AFFLECK: We had sold the Good Will Hunting script for $600,000, and we split it, 300 grand apiece. After taxes, $125,000. And then we each bought cars for $50,000—I bought a Jeep Cherokee—so we were down to $75,000. By the end of the year we were flat broke. So I had experience running through 600,000 bucks. And then on Armageddon I made another $600,000.
PLAYBOY: Pearl Harbor.
AFFLECK: Pearl Harbor was a wonderful experience. I got to know my wife, and there were a lot of people I liked. It was a disappointment because I thought we were making an iconic movie that could have been made before the war, a Titanic kind of movie. It ultimately ended up being like Armageddon in World War II. You can make Armageddon about oil drillers on an asteroid. You can’t make Armageddon about the Doolittle Raid because that’s history and people take that seriously. You talked about being picky over historical accuracy. Michael Bay, the director, wanted a more commercial tone, and it was commercial, a big hit. People say Pearl Harbor was a bomb. It was absolutely not. It did half a billion dollars, but it became a light piece of entertainment.
PLAYBOY: Changing Lanes.
AFFLECK: Roger Michell taught me casting. He showed me that if you cast every tiny part as if it were the lead, you can create a whole world of people you can live in as an actor. I met Bradley Cooper. I liked working with Sam Jackson a lot. My memory is of Roger taking what could have easily been a 1970s genre action film and turning it into a rumination on anger and morality.
PLAYBOY: You forgot your cast mate Sydney Pollack, also a great director.
AFFLECK: Oh my God. I grilled Sydney about all his movies, and there were so many. I remember him saying, “Of the seven movies.…” I said “Wait a minute. You directed seven movies?” He said, “No, I directed seven movies that star Robert Redford.” [laughs] So many amazing stories. His Stanley Kubrick stories.…
PLAYBOY: Can you tell us one?
AFFLECK: Sydney was acting for him in Eyes Wide Shut, and Stanley wanted him to hold a glass in a specific place. Sydney told him, “Stanley, I wouldn’t do that. It’s not real.” And Kubrick said, “Real is good. Interesting is better.” He’s the reason people are afraid to cast actors who are directors, because after one or two takes he’d be muttering, “Come on, I think we got this. Don’t we have it?”
PLAYBOY: The Sum of All Fears.
AFFLECK: I met Morgan Freeman, which was great because I was able to ask him to work for free when we did Gone Baby Gone. We shot The Sum of All Fears in Montreal, and it almost killed me. That town never closes. The food is amazing, the drink is amazing, the girls are gorgeous. It’s not a place to focus on your work.
PLAYBOY: Gone Baby Gone.
AFFLECK: I was terrified. Everybody said, “This is going to suck. Ben Affleck is directing. This movie’s going to be shit.” I was very discouraged by it and didn’t have a lot of support from anybody really, except my wife. And Matt.
PLAYBOY: Critics were impressed with your cast. Your star, Ed Harris, is known for not suffering fools.
AFFLECK: No, he does not suffer anything. I’ve always gotten along with and respect actors. It becomes clear after a minute or two talking to me as the director on a movie that I care about them doing their best work and that I give them all the latitude and time they need and that I understand the story and I’m not going to ask them to do anything that doesn’t make sense. That’s a lot for an actor to hear.
PLAYBOY: The Town.
AFFLECK: I got confidence from Gone Baby Gone that I could get through a movie, shoot it and have it make sense. The Town was a step up in trying to execute on the genre components. The movie borrowed a lot from Michael Mann’s Heat. Look how well they did it in that movie—you can’t do it any better. I took that realism and tried to apply it to our action stuff. There were a lot of techniques we used. Some worked, and others we didn’t put in the movie. Ultimately it was about making a slightly bigger, slightly more Hollywood movie and wrapping it around a drama that had themes that were meaningful to me. I thought, If I do this right, I will be considered for more stuff. And then Jeff Robinov at Warner Bros. handed me Argo. I read it and immediately knew I had to make it, that it was perfect.
PLAYBOY: How about some movies that were considered flops but might have been memorable milestones for you. Gigli?
AFFLECK: Gigli’s where I learned to direct. Martin Brest, the guy who did Beverly Hills Cop, Midnight Run and Scent of a Woman, is a great director who understands how to help an actor. The love he had for what he was doing, the care he took with the performances and the way he made it about the story and the actors rather than imposing some sort of artifice or style on top of it—all that rubbed off on me when I shot The Town.
PLAYBOY: Daredevil. Can you put your finger on where it went wrong?
AFFLECK: I think it would be impolite to say so.
PLAYBOY: It doesn’t sound like you think it was your fault.