'Out of the Furnace' director Scott Cooper on the road after 'Crazy Heart'

Posted by · 4:47 pm · May 3rd, 2013

Scott Cooper’s slate of upcoming projects is about as impressive and varied as fellow Cooper Bradley’s as of late. Three years removed from his debut film, “Crazy Heart” (which earned Jeff Bridges an Oscar for Best Actor), the writer/director is set to traverse the nation, from the streets of New York to Depression Era Central California, the Tidewater of Virginia to the blast furnaces of Pittsburgh.

On the latter, Cooper is finishing up “Out of the Furnace” right now. He overhauled Brad Inglesby’s Black List script “The Low Dweller” for producers Leonardo DiCaprio and Ridley Scott, loaded it with an impressive cast of actors and set out to tell a blue collar tale against a backdrop of economic decline in Pennsylvania steel country. The film will hit the fall festival circuit later this year en route to awards season, where you can expect to hear plenty about Christian Bale, Casey Affleck and particularly Woody Harrelson.

Beyond that, Cooper’s to-do list is enough to keep anyone’s calendar full. He recently spoke with HitFix about the themes he’s hoping to explore as an artist over this spectrum of projects and the stretching he’s hoping to do as a filmmaker along the way.

First and foremost, Cooper says he would like his adaptation of Michael Armour’s unpublished novel “The Road Home” for Warner Bros. to be his next endeavor, because he finds the world so fascinating and under-explored recently. He’s been researching the film in Santa Barbara County as of late. It will tell the story of a Depression Era rancher entangled in scandal when he’s asked to investigate a local murder.

“I was inspired by Edmund Wilson’s ‘Axel’s Castle,'” Cooper says of the work he’s put into the project behind the scenes. “He traveled around the countryside and wrote a series of articles about the effect of the Great Depression. I also remember seeing a photograph of cotton sharecroppers in Alabama that was taken by Walker Evans in 1936 and it really just moved me. And you can go to Detroit and see that very same family today.”

Cooper is attracted to the period, he says, because of its prescience and its socio-economic parallels to what’s happening in the country today as the middle class is ever squeezed out. He’s expanded the scope of Armour’s story, which already deals with racism and the opium trade, and says that, though a period piece, he wants it to feel very modern. Leonardo DiCaprio is producing through Appian Way after a pleasant experience with “Out of the Furnace.” The film is also currently untitled; Cooper says he likes titles that “reveal themselves over the course of a narrative.”

Indeed, “Out of the Furnace” went through a couple of iterations before settling on its moniker. While writing the script, Cooper thought “Under a Black Sun” might be an apt title, a reference to the sun straining light through the airborne soot of a blast furnace heyday. (The script even once featured Soundgarden’s 1994 track “Black Hole Sun” as an allusion to this.) Director’s chairs on the Braddock, Pennsylvania set sported another title, “Dust to Dust,” though a potential copyright concern nixed that. Eventually “Out of the Furnace” was settled upon, a title actor Sam Shepard (who stars in the film) and legendary director Terrence Malick told Cooper they thought was perfect. “I’d say Terrence Malick and Sam Shepard know a thing or two about titles,” Cooper says with a laugh.

Continuing on, there is also an adaptation of William Styron’s novel “Lie Down in Darkness” on Cooper’s plate, a story that will carry a personal touch as it’s set in his native Virginia. A Southern Gothic tale in the tradition of William Faulkner, the novel tells the story of the dysfunctional Loftis family, and particularly patriarch Milton and wife Helen on the day they set out to bury their daughter Peyton.

“I wrote the script just after ‘Crazy Heart,’ but with that one, it really comes down to casting,” he says. “When you’re casting a family, all the elements have to come together perfectly and delicately. I’m in the process of talking to a number of actors and actresses.”

A premature report last August announced Kristen Stewart as attached to the film in the role of Peyton, but Cooper says there was no truth to it. He’d like to first cast the role of Milton and move on from there.

Then there’s the Big Apple, as Cooper has a pair of projects lined up set in New York City. First there is an adaptation of Claire Messud’s novel “The Emperor’s Children,” written by Noah Baumbach about a group of 20-somethings trying to find their way in Manhattan in the spring of 2001 and the days leading up to, as well as in the fallout in the wake of, 9/11.

“Really I think it’s one of the better novels about life around that time,” says Cooper, who was a big fan of Kenneth Lonergan’s 2011 film “Margaret,” which marinated in the post-9/11 environment of New York. “But, again, casting is really critical with that piece. Noah has written a beautiful script. It’s kind of a present day version of ‘Hannah and Her Sisters,’ and in many ways, he may be our generation’s Woody Allen.”

Staying with New York, freshly announced is a remake of Olivier Marchal’s 2004 French film “36th Precinct.” Basil Iwanyk”s Thunder Road production company optioned the remake rights. The original film starred Gerard Depardieu and Daniel Auteuil in a story of Paris police corruption and it will be transplanted to the NYPD’s anti-terrorism unit.

“I don’t think many films are too ripe for remaking,” Cooper says. “Trying to remake ‘The Wild Bunch’ or ‘Scarface’ is a really bad idea, but this is a film that had certain elements that illuminate the human condition, which is something I look for in everything I do. And I don’t know that many people had seen this film or were aware of it. It easily translates to America and it was different than the other things I had considered; I never want to repeat myself.”

Cooper says his love of cop dramas also played a hand in his decision to take on the project. He cites “The French Connection,” “Once Upon a Time in America” and “Se7en” as a few films he loves and will probably have in mind while working on the film.

Other than that, there is also a unique original concept Cooper has been turning over in his head. This one contrasts strongly with all of the above, yet still has the edge of Americana that is so of a piece with who he wants to be as a filmmaker.

“I’ve always wanted to do a movie about the last day in the life of Elvis Presley,” he says. “Just that day, not the full life story. Whether we’ve seen the full life story as a film or not, I feel like we all know that film. But what must he have been going through that day, affecting people’s lives, going to the dentist at 10:00pm, playing racquetball at three in the morning?”

But with a sigh, he admits the obvious: “I have plenty on my plate to keep me busy for a while. The only issue is trying to find the bandwidth to mount all these projects. But they’re all certainly very worthy.”

“Out of the Furnace” will be the first to hit, and it lands in theaters on October 4.

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