Ben Foster Interview: ‘Leave No Trace’
“I was very tenderized to the idea of parenthood,” reveals Ben Foster about what attracted him to “Leave No Trace.” In the film Foster portrays Will, a veteran living off the grid in the Oregon wilderness with his daughter. While the idea of working with director Debra Granik (“Winter’s Bone”) was exciting, Foster was even more drawn to the character because “my wife and I just found out that we were having a daughter” when the script first landed on his desk.
His on-screen daughter Tom in “Leave No Trace” is played by newcomer Thomasin McKenzie (whom he describes as “someone who is lit from within”). Their father-daughter relationship forms the backbone of the film. The actors learned survivalist skills in order to convincingly demonstrate those skills on film. Foster taught many of the skills to McKenzie in order to build their bond and develop the familial shorthand on display in the movie. “Those tasks would be our rehearsal,” he notes.
Will’s background as a veteran finds the character coping with Post Traumatic Stress, and Foster saw a way to ask “questions about unseen scars in a way I hadn’t done before.” “His response to trauma is a philosophy… waste not,” adds Foster. This mantra manifests in a repeated question through the film: “is it a want or a need?” Foster and Granik read through the script with this mantra in mind, ultimately excising lines whenever they felt the character didn’t have the need to speak. Around 40% of Will’s dialogue was cut, resulting in a a performance where much is communicated through Foster’s expressive eyes.
The most haunting example comes in Foster and McKenzie’s final scene together. When asked about the experience, Foster reminisces, “If you can be with someone with an open heart… you know it’s going to hurt.” Since the film was shot in sequence, the end of the film truly was the end of their journey together. So Foster suggested they not discuss the scene much, that they would simply look at each other to say goodbye. “There was a transmission that took place,” he remembers fondly. “I felt lucky to have experienced that.”