Ben Affleck, Charlie Hunnam don't think Triple Frontier celebrates toxic masculinity

The Netflix film follows a team of former special forces operatives stealing a drug kingpin’s fortune

  • Published 14.03.19, 6:08 PM
  • Updated 14.03.19, 6:08 PM
  • 7 mins read
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Brotherhood: (L-R) Charlie Hunnam, Oscar Isaac, Garrett Hedlund, Ben Affleck and Pedro Pascal in Triple Frontier. A still from the web series

Netflix’s newest release Triple Frontier is amped on masculine star power. The action thriller is the latest directorial venture of J.C. Chandor, who impressed critics with films like Margin Call and A Most Violent Year. The film, which is largely set in South America, stars Ben Affleck, Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund and Pedro Pascal. Triple Frontier follows a team of former special forces operatives who get back into the game for one last time to steal a drug kingpin’s fortune.

During a recent promotional tour to Singapore, Ben, Charlie and Garrett sat down with The Telegraph at MBS Digital Canvas Arena to talk about real-life brotherhoods, greed and violence...

The film is about brotherhoods. Do you have real-life relationships that mirror similar bonds?

Ben Affleck: I have a group of friends that I grew up with, some of whom I’m still in touch with and very close to. Every now and then on a movie, if you’re lucky then you make friendships that are lasting and that matters to me. This life being peripatetic, this circus-type life, making one movie after another can actually be lonely. It’s isolating, I guess, strangely. And it’s really nice when you get a chance to come across people who you really like and admire and really want to spend time with. It makes the process, that might otherwise not be fun, quite rewarding and satisfying. This was definitely one of those experiences.

Charlie Hunnam: I have three biological brothers, and have been very fortunate to have travelled halfway across the world when I was 18. It took me a while to establish a new family for myself. I still have my own family but you need a support system and geographical proximity and it’s funny that Garrett (Hedlund) became one of those family members for me. I consider him to be one of my brothers. And it’s incredibly important to me, brotherhood and community. I’m very very fortunate I got a tight group of pals.

Garrett Hedlund: I grew up with an elder brother, he was four years older. So, it was obviously that tough love sort of thing. I was also always involved in sport, it was a very small town, so very communal. Baseball, football, wrestling, what have you... it was very much an ‘all for one, one for all’ upbringing. Like Charlie said, when I moved to LA I was 18 and by myself. And then very shortly after that I met him. Even though we were going for a lot of the same roles, we actually ended up helping each other read for them, and I can quote Charlie on this. He goes, ‘Mate, let’s help each other out on this one. I’d rather one of us get this role than all of them schmucks’ (laughs).

The gestation period of this film was quite long, with actors coming in and leaving. Did that affect your approach to the film and what you thought about it?

Charlie: The period of time and the evolving incarnations of this film certainly didn’t diminish its attractiveness to me because that is just an inherent part of filmmaking. It’s very difficult to get films made in the current studio theatrical system. Getting original films like this made, that are very expensive but don’t have pre-awareness, is much more difficult. Honestly, I think we were all excited when this landed with Netflix.

Ben: Just to reiterate what Charlie said, I’ve done a fair amount of movies over the last 25 years and I can’t think of anyone that’s had a perfectly linear path from conception to production. It’s a function of this business and the difficulty of getting movies made. You very often go through different iterations, casting, that sort of thing. The only difference is the extent to which that becomes part of the publicity story. It’s a very common process and when a movie’s around for a long time, it’s usually a sign that there’s something worthwhile in it, because people keep coming back to it, keep wanting to get it made.

When a movie falls out of favour, it’s easier to let it go, people walk away and no one ever talks about it again, whereas with this one someone kept hitting the ball in the air because at the root of it, it’s a story about soldiers who do come home and face this very difficult challenge. It’s dramatically interesting and sociologically valuable to explore.

Garrett: I sometimes need to remind myself that Mark Boal and Kathryn Bigelow wrote this script quite a long time ago and she was going to direct this film before she even did (The) Hurt Locker. A whole other side note is if there’s anything relatable, it’s dealing with these soldiers coming home and the reintegration into civilian life. I think that’s universally relatable to the mothers and wives and daughters that are waiting for their return, and having to deal with them on a day-to-day basis mentally and physically, and how they’re re-adapting and trying to get work and trying to provide and facilitate for their families.

In the post-#MeToo era, do you think in action films there is a certain obligation to do away with the idea of toxic masculinity? Have you tried to do that with Triple Frontier?

Charlie: I don’t feel as though this is a celebration of toxic masculinity. It’s a specific story about specific people, and the real world triviality is that men dominate the special forces, though it’s slowly changing. I think there are a few female Seals, Rangers and maybe Delta operatives. I think we certainly explored that question, whether or not the mission would have unravelled quite the way it does if there had been more gender equality and we had a woman’s point of view in there. It’s an interesting question and one I don’t know the answer to. Everybody’s individual, and one of the main areas that precipitates this mission unravelling as rapidly in such a fashion is greed, and that’s certainly not exclusive to men.

Ben: It reflects the hard truth, and upwards of 95 per cent of the people pointing guns at each other and killing one other, are men. That is simply the truth, this kind of violence is perpetrated almost exclusively by men. Women are victims of violence as well, but this certain kind of problem-solving through violence is endemic to men, and it’s an interesting question raised, like... why is that? And I think J.C.’s (Chandor) desire was to examine that behaviour with a critical eye. Why is it that we think solving problems at the point of a gun is going to lead to a good solution? It never has, and yet we keep on doing it, showing up with tanks and guns and killing a bunch of people, hoping things will get better.

You spoke about the film being a parable about military intervention and that it has very direct ideas about military intervention and an element of futility to that. What would you guys say as actors is the most futile thing about you being famous and being in this profession?

Charlie: I would say everything about being famous is somewhat futile. It’s like fame should be the perfume of great deeds. I’ve been in this business for 20 years now, and I’ve seen the defining characteristic that determines stick-to-itiveness within this business is the desire to be a storyteller, with purity and authenticity. Success in this business seems to be really predicated upon wanting to do as good a job and being really compelled to tell stories; and those that come in coveting fame and money and all of the trappings of that tend to crash and burn pretty quickly.

It’s actually not relative to being a military personnel, a rocket scientist or a brain surgeon, but it is a fairly difficult job and it’s difficult to sustain a career over many, many years. People ask me sometimes for advice which I find preposterous, but young kids do ask me what it requires and how they might be able to succeed in a career in film. And I tell them to just look in their hearts if they need to do this. If your life won’t feel fulfilled without doing this, then do it but if you’re going to do it, just remember that you’re going to have to dedicate everything to it. There’s going to be a certain amount of sacrifice and hardship, and if you’re lucky enough to have some success, there’s some glory to it as well. But really the only success is having the ability to keep moving forward and keep going to work; that really is the greatest success of an actor’s career.

Ben: I think you highlight a certain aspect, which is not just futile, but sort of the ridiculous aspect of fame. As Charlie said, as actors we are accomplishing something and people know about that. But there’s come to be this interesting and bizarre parallel life where as a successful actor in movies or television, you become a star in your own reality show that you’re not writing or directing and have very little control over... you don’t necessarily want to participate in it! (Laughs) You very badly want to be off the show, but you can’t, which is a terrible feeling.

I understand the desire to see drama play out, it’s interesting to see someone rise, to see them be humiliated, to see them fall, to see them come back. I myself have been through a lot of these artificially generated story arcs in the reality show version of my life, and I’ve just come to accept it. As Charlie said, this is something you should really only do if you can’t imagine doing anything else. And if that’s the case, it seems to come with a lot of other ridiculous things. I think a great movie has yet to be made about the absurdity and the kind of madness of fame itself. Lost in Translation (2003) had some of that, it’s quite a strange thing and the best way to navigate it is to understand that it’s not meaningful. What’s meaningful is who I am as a person, how I conduct myself, right life, right effort. I’ve spent quite some time studying Buddhism and it has an interesting set of precepts and things to live your life by, and I find that quite helpful. What kind of a father you are, what kind of a person you are in your family, and how you do your work. And to have the mental discipline to keep that separate from all the other noise about fame and what shows up on websites.

Ben, there’s that whole indie career that you have, like Chasing Amy, Jersey Girl and there’s the other one with gigantic movies like Armageddon. Was it a conscious thing to have two parallel careers? If so, where does Triple Frontier fit in?

Ben: I think now there’s less of a bifurcation between independent and studio. People are trying to do movies that are interesting in multiple ways. In the ’90s and early 2000s, when I started out, it was Chasing Amy and Armageddon and then I did Shakespeare in Love, which was a little bit of both. I’ve tried to fuse the sensibilities of both popular and artistic in my career, sometimes to success and sometimes to absolutely none at all. That’s an interesting challenge and this movie, I hope, is a hybrid of both those sensibilities. You have something that you can just turn on and have fun watching on Friday night on Netflix, and also something that is character-driven and provocative, and interesting to watch on a psychological level.