 3D.
Portions of this material have been provided by Walt Disney Studios.