Ben Foster’s acting career started innocently enough, with a starring role as an intrepid eighth-grader on Disney’s Flash Forward and bit parts on perennial favorite Freaks and Geeks. Now he’s moved on to somewhat darker fare, having landed the recurring role of Claire’s confused, tortured boyfriend Russell on Six Feet Under, strapped on wings to play Angel in X-Men: The Last Stand, and channeled his inner meth-head for an alarming turn in the gangster flick Alpha Dog. Now he’s back in one of his most riveting roles yet, a scene-stealing turn as a psychobilly space cowboy in James Mangold’s 3:10 to Yuma. Foster talked to Vulture about wild roles, cowboy fashion, and going (subtextually) gay with Russell Crowe.
You've played some truly crazy characters. Are you drawn to them?
It's surely not on purpose — looking for crazed roles. There's never a really big plan. You just read whatever scripts come across your desk at what time. The only thing I go by: As long as I feel like I'm not repeating myself, I'm open to reading it.
Is it more fun to dive into those psychos?
Drama is about conflict. It's more interesting to play people who have profound challenges. I'm certainly not pursuing crazy people consciously.
The white leather jacket you wear in 3:10 to Yuma is pretty … fashion forward. What's that about?
We were going over archival photographs of outlaws with our brilliant wardrobe designer Ariane Phillips, who did Hedwig & the Angry Inch and Walk the Line, and we all came to the same conclusion that outlaws were the rock stars on their generation. We wanted to pursue that idea aesthetically, so Ari found the jacket. What we liked about it was it looked like bleached bone, something you might see in the desert and there was a sense of royalty to it that went with the name Charlie Prince … After looking at the photographs, if it was rock and roll, it seemed to be glam rock. So we watched a lot of glam-rock footage.
What kind of stuff did you watch?
A lot of David Bowie.
What do you think about the idea that people see your character's relationship with Russell Crowe's in the film as homoerotic?
The most amazing thing about Jim Mangold is that he doesn't explain everything and he allows the audience to participate. Some people say it's father and son, other people see the homoerotic thing. I don't know. The audience, whoever it is, will take different things from it.
How was it working with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale? Any drama?
They are very big personalities! Russell has a particular reputation, and I was expecting someone different then the man that I met. He doesn't suffer fools, but he's one of the most generous actors and men I've had the pleasure of working with. As long as you're there to work hard and your heart is in the right place.
So it was a good set experience with all the guys?
Yeah! I mean, I'm playing an outlaw. I've been doing that since I was 3 years old with sticks in the backyard so getting to do it with Christian Bale and Russell Crowe and Captain America is a boyhood dream.
People are saying you're a total scene stealer in the movie. Were you looking at this role as one that could define your career?
This business is a curious one, and each job has to be approached the same way or at least that it might be your last, so give it all you have. Each job, you know, you learn how to act again, and you have to be open to this new person. Try to get out of his way. I go back to that quote from Neil Young about his songwriting: As a songwriter you just try to get out of the way. —Jocelyn Guest