On March 6th, “The Way Back” hits theatres.
Fans will have an opportunity to see the beloved Oscar winner – Ben Affleck back in action, as he takes on the role of Jack Cunningham, who he plays in the movie. For fans, this may be unlike any of Affleck’s previous works. Meet Jack Cunningham, a former high school basketball star, who returns to his old stomping grounds as the team’s head coach. He accepts this role, during one of the most difficult times of his life, lackluster to his bonafide high school career. Cunningham battling with alcoholism, and a failed marriage, digs deep as he tries to find his way back!
We sat down with cast members Ben Affleck, Will Ropp, Brandon Wilson, Janina Gavankar, Michaela Watkins and Director Gavin O’Connor, about what viewers can expect in this riveting film!
The Knockturnal: Congratulations, on yet another film. Tell me for you Gavin, in the beginning of this movie we see constant beer cans. Tell me why it was so important for you from a directorial standpoint, to make sure that viewers were saw Jack’s constant need and desire just to drink.
Gavin O’Connor: Well that’s the set up of the character, he’s an alcoholic and he’s a man who has isolated himself from his friends and family… and lives a very kind of a lonely existence. His relationship is with alcohol, so it was important to dramatize that before we get him to walk away from it.
The Knockturnal: And you know we see Jack start at one point in the film, and then he ends in recovery towards the end of the film. I looked up a stat according to the NIAA, 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually. Why did you choose to show Jack’s recovery as a part in this film?
Gavin O’Connor: Well, it’s a part of the redemption. The movie was for him to confront his disease and acknowledge his problem with it. And the only way to do that, and to actually deal with it is to get help, so that’s what we did.
The Knockturnal: And with showing his life and journey, both of you play on the team. It also kind of showed me the impact someone can have on young people’s lives. For both of you, tell me what was one of the things that you learned from Coach Jack in both of your eyes.
Will Ropp: As an actor, I think I learned not to lose the joy and what you’re doing. Once you lose the joy it just becomes a business, and once that happens… then what your doing isn’t fun anymore. He taught us that. As a character, I just learned that actions have consequences. You can’t be messing around with too many people at the same time, yeah.
Brandon Wilson: As an actor, I learned and confirmed something. There’s no one way, no one right way to approach the scene, to approach a film. He’s talked about many different approaches that different actors take, and I’ve seen him and his amazing work. You can just see how he is so different from all the actors on the set. How everyone takes it in, such a personal and unique experience to approach it. As a character, he taught me to trust my voice again and speak up and lead.
The Knockturnal: And just lastly, he paid attention to you off the court. He was able to pull from his own story and was able to relate to yours. As any young person, talk about the importance when someone pays attention to you looks at you and makes you feel like you matter.
Brandon Wilson: That’s extremely important when someone you feel like actually connects with you and resonates with you, and that when you finally speak, you feel like someone is listening to you. Rather than just people giving you the same responses you’ve heard, or telling you the same thing over and over again. The moment that someone finds you, or that you find each other, and you can share that connection whether the person knows what advice to give the other or not. But just knowing that someone is there with you, it’s like oh I’m good, we’re cool.
The Knockturnal: Ben, this movie screamed at me local news, local people, local stories and local communities. Tell me why it was so important for you just to play a regular person who reached this great height but still found himself in the trenches?
Ben Affleck: I think that’s the most interesting kind of story I really like and identify stories, the stories I like to tell are about people who are relatable, who anybody could have known or grown up with or be their family…. I kind of understand that better and appreciate those stories more and there are some genuine heroism in everyday life. And I think that’s kind of beautiful and this movie kind of advocates compassion…. Melvin has said this, a sense of redemption, of second chances, of hope and I really like that.. and I think that story is easier to tell when you’re dealing with the kind of person that has just a regular job, working on the bridge, and nobody’s fancier than anybody else. That’s just who people are.
The Knockturnal: Midway through the movie this is where we see the boys win their first game. I’m not going to lie, I even shed a little tear at that moment. Do you know why, because Jack found his purpose. And I think everyone is trying to find their purpose. Is that something you think will resonate with viewers?
Ben Affleck: I hope it does because it’s definitely true, I honestly feel that I rediscovered my own purpose as an actor, working with these guys on this movie. Seeing their level of dedication, their commitment, their excellence, selflessness, vulnerability…. and hearing them talk about their own struggles. I’m trying to get this, I’m trying to get that, I want to meet with this casting director…. I remember that I loved doing this.
The Knockturnal: Did Jack teach you something new in this film?
Ben Affleck: I think being this character definitely taught me, because he also goes through something that is kind of unimaginable loss, and the idea is survivable is I think important because you can always worry about your problems….but there is someone always with bigger problems then you.
The Knockturnal: To include you guys, I think second chances (is a theme in this movie). You want to get back on the team because you keep cursing, and you keep going to your coaches door and you want a second chance to dance. For you, you want a second chance of just finding your purpose. Do you think people will just walk away and say to themselves, I deserve a second chance? If something didn’t work out I can go for it I can do it.
Ben Affleck: I hope so, I think one of the most touching things people can do, and one of the most beautiful things is find forgiveness, especially when you’re angry and hurt. It’s easy to forgive someone if you don’t care, but when somebody hurts you, somebody affected you, for some of us it takes a long time to forgive our parents, some of their failures or maybe siblings… maybe a spouse, or maybe someone cheated on you. At the end of the day, forgiveness really heals the person who does the forgiving, it’s for our own benefit, and I do believe in second chances. And I don’t believe in being too judgmental.
The Knockturnal: And when a lot of people go through struggles, they might not think they can be an influence on other people. We saw how you been through it, and you’re still influencing these young boys. Talk about that influence that no matter what you’ve been through, you can still help someone along the way.
Ben Affleck: I think you can always…. your life will get better the more you try and step out of the way to help others. I do very little, but with the very little that I do do, in terms of helping other people always helps me. The times I spent with these guys, I assure you was a lot more beneficial to me, then it was to them… I learned to love this art again in a way that I had lost a little bit.
The Knockturnal: In one word, describe what it was like working with Ben!
Melvin Gregg / Charles Lott. Jr.: Amazing, personable, lovable
The Knockturnal: Saw the film yesterday… great body of work. We see two people play the supporting characters that support Jack. But unfortunately, these are people’s realities, where they see a family member grieve but then also self soothe, possibly in the wrong way. Tell me why it was so important as a separated wife and as a sister, to show both emotions and how you all watched this person do more harm than good to themselves.
Janina Gavankar: First of all, the fact that you know the vocabulary words self-soothing is amazing and quite advanced… so you probably identify with a lot of the things in the film, if you even know about this concept. Addiction is not a rare thing, it’s something that we do not talk about enough, and I think the more stories we can tell in the world of mental health and addiction … the more open I hope we can all be. Whether your the person that’s experiencing it … or the person supporting a loved one as they experienced it.
Michaela Watkins: You said so much in this statement, and you have all these people who loved that person…. right, all love him in different ways, some by giving him an opportunity, some by constantly checking in, mother henning him, and then some who just know and understand what their love can do, are finally like I’m not going to drown with you I’m going to save myself. But this is a movie about love, I think at the end of the day… how we love, what love can do, what heartache when you love something and it’s tragically or prematurely, circumstantially in my case… it’s just so much packed into this movie….. I’m sorry to say.
The Knockturnal: Absolutely, we see the brother-sister duo. We see Jack in one place of his life, and we see you in another phase of your life. You have a full-on family. Do you think Jack being around your family brought more harm then joy in this film?
Michaela Watkins: When we were shooting it, I kept thinking… there were more scenes between sister and brother…. when we were shooting, I kept walking this line of wanting to strangle my brother because he was so shut off from me….just trying to love him, but at the same time being so aware, that my kids are probably just really triggering and it’s really sad. Like I can’t be around you and your family because it evokes too much sadness in my life.
The Knockturnal: One of the captivating scenes in this film is when you and Jack go to your son’s gravesite. Tell me where did you dig deep to be able to emote a mother’s loss in this film.
Janina Gavankar: I’ve experienced my own loss and grief, I have not lost a child but it’s pretty easy to take yourself there… when you’re losing someone that means the world to you …. I don’t have to scratch too hard at that scab.