Exclusive: An Honest Talk with ‘Messenger’ Star Ben Foster

By  · Published on December 18th, 2009

It might be the fatigue from a full working day of production, but there’s a quiet in Ben Foster’s voice as I talk to him about The Messenger ‐ yet another fantastic film you’ll hear more about as we close in on Oscar season that your theater probably deprived you of. He’s contemplative, searching for answers the way a gardener might pick out the right spot for a seedling. Or, if you’re geeky, the way a famous historian/adventurer might choose the cup Christ drank from at the last supper.

Despite being young, Foster has already had performances gather Awards-talk, and it seems like this may be another year in which his name is whispered about while ballots circulate. He, alongside Woody Harrelson, delivers a stunning, raw performance as an Army Staff Sergeant who is tasked with delivering the worst possible news to the families of fallen soldiers.

Because of the stark subject matter, we, of course, decided it would be a great idea to get some questions from our Twitter followers.

Why we did this, I have no idea. But I soon scrap the concept (probably short after talking more about Sisqo (who should have never left Dru Hill) than I feel comfortable with). But despite an ill-advised concept, Foster delivers some fantastic, personal answers.

So you’ve been filled in on what we’re doing here? The Twitter questions?

Yeah. They filled me in a little.

Well, I appreciate you hanging in there on this. Let’s hope it’s relatively painless. The first question is from user @Siblings_At_Law: Were you surprised with your acting in 3:10 to Yuma? You were in some kind of zone in that movie.

Gosh, that’s kind of a difficult thing to answer. I guess I don’t really know what the question is.

I suppose I’m always looking to be surprised with every job. I never go in trying to prove that I have something figured out entirely. I think that would take some of the fun out of it. It was a character that lent itself to a certain type of musicality which is a thrill to get swept up in. Having the permission to behave in ways that are frowned upon in our society is a thrill. I certainly had a lot of fun finding Charlie.

Our next question is from user @wallacewallace: Why did you end up acting in Get Over It and what was it like working with Sisqo?

I got involved with that…I don’t know how honest I’m supposed to be with this kind of thing.


I turned it down about 5 times, and it wasn’t something that initially on the page was up my alley. Mr. Harvey Weinstein called me into his office. This was at the height of Mirimax, and basically he said, ‘If you’re in the Mirimax family, and you are in the Mirimax family, we take care of our own, and who do you want to meet? Do you want to meet Martin Scorsese? He’s doing a film called Gangs of New York,’ and I said, ‘Well, yeah, I would like to meet Martin Scorsese, but I don’t want it as a favor. So if there’s a role, I’d be thrilled to audition for him.’ And he said, ‘Well, sure. If you’re in, you’re in. You do this for me, and I do something for you.’

What I tried to do was start a deal with a film that never got made ‐ this just insane project that I was really hoping to do, and I tried to make a deal to do: if I did Get Over It they would let me make this other one or they would cast me in this other one. That was a deal-breaker. Basically I just went with it and said, ‘Stop taking yourself so damned seriously and have fun and do something ‐ find your own challenge with material that doesn’t necessarily sing to you.’ At the end of the day I had a lot of fun, and it was goofy and sweet and I realized that there’s nothing wrong with that. How it turned out is how it turned out.

Part two of that question ‐ Sisqo was a sweet, sweet kid. Really nice fella. Loved video games, loved “The Simpsons,” easy guy to get along with. Couldn’t ask for a nicer kid on set.

This is one of mine: How would you feel with the war movie trifecta of The Hurt Locker, Brothers, and The Messenger all represented at the Oscars in February?

Sounds pretty damned crowded, sir.


But it’s not going to happen. I imagine not at least in the same categories if at all, but to be a part of the conversation going on right now is amazing. I can’t really invest in hearsay or statistics or these Oscar hopefuls, but that this little film is even in the conversation ‐ part of a much larger conversation about the effects of war…hopefully in a pro-active way… on the emotionally level at least, that feels right.

How do you even prepare yourself emotionally for a scene like the first time your character goes to deliver the news that a soldier has died?

Well, have you lost anybody?

Yes, I have.

Okay. Have you had to call anybody about that or tell somebody about that?

Of course.

Okay. Me too.

It’s a universal experience. It’s the worst thing in the world to lose someone you love. We all go through it, and we all have to get through it and find how to be a human being again when you’re like, ‘I don’t know how to put my pants on. I don’t know how to get out of bed.’ You just don’t know what to do with yourself anymore. And somehow we do. There’s that moment that we remember that, yes, we are never getting that loved one back. But we had them. And they had us. That’s something that can never be taken away. This brief time we’re here, we can still be grateful for the precious time that we do have.

So in preparation, one just has to open their heart and listen and allow it, well, just allow it in. It doesn’t hurt being surrounded by wonderful actors, but yeah, it’s universal.

I like that you put it in basic, human terms. Here’s another question from a reader: Was leaving school a tough decision for you and do you ever regret it?

I used to regret it a great deal. I felt…my father was a lawyer, and he put a very high pressure about education, and academically I just wasn’t traditionally gifted in a way that allowed me to ‐ I mean, some people may call it a learning disability…or being a teenager…whatever, some people are good at school and some people aren’t.

My strengths, I suppose, were as equally balanced with my weaknesses, and I felt for years very insecure that I didn’t have a proper education and that everyone else was so much smarter than me. Then I learned ‐ I’ve had enough time on this planet to become grateful for not knowing things and being comfortable enough not knowing things, but having the interest to ask. If there’s anything I took, it’s that I’m interested. Constantly, overwhelmingly interested. That’s ‐ I’ve been lucky to find a vocation that allows me to ask a lot of questions in a lot of different ways and a lot of different people. I’m surrounded by people that are much smarter than myself, and that’s wonderful. The thing that I most value in life.

I know how you feel. I’m surrounded by people who are smarter than I am, and I get to ask a ton of questions.

It’s great! It’s wonderful! And it’s okay not to know, and that’s such a relief.

From reader @Pygnacio: Was there more depth to your Angel storyline in X3 that we didn’t get to see?

Yes. Absolutely. Certainly. I was just talking about this yesterday to somebody who also worked on the project, and he’s working down here as a tech adviser. We’d never met, but we were sharing horror stories about the shoot. The script itself was never released. I was never given a full script. Only the top dogs were allowed a full script. I was allowed to read it once in a secured area with someone watching me at all times so I wouldn’t photocopy it.


Yeah. I wasn’t allowed to have a script, but what I was given were my scenes. Half of those scenes were never shot. Brett Ratner and I had very different views on how the character should be played, and that posed some difficulties. And the fact that we were going over budget so much during the shoot. And the script was being rewritten, which I wasn’t privy to, the character the way it had been presented to me. It’s a machine. It’s a big machine, and I love X-Men. I love the comic, and I love the first two movies. I like elements of the third one, but half of what I signed on to do was never shot because we ran out of time and money. That was disappointing because I loved the character, at least on paper, and I think they could have gone further or in a different direction, but it wasn’t mine to say.

I certainly wouldn’t say ‘No’ if they wanted to explore him again at some point with more depth, but the best part about it was doing some stunt work and seeing what it’s like to work in a giant film. I’d never been around something so well-funded and yet under-funded for everything it needed to accomplish. But I love X-Men. I think it’s a fantastic series. It’s too bad it didn’t go a little deeper on that one.

What will you bring that’s new to The Mechanic? Are you a Jan Michael Vincent fan?

I haven’t seen the original. Actively. I didn’t want to be influenced by it. I have a sneaking suspicion from what I’ve been told that this is a lot darker and more violent ‐ so I don’t know. I can’t compare the two. This is certainly, for what Simon West ‐ whose other films… I think this goes much farther in the world of violence than even he was aware, or prepared for, or was planning on going. We have some incredible art designers and Dave Leitch ‐ who worked on The Matrix and 300 and Bourne Ultimatum. His team is exceptional at designing the dance of violence and action. At the very least, it’ll move.

Last question: When will we see Flash Forward: The Movie?

[Laughs] The movie?

Yes, sir.

You got me. Did they make one?

Nope. Would you be interested in it ever?

[Laughs] Oh boy. You know, I’m not a movie elitist by any means…


…I think it would be unfair to say, ‘No.’ The unlikeliness of it ‐ this is the first I’ve heard of it…or interest for that matter. [Laughs]

[Laughs] Do you ever think about how much you’ve learned since doing that show back then?

Well, shoot, how many years ago was that? I was 14. Now I’m 29. I’m not good with math. I’m a drop out, remember?


So you’re gonna have to help me out with that. [Laughs]

15 years. I’m a writer. I don’t do math either.

15 years? Yeah, it’s been…I suppose I love being able to somehow find myself employed, and it still confuses me. And I love it and I hate it. I was just talking to my mom about this recently. She’s like, ‘You know, you’re not in Iowa anymore doing plays in the community theater.’ There’s not a day that I’m not grateful.

Man, I didn’t even know what a mark was. You know? When I started the show. I didn’t know anything.

I know what a mark is now. [Laughs] So that’s good.

Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector [email protected] | Writing short stories at Adventitious.