Ben Affleck arrives for his Playboy Interview beaming after dropping off his kids for their first day of school. For Affleck and wife Jennifer Garner, it is the familiar ordeal of dodging the cameras of 20 paparazzi who have followed every step taken by son Samuel and daughters Violet and Seraphina.
Affleck accepts this as the price of fame and a two-star household. He had it worse when he fell in love with Jennifer Lopez, became half of the tabloid couple Bennifer and watched his career get damaged by the backlash and the ill-timed flop Gigli. A nice guy caught in a media maelstrom, Affleck was left to wonder how things had turned in a career launched after he and writing partner Matt Damon won Oscars for their Good Will Hunting script and the two Boston kids quickly became forces to be reckoned with. Affleck, whose star continued to rise with Armageddon, Shakespeare in Love and Pearl Harbor, never denied playing a part in his undoing by, among other things, appearing in Lopez’s music video to rub suntan lotion on her iconic bottom on a yacht. After they split, and with his career faltering, Affleck became determined to rebuild and prove his Good Will Hunting Oscar wasn’t a fluke.
He scripted his second act himself, first by co-writing and directing the dark mystery Gone Baby Gone, based on the Dennis Lehane novel. A smaller film, it was an auspicious debut and won favor with critics. The next project on his road to redemption was The Town, another gritty Boston drama, which he directed, co-wrote and starred in. It too impressed critics. But everything came full circle with Argo. With Affleck as producer, director and star, the film won the Oscar for best picture last February. The tabloid follies and the failed movies faded into memory. David Fincher, who directed The Social Network, cast him to play the murder-suspect husband in the upcoming Gone Girl. His comeback was complete.
But then Affleck put himself in the maelstrom again. Surprising everyone, he signed on to play the caped crusader in Batman vs. Superman. It is a role that nearly killed George Clooney’s career, and the reaction in the press and on the internet was intense and unfavorable, with many asking if Affleck had just undermined all the career gains he’d carefully made.
Born to a schoolteacher mom and a father whose theater aspirations were undone by the bottle and who tended bar, took bets as a bookie and mopped up as a janitor at Harvard, Affleck caught the acting bug early. Just eight when he met the 10-year-old Damon, the two scored bit parts as kids before Affleck found his footing in indies such as Dazed and Confused and Chasing Amy. Then Good Will Hunting changed everything.
Playboy sent Michael Fleming, who last interviewed Quentin Tarantino, to catch up with Affleck. Reports Fleming: “We met right after his Batman announcement elicited hostility he hadn’t seen since the Bennifer days. A more mature Affleck doesn’t care. After his career overhaul, who’s to doubt him when he says, ‘Trust me, I know what I’m doing’?”
PLAYBOY: When Warner Bros. named you Batman, the internet exploded with hostility. After climbing back from career adversity to win the best picture Oscar for Argo, was your initial reaction more “Not again” or “Screw you”?
AFFLECK: It wasn’t either, really. I expected that reaction. Warner Bros. told me, “You should know what you’re getting into.” They showed me the reactions to other folks who had been cast in these roles. They said this is how it tends to play out initially.
PLAYBOY: What convinced you?
AFFLECK: When they asked if I would be Batman, I told them I didn’t see myself in the role and I was going to have to beg off. They said I’d fit well into how they were going to approach the character and asked me to look at what the writer-director, Zack Snyder, was doing. The stuff was incredible.
AFFLECK: It was a unique take on Batman that was still consistent with the mythology. It made me excited. All of a sudden I had a reading of the character. When people see it, it will make more sense than it does now or even than it did to me initially.
PLAYBOY: How will your Batman differ from the others, particularly the one played by Christian Bale?
AFFLECK: I don’t want to give away too much, but the idea for the new Batman is to redefine him in a way that doesn’t compete with the Bale and Chris Nolan Batman but still exists within the Batman canon. It will be an older and wiser version, particularly as he relates to Henry Cavill’s Superman character.
PLAYBOY: How much did the hostile fan reaction bother you?
AFFLECK: I understand I’m at a disadvantage with the internet. If I thought the result would be another Daredevil, I’d be out there picketing myself. [laughs] Why would I make the movie if I didn’t think it was going to be good and that I could be good in it?
PLAYBOY: How would you have handled this a decade ago, when things weren’t going so well?
AFFLECK: I probably would have been more sensitive. I had less perspective than I do now. I’ve learned it doesn’t matter what people think before a movie comes out; what matters is what people think when they see the movie. There’s a lot of noise in the world, and the internet magnifies that energy. My focus is on the actual execution of the movie. Would I have had that perspective 10 years ago? I don’t know. The world was different then. It seems odd to me to criticize casting if you haven’t read the script and don’t know the tone or the take. But the casting of high-profile projects seems to generate negative attention; it’s fun to give your thumbs-up or thumbs-down. I’ve had the luxury recently of doing Argo, The Town and The Company Men, films that didn’t have a high profile. You have the luxury of waiting until the movie is released before being judged. I’ve learned to think, I may succeed or fail, but I’m going to do so on the merit of my own instincts. It’s a great business in that way. You do a movie that’s successful, you get a little victory lap, and then you start at the beginning; you have to prove yourself all over again. I like that because it motivates you to work harder. I was thrilled with the reception Argo got. It was one of the great professional experiences of my life. I’m thrilled I’m working with David Fincher in Gone Girl and that I’ll direct Live by Night, this big, sweeping gangster-epic morality story.
PLAYBOY: You turned around a cold streak playing George Reeves in Hollywoodland, a film about how his acting career was destroyed after he was typecast as Superman. Did you learn any lessons to prepare you to play another caped icon?
AFFLECK: When George Reeves was Super-man you had three TV channels, and that show was iconic. Now there are so many more options. You see actors doing everything from YouTube shorts to big-budget movies. Also, television shows hold you hostage for long periods. My wife was on a show for five years. It’s the same with Jon Hamm and Mad Men. It’s conceivable you could become hostage to one role. In movies? Look at Robert Downey Jr. He’s able to be brilliant in Iron Man and The Avengers, but he can also go do Sherlock Holmes.
PLAYBOY: George Clooney kept a photo of himself as Batman on his office wall as a reminder of what can happen when you take a role for money and fame. If you had such a photo in your office, which movie would you go with?
AFFLECK: I’d probably have two or three. [laughs] It’d be tough to choose. The only movie I actually regret is Daredevil. It just kills me. I love that story, that character, and the fact that it got fucked up the way it did stays with me. Maybe that’s part of the motivation to do Batman.
PLAYBOY: Describe what holding that Oscar statue meant to you when Argo won for best picture.