Ben Foster Talks “Lone Survivor,” the Lance Armstrong Biopic, and More

Foster plays Navy SEAL Matt “Axe” Axelson in the tense war movie, which is based on a true story.

Is it weird to be talking about Lone Survivor, a movie you made quite a while ago?

I’ve done weirder things! It’s nice. It’s bringing some of us back together, back in communication.

When you first heard Lone Survivor was going to be a movie what made you want to be part of it?

At the time, Peter Berg, our director, gave me the book. I read it and it felt like a celebration of the soldier. At the time the war was getting more criticism politically and the soldiers were getting overlooked. The politics were getting in the way of the men on the ground. So getting the opportunity to tell a story which asks the question, “What do you do in this situation?” The idea of, “Do you kill them or let them live?” That felt like a very old story even though it was, tragically, quite recently. So getting the opportunity to ask that question but at the same time celebrate the soldier rather than take such a heavy stance. Part of what I like and appreciate about Lone Survivor is that it’s a conflicted film – half of it is a recruitment video and the other half is an anti-war picture. To me, you can celebrate both sides. But what was most important was that you can wave the flag of the soldier without necessarily cheering on the war.

Did you have any trepidation about playing a real person who had passed away?

Of course. That being said, the Axelson family was so nice. It was wonderful having the opportunity to sit down and spend time with all of them and hear stories and feel their love for their boy. It’s a privilege rather than a weight. It’s a privilege to hopefully serve a life honorably lived.

When Lone Survivor came out in theaters there was a lot of talk about how dangerous all the stunts were. Do you think this has been your most challenging film to make?

I don’t know, I don’t buy all that. Not to throw anyone under the bus. But we’re making a fucking movie. We all go to hotels at the end of the night. I know [Mark] Wahlberg would certainly agree with me. It’s making a movie, and we had training by some of the top trainers in the world. We had tactics, we had live-fire training in the desert, we learned how to move like a team. And that’s a privilege. The greatest part of this job is that we get to meet specialists and spend time with time people who have devoted their lives to a particular occupation or career. We try to learn as much as possible in a very short amount of time. We’re dilettantes. So, dangerous? No. A privilege? Absolutely. We got a few bruises.

After Lone Survivor your next project is playing Lance Armstrong. It seems like you’re attracted to roles that require some real physical preparation.

Yeah, I enjoy the body. I’ve gotta enjoy it while I’ve got one.

What sort of training did you do for the Lance Armstrong biopic?

Building a callous on my ass! It’s just wicked. It’s like a leather glove. I had never been on a bike with clip-on shoes. It’s wild getting in that thing for the first time. There is definitely some very interesting learning. But again, I got to learn a lot. I embedded with the team across Colorado and hung out with them for a while and got a sense of the culture. We were surrounded by those who were still racing. They’re still doing the Tour de France. It was the top guys.

That does seem like a real bonus of your job, getting to experience all these worlds firsthand.

It’s the best part of the job.

Is there anything you want the opportunity to learn about in the future?

Welding. Or chair-making. That would be fun. Or painting. That would be neat. Maybe give my knees a break and maybe start playing with a brush. I’m 33-years-old now – I’m an old man. Movie years are like dog years!

Photo: Getty Images

Did you actually meet Lance Armstrong to prepare for that role?

I did not. Stephen Frears, our director, said he didn’t meet the queen to make The Queen. I reached out [to Lance] through a few mutual friends and it didn’t seem to be the right time to have that conversation from his end. And I can’t blame the man at all. He’s had a lot on his plate. I wouldn’t want to be talking to an actor either about it.

As someone who is engaged to a TV actress, do you find yourself watching more shows?

It’s hard to even think about them as TV shows because you end up watching a whole bunch. I’m a big fan of Louie. I don’t think that man needs any more goddamn press, but if I’m feeling down I’ll probably return to Louie C.K. more than anything. I should probably call my mom more than watch Louie.

Are you a fan of your fiancée Robin Wright’s show House of Cards?

How can you not [be]? I think the third season, what they have in store, is pretty exciting. I’ll leave it at that.

“Lone Survivor” is out on Blu-ray and DVD June 3.