Ain’t Them Bodies Saints: A Texas Love Story has made quite the impression on film watchers as it emanates the similar styling of the Bonnie & Clyde story we all know and love. The film about an outlaw, played by Casey Affleck, who escapes from prison with the sole purpose to get back to his wife, is about devotion, love, and perseverance.
David Lowery pays homage to the Old Westerns in a way not explored before – showing that that time has come and gone. It the complexities of love and how far people will go for it no matter the cost. With actors Ben Foster and Rooney Mara playing intricate roles as well, the film breathes emotion, action and a strong connection with the audience that even foreigners can experience. I sat down with David Lowery to learn more of his vision for the film and where it all began.
Angela Markovic: How do you describe your film?
David Lowery: It’s weird because my description of it has been changing as I’ve been traveling around. My perception of it got so muddled in the production and editing I’ve almost forgot what it was that I originally wanted to do. Now that we’re nearing the end I’m trying to think back to what my original ideas were. I think what I believe my initial intention was to make a movie that felt like a folk song and so I often describe it as such. I wanted to make something that felt the way certain pieces of music make me feel. Like dusting off an old book and reading it…
AM: Well going off that, what made you want to do a love story?
DL: The love story aspect of it was almost accidental. It was not originally such a profoundly romantic film. When I first wrote it I started off with this image of a character walking out of the woods – I knew that he had broken out of prison. So I was thinking why would you break out of prison? Then I thought back to something like The Odyssey – well, you try to get out to get home to your wife. So the story spun out from there. There was always an element of a love story there with a person trying to get back to someone he loves the most and someone waiting for him at home, but it never really felt so romantic until we started shooting. Seeing Casey and Rooney together for the first time with the chemistry they had really galvanized the story in a new way – in a way that none of us making the film had seen. It was then that it turned into a real love story. It became less about a journey and more of a romance. It changed everything – the way the movie played out, the ending, etc.
AM: So you had a set ending and kind of changed things around a bit?
DL: The actual things that happened at the end are still roughly the same but the way in which they happened, the way the actors performed the scene – all of that changed after we filmed the scenes between Casey and Rooney. The chemistry was so strong between the two of them and we knew that would cast such a lingering spell that it really affected how we did everything else. The original script depicted Rooney’s character’s emotions throughout the film very differently than what it turned out to be.
AM: Being from the North myself we kind of see Southern places like Texas with this “hard” and tough persona and I saw that in the film. Was that your intention to give off this vibe of Texans or Southerners?
DL: Yeah, well there are two sides of it. There is this rebellious quality to the state – this sort of confrontational quality that I like. I think it’s amusing, admirable and actually funny. I always sum it up as Texas is the only state in the country that can fly its flag at the same height of the US flag – which is just hilarious. There’s also the clichés of everyone wearing cowboy hats and riding horses, which is what I expected when I moved there at a young age but that really isn’t what Texas is all about. There’s a great surprise behind the state that people don’t realize. Texas holds the sensitive and emotional types and great love stories too! So I tried to show different aspects with Casey and Ben Foster’s characters.
AM: So right from the beginning I made the connection with Bonnie & Clyde to the film – a couple rebelling, in love, and on the run, etc. Was that the type of story you were trying to make?
DL: Yeah I was very intentionally riffing on those ideas and those tropes. The reason I didn’t want to put any back-story for the movie or exposition was because I really felt that this movie could rest on the shoulders of all those movies that have come before it. Collectively we’ve seen many films that deal with characters like this that play to the same tropes. You can sort of fill in the blanks based off those previous stories. Of course the film has it’s unique qualities that stand it apart as well but I love the kind of movies where you kind of make up the background stories on your own from your previous knowledge of the subject, as the movie progresses.
AM: Bouncing off that, Old Westerns are a bit of a dying genre in film. Did you want to kind of bring those types of film back into the spotlight?
DL: I mean that wasn’t my actual goal. I love Westerns but it was a genre that I grew to love – I didn’t always love it. What I wanted to do with this movie was take the iconography of a Western and basically bring it indoors. It starts outside with typical Texas landscapes but then it gradually moves into dark interior spaces. I wanted to film these characters in the same way you would film them if they were standing outside Monument Valley in a John Ford movie but instead they are in living rooms or old bars and old shops – places that are very intimate or closed in. I wanted to show the fading of an era. I wanted to show in Casey’s character that he was someone born 50, 60 or 100 years too late. He would of thrived in an earlier era of America. The purpose of introducing the more modern character at the end of the film was to show that kind of misplacement of Casey in the present time.
AM: How did you go about picking actors for these roles?
DL: Casey was the first person I wanted for the role. I didn’t want any of the actors to be these huge movie stars sticking out in the piece. From the other movies he’s done I knew he would be able to blend in. I also really like that he has a youthful idealism but dark quality to him. The character is exactly that – he’s a dreamer, an idealist, but also kind of a rebel, so Casey fit the role perfectly. I also just love his voice – he’s from Boston but he has this kind of Southern cadence to his voice.
For the part of Ruth my initial instinct was to cast someone unknown that would not bring any baggage with them. Rooney’s agent had read the script and recommended we send it to her. This was a week before The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo came out so I thought no way in hell will she follow up this huge movie with this tiny little Indie in Texas, but we sent it to her and she really liked it. I went and met with her and since her character in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is so completely opposite of what she looks like no one really recognized her when she came into the restaurant. She blended right in and I realized it was best of both worlds. She was a movie star who was about to be nominated for an Oscar but also not so well known that everybody knows what she looks like.
And Ben Foster has been a favorite actor of mine for a long time but he never plays a nice character. I wanted to show a softer side of him and he took it to a level that was beyond the script and that was really wonderful.
AM: Well stepping away from the film, how did you get to this point? This is your first big feature with a large budget so where did it all begin?
DL: It feels like it was just a long series of steps. I never wanted to wait to make a bigger film but I never tried to raise money to make a bigger film or try to get more distinguished actors. I just made films with the money I was able to have. I’ve made a lot of short films and a feature that had a budget of next to nothing and they all did very well at film festivals. That was a great way to learn things and make films that people would enjoy. When I made this film I was thinking I would follow this same path. It was going to be a very gorilla style low budget production but then I was showing a short film at Sundance and people were intrigued about our future projects. After they heard about this new project about to go ahead they read the script and one thing led to another and this tiny movie became much bigger than I ever imagined. So this big step forward pretty much naturally evolved into that which was great!
AM: So what made you want to do film?
DL: I decided this at 7 years old that I wanted to do film and that was it. I haven’t entertained any other possibility as a career since. Star Wars was a huge part of it as it was for many people. My parents had gotten me a little book about how movies are made and it really just appealed to me. I then decided that’s what I wanted to do and never looked back!
Words by Angela Markovic
Photo by Carla Orrego Veliz