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Actors get in touch with 'Affliction'

Web posted on:
Friday, January 01, 1999 9:18:50 AM EST

From Correspondent Cynthia Tornquist

NEW YORK (CNN) -- "Affliction," an independent drama about a small-town cop in the midst of a nervous breakdown, has already won its star, Nick Nolte, a best actor award from the New York Film Critics. The film is also generating talk about a possible Oscar nomination, as well as excellent notices for co-star James Coburn.

Based on a novel by Russell Banks, the film looks at how violent behavior is inherited. Nolte plays a cop with a short fuse who drowns his trouble in alcohol. His marriage is over, and even his daughter doesn't like him.

When Nolte was first given the script five years ago by director Paul Schrader, the actor didn't think he was ready for the role.

"It took me a long time to get old enough to understand the role," says Nolte, who is also seen this month in Terence Malick's "The Thin Red Line." "I mean, I knew my own violence, I knew my own rage, I knew I had it, and I wanted to see that, explore that before I started the film."

The movie's dark portrayal includes a moment in which Nolte's drunken and abusive father, played by James Coburn, forgets to get the heat in his home fixed, so his wife freezes to death. Coburn based his character on Sam Peckinpah, who directed Coburn in the 1977 film "Cross of Iron."

"Sam was one of those working alcoholics and a genius for three hours a day," says Coburn. "And I loved him a lot. But he had this alcoholic strain."

The only survivor of the film is a younger son, played by Willem Dafoe.

"This was a very specific story with a very specific sense of place and time, and I recognized that, and it pointed to much larger issues," Dafoe says when asked why he took the role.

"We did it for the reasons that were, you know, why we became actors in the first place, to do work that we felt we could probably learn something from," says Coburn.

"Affliction," which was made in 1997 but will be released on Friday, also stars Sissy Spacek and Mary Beth Hurt.

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