Man of the hour Casey Affleck goes back to indie roots

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Park City (United States) (AFP)

Casey Affleck's stock is at an all-time high after his acclaimed performance in Kenneth Lonergan's "Manchester by the Sea" made him one of Hollywood's most recognizable faces.

Yet the enigmatic 41-year-old -- a best actor Golden Globe winner and a frontrunner for the Oscars in February -- can next be seen in an obscure indie role, shrouded in a bedsheet and largely silent.

"He and I have been friends for so long at this point that it's just fun to watch him get all the acclaim," director David Lowery told AFP Sunday ahead of the world premiere of "A Ghost Story."

"Working with him is just like hanging out with a good friend, and this is not a typical movie for an actor of his caliber to do."

Affleck may have been given his air fare to Texas to shoot "A Ghost Story," but it's unlikely it would have been his biggest pay day.

Filmed mostly in one house, it cost almost nothing to make and was shot secretly over two months last summer in Dallas, Texas.

Lowery began working on the movie just days after wrapping the big budget Disney remake of "Pete's Dragon" and found what little cash was required himself.

A languid, hypnotic meditation on time, legacy and belonging, "A Ghost Story" sees Affleck and Rooney Mara together for the first time since Lowery's last indie hit, the 2013 crime romance "Ain't Them Bodies Saints."

- 'Low-charisma mumbler' -

They play an unnamed couple who appear to be enjoying the trappings of domesticity in a secure relationship which is ripped apart when his character is killed in car crash near the start of the movie.

He spends the rest of the film as a ghost, compelled to inhabit his rural Texan home, even after his grieving partner moves on and leaves.

Draped playfully in the archetypal white bedsheet, Affleck is the kind of comic specter you might find in "Scooby Doo," his sorrowful but inscrutable expression defined by two black eyeholes.

It is an odd role for a big star, but perhaps one uniquely suited to an actor whose sensibilities have always been somewhat left of the mainstream.

Variety's chief film critic Peter Debruge, who describes Affleck as a "low-charisma mumbler who tends to keep his characters' emotions bottled up," points out that he is one of the few actors who can convey as much with a sheet over his head as without.

"I know him so well at this point that I can just call him up and say 'can you come to Texas for two weeks and do something kind of crazy?' and he's totally down to do it," Lowery said.

- Auteur -

"He, like myself, has so many different interests as a filmmaker. It's exciting to see him not only be incredibly successful with 'Manchester' but to not rest on those laurels and to go off and... make a small art film like this."

Affleck was not at Sunday's screening at the Sundance Film Festival as he is having another go at directing after making the unloved mockumentary "I'm Still Here."

But his performance earned warm applause from the audience in Park City, Utah and critics have been generous in their early reviews for the movie.

IndieWire described "A Ghost Story" as Lowery's best film to date, while the Hollywood Reporter predicted that it would find an admiring, if niche, audience.

"A Ghost Story," also written and edited by 36-year-old Lowery, was inspired by an argument the director had with his wife, actress Augustine Frizzell, about where they should live.

An indie auteur at heart, he has adopted the common indie kid strategy of paying for the labors of love with the big studio movies, and he is lined up for another Disney remake, "Peter Pan."

"It's just me following my creative instincts. I have all sorts of interests as a filmmaker and it would be a shame to not indulge all of them," Lowery told AFP.

"I do want to make giant blockbuster studio movies -- that's really fun -- but I also love making really small, for lack of a better term, art films."