AFFLECK: Once I saw my way out of it, I said, You know what? I don’t even care anymore. I’m going to focus on my job. I don’t give a shit. Take my picture. Write what you want to write. At the end of the day, what you write in a gossip column doesn’t matter. What matters is how the movie works. I found out it doesn’t kill you. But once I thought I had that figured out, I started having kids. And that is when I drew the line.
PLAYBOY: What is the line?
AFFLECK: You can say what you want about me. You can yell at me with a video camera and be TMZ. You can follow me around and take pictures all you want. I don’t care. There are a couple of guys outside right now. Terrific. That’s part of the deal. But it’s wrong and disgusting to follow children around and take their picture and sell it for money. It makes the kids less safe. They used to take pictures of our children coming out of preschool, and so this stalker who had threatened to kill me, my wife and our kids showed up at the school and got arrested. I mean, there are real practical dangers to this.
PLAYBOY: How close did he get?
AFFLECK: He was in the pack of paparazzi. They didn’t know he was a guy who was threatening to murder our family. That makes me angry. It’s a safety thing, and there’s also a sanity thing. My kids aren’t celebrities. They never made that bargain. We were offered a lot of money to sell pictures of our kids when they were born. You’ll notice there aren’t any. I make no judgment about people who decide differently; a lot of them give the money to charity. For me it was a matter of principle. I didn’t want someone to be able to come back and say I was complicit, that it wasn’t a question of principle as much as price.
PLAYBOY: You didn’t want to be a hypocrite.
AFFLECK: As their father it’s my job to protect them from that stuff. I try my very best, and sometimes I’m successful. The tragic thing is, people who see those pictures naturally think it’s sweet. They don’t see the gigantic former gang member with a huge lens standing over a four-year-old and screaming to get the kid’s attention. The kids are always looking down because they’re freaked out and scared of these people. And so they yell. Which is fine if you’re Lindsay Lohan coming out of a club, or me or any adult. With kids it’s tasteless at best. A lot of these photographs are being bought by legitimate magazines. In the U.K. they have a good system: If you take a kid’s picture, you have to blur out the face. It protects the privacy of children, any child. I wish we would do that here, though I don’t expect it. When my wife met with California lawmakers to get legislation passed to establish a certain distance between paparazzi and children and also to prevent the stalking behavior on the part of the paparazzi, she was opposed by the association of magazine and newspaper folks. They said it would have a chilling effect on the way the news was covered. You couldn’t chill the internet coverage of celebrities if you tried.
PLAYBOY: But do you understand why the press would worry about infringements on the First Amendment?
AFFLECK: I think the First Amendment and the public’s right to know are adequately served by photographers who are at least 100 feet away. They all have 300-millimeter lenses. I’m a photographer myself, and I can tell you with complete confidence that you can get a fine picture. I understand we won’t be able to prevent them from taking photos of children or get them to blur the faces, even though I think that would be preferable. But at the very least there should be a bubble of safety. We do that at football games: You can’t just come on the field. We do that with politicians: You can’t photograph the president from any distance you want.
PLAYBOY: You took a lot of heat for making movies with Jennifer Lopez when you were a couple. Is that why you and your wife don’t work together?
AFFLECK: Yes. Well, my wife and I made Pearl Harbor and Daredevil. With our track record, I don’t know if anyone’s looking for a three-quel.
PLAYBOY: You’re not Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn?
AFFLECK: Exactly. I think it doesn’t work. It’s already hard to get people to suspend disbelief, and then you have married couples in the same movie. People know about the marriage, and they’re not willing to acknowledge the couple as anything else. And marriage is boring to people. They say, “I’m married 20 years. I love my wife, but I have that at home.” People want to see the kindling of new romance in movies. It’s exciting, but not when it’s a couple they know has been together for 10 years.
PLAYBOY: You developed a political profile campaigning for presidential candidates Al Gore, John Kerry and Barack Obama. How did that come about?
AFFLECK: I grew up in a house with a mother who was a teacher and a Freedom Rider—very left-wing Democrats living in a heterogeneous working-class neighborhood. I picked up a lot of those values there, and I brought them with me when I showed up in Hollywood. In 2000 the Gore campaign said, “Hey, would you come do this with us?” And I did. I thought I had a responsibility, so I campaigned for Gore. Kerry was a Boston guy, and I felt an organic connection. And then Obama in 2008. Over time I became disillusioned, mostly with the pernicious effect of money in politics. I realized it was about raising $56,000 through a couple of dinners and those bundlers who bring in $1 million or $2 million. Those people are dedicated, and they believe in what they’re doing. I believe in why many of them are doing it. What I don’t believe in is that we now have the need to do it. And for me personally, it started to feel gross.
PLAYBOY: What part?
AFFLECK: Being used as a prop to schmooze people and try to milk the teat of the donor for money. We’d do it sparingly. Matt and I did a thing for Elizabeth Warren, whom we like and who won. We did a fund-raiser for Cory Booker, whom we also like. People now know me as a Democrat, and that will always be the case to some extent.
PLAYBOY: Does that polarize viewers?
AFFLECK: It does, and you can bifurcate your audience. When I watch a guy I know is a big Republican, part of me thinks, I probably wouldn’t like this person if I met him, or we would have different opinions. That shit fogs the mind when you should be paying attention and be swept into the illusion.
PLAYBOY: Still, won’t that happen whether you take positions on candidates or causes?
AFFLECK: I have misgivings about it, counterbalanced with the larger things I care about. I don’t blindly do this stuff when it makes it harder to do my own job. And there’s an awful lot of gross money-raising going on that has made me want to pull back a bit from pure electoral politics. So I started an organization called the Eastern Congo Initiative after I found what I thought was the worst place in the world. Five million people have died in 15 years. One in six kids doesn’t live to see the age of five. The Democratic Republic of the Congo has almost no functioning state security apparatus. There are regions in this country where two out of three women have been raped. It’s an incredibly broken, needy part of the world, and nobody was working there. I thought, Okay, I’ll take that on. If I’m going to raise money, that’s what I’ll raise money for. That feels like a good way to spend my time.
PLAYBOY: Will you campaign for Hillary Clinton in 2016?