We were invited earlier this month to a press junket for “The Finest Hours”, a new Disney movie inspired by an incredible true story, opening on January 29th, 2016. Chris Pine (Bernie Webber), Casey Affleck (Ray Sybert), Ben Foster (Richard Livesey), Holliday Grainger (Miriam) and director Craig Gillespie discussed the film. There was a lot of talk about heroism from the actors about the men who were part of the harrowing event in 1952, where 4 Coast Guard members took a single, wooden, motorized lifeboat into a Nor’easter to save Coast Guard lives on the SS Pendleton, which had split in half and was sinking. It is a story of survival for many, but not for all. What really impressed me was the gravity the actors gave to the situation, continually pointing out the bravery that the men showed. This courage was shown not only during the event…but after as well. For the men, this was their job, and they’d never expect any sort of attention for that. Several times the actors brought up that while the film is inspired by a true story, that the real subjects of the story had passed and that they play a fictionalized version of them due to that.
Casey Affleck plays First Engineer Ray Sybert, who becomes the senior officer aboard the SS Pendleton (which was one of two tankers that split apart during that storm). He took control of the men during the incident. Affleck fielded many questions, some about the film and some about Disney in general. He said that he’d not had much experience with boats, that there was “a lot to learn” and that it was a “cold and wet” set. Affleck was drawn to the film because of the strong script and that it was a period film. In addition, he was drawn to the Disney aspect of it, the “wholesomeness of it all”. He continued that, “I really appreciate what Disney does, how they’ve stuck to a certain set of values…sustaining a value system and not just profit”. Affleck was asked if any survivors came to the set, and he said a couple did – and that they seemed pleased with the film being made.
Chris Pine plays Bernie Webber, who was the coxswain of motor lifeboat CG-36500. Pine was asked about taking this role, because it was so different than others he has played. He stated, “This was a great script, a really interesting character and I just loved seeing this soft, sweet man…he was just a gentle spirit. I was very attracted to seeing a character like that go through these hard experiences”. He called Webber normal and human. Pine also said that the film “hearkens back to a time of emotional courage, of spiritual courage and worth ethic that has an economy to it…a simplicity to it”. Pine mentioned how the current survivors are over 80 years old now, and he thought that they were “stunned” that Hollywood cared. Asked about whether he was nervous during filming, he said that, “We were in a giant pool. There were a lot of people making sure we wouldn’t die”. Pine didn’t have a living person to draw from, but said he had a “beautifully written script” and also audio recording of Bernie.
Ben Foster plays Richard Livesey, who was part of the rescue mission. Foster was drawn to the script because he feels many are overwritten, and The Finest Hours isn’t. He was humbled by this job where he got to spend time with men and women in the military…not just because they are from the military, but “because these are men and women who have chosen to serve their fellow man and that just speaks to humans”. Much of what he said in the roundtable pointed back toward courage, not just in an extreme case like The Finest Hours, but in everyday heroes and “whenever care is involved”.
Holliday Grainger plays Miriam, who is the girlfriend of Bernie Webber (and eventually does become his wife). She talked about being the central woman in what is essentially a male film. She said, “I was slightly intimidated the first day only because I had literally flown in overnight from a job in Wales actually that I was shooting. So I had arrived on set quite jet lagged, slightly terrified about the accent, and everyone had been working with the guys for like two months…as soon as I walked on set, I did feel like I was a museum piece”. She also repeated the words of all the other actors in saying she was attracted by the “well-written script”.
It wasn’t suprising that director Craig Gillespie jumped on board because he loved the script. He said that they were able to go to the Coast Guard station where it happened, and the exterior looked almost the same. Filming took place not only on sound stages, but in the town of Chatham, Massachusetts where the event took place. Gillespie said that, “It was a really beautiful way to end the film”.
The Finest Hours is rated PG-13. There was a lot of passion brought to the film, and it showed throughout the interviews.