A conversation with Ben Affleck: from ‘Gigli’ to ‘Town’

  • Fri Sep 17th, 2010 12:30pm
  • Life

By Tom Horgen Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

At 38, Ben Affleck might be a little young for a career reinvention, but that’s exactly what’s happening to the Hollywood star.

Since winning an Oscar in 1998 for co-writing “Good Will Hunting,” the actor’s career has been all over the map, from box-office disasters (one word: “Gigli”) to tabloid fodder (one more word: “Bennifer”).

Affleck showed a new side of himself in 2007 when he directed the critically acclaimed “Gone Baby Gone.” He cements his status as a serious filmmaker with his next directorial effort, “The Town,” which opened Friday.

In “Town,” Affleck returns to the blue-collar Boston neighborhoods that have become his holy grail for good material.

The modestly budgeted heist-thriller is based in Charlestown, a one-square-mile section of Boston that is notorious for producing an exorbitant amount of bank robbers. Affleck directs himself, plus a heavyweight cast that includes Jeremy Renner (“The Hurt Locker”), Jon Hamm (“Mad Men”), Chris Cooper (“Adaptation”) and Pete Postlethwaite.

In a phone interview, Affleck spoke about his intense research for “The Town,” directing his peers and why he doesn’t regret “Gigli.”

Q. You grew up in Cambridge, which is near Charlestown, right?

A. It’s close by, in fact it was next to Charlestown. But worlds apart in other ways. My life wasn’t anything like the lives of the guys in the movie. Charlestown was incredibly tough and kind of scary. They had this code of silence where — I think over 15 years — only 25 percent of the murders were solved.

Q. So was Charlestown the type of neighborhood where you would have gotten beat up?

A. Yeah, probably. Everyone where I grew up knew that the Townie kids were really tough. I knew a lot of kids from Charlestown because they played hockey. They were tough by tough-neighborhood standards.

Q. In creating an authentic Charlestown, was there one thing you were deathly afraid of getting wrong?

A. I was deathly afraid of getting it all wrong. Every single thing scared me. I was worried that people would just say, “This seems bogus.” So that was my central preoccupation. I did all this research, met all these people, went to prisons, the FBI, the neighborhoods, bars, restaurants, AA meetings. That’s a real AA meeting in the movie.

Q. What’s the worst part about directing fellow actors?

A. The worst part about directing other actors is they don’t automatically know where you’re coming from. It’s a different thing when you’re peers with everybody and one of the peers decides, “Let me be the coach.”

There’s this period of adjustment where everybody has to recalibrate their relationships. You’re much more inclined to confer authority and trust on a guy with a gray beard who’s done 20 movies, than a guy like me who’s in his mid-30s.

Q. Are you a demanding director like, say, James Cameron or Herzog?

A. I love Herzog. He’s a genius. I don’t know. I’m demanding in the sense that I want the movie to be good, and I’ll do whatever it takes to give it its best shot to be good. So we work a lot. We shoot a lot of film. I don’t scream and yell and ask unrealistic things of people.

Q. How did you get Blake Lively of “Gossip Girl” and Jon Hamm of “Mad Men” — two actors known for playing incredibly beautiful people — to shed their well-manicured images?

A. They were totally into it. They wanted to do it. Blake and Jon are both really good actors and both just don’t want to do “Gossip Girl” and “Mad Men.”

Q. You’ve made so many different kinds of movies from blockbusters to romantic comedies, like “Armageddon” and “Gigli.” Do you ever look back and have regrets for any of those choices?

A. No. Part of making movies … In some ways, they’re bets. You have all these elements: script, director, cast and then there is the intangible movie gods. You want to have the best of the best. You want to go into it feeling like there is a 60 percent chance that this movie is going to work.

And movies where you can’t have the best, you can still win, even if you go in with a 35 percent shot. (Or) you can still lose. There are movies that I loved that no one’s seen. There are movies that I didn’t like that everyone saw.

I’ve had all kinds of different experiences in this business and I’m really happy where I am now. So I wouldn’t change any of them because then I’d be worried that I wouldn’t have wound up right back here today.