AFFLECK: I bear a share of responsibility. You can’t divorce yourself and say it was everybody else’s fault and not mine. I was there. But by the same token, actors are often afforded too much credit and too much blame. These things are risky by nature, and I have worked as hard on ones that didn’t work as I did on Argo. Sometimes it’s in the hands of the movie gods. You think something’s smart and that it will resonate, you bust your ass, and it just doesn’t congeal. That’s why I judge directors by their successes. Everybody’s capable of missing, but there aren’t many who are capable of doing something special.
PLAYBOY: Considering the career adversity you’ve overcome, should we not be surprised that your memories of failures are more vivid than of hits? Do you dwell on failure?
AFFLECK: No, it’s something else. Look at Daredevil. That’s where I found my wife. We met on Pearl Harbor, which people hate, but we fell in love on Daredevil. By the way, she won most of the fights in the movie, which was a pretty good predictor of what would happen down the road—my wife, holding swords and beating the living shit out of me.
The Rotten Tomatoes rating is not in direct proportion to how important a life experience a movie was. Surviving Christmas is a one tomato, which means a shitty movie. Again, it should’ve been better, could’ve been better. To me, meeting James Gandolfini and getting to know him at such an interesting and important period in both our lives, and the degree to which we bonded and became friends, is something I wouldn’t trade for anything. He was a lovely man, and so tough on himself. Most of the good things in my life have come out of movies that didn’t work very well. That made that movie a great experience, despite what people said about it. As you point out, like Pearl Harbor, Daredevil and Surviving Christmas. The hit movies I’ve done did nothing for me personally.
PLAYBOY: You got into some trouble overdoing it when you were young and had Hollywood at your feet for the first time.
AFFLECK: I wasn’t married. I showed up in Hollywood, and all of a sudden girls were talking to me. I thought, Wow, what changed? So I had a lot of girlfriends and a lot of fun. I definitely ran around, and I hit the wall a few times and made some mistakes. But that’s part of a young man growing up. I think it was the only natural reaction to the situation I found myself in. It’s part of what has allowed me to have more perspective now as an older guy.
PLAYBOY: There is an “I’ll show them” attitude in how you built your career. Does that go back to dropping out of college after a professor embarrassed you?
AFFLECK: Matt and I were writing Good Will Hunting and living in Eagle Rock. I was going to school at Occidental. I had a creative writing professor who asked us to write 20 pages of anything, free-flowing, no-rules type stuff. I brought in 20 pages of Good Will Hunting. I started to read it and she said, “Stop, stop, stop. That’s not an acceptable literary form. Screenplay is not literature.” Then she allowed the class to weigh in and make jokes at my expense. I stood there mortified, my face turning red, a classic moment of humiliation. She said she expected something else from me in two days. I walked out and never went back.
AFFLECK: I quit school and never went back for one second more of classes after that. I just said, “Fuck it. This is not helping me. I’m going to do this on my own with Matt.” I don’t think I’m the only person who has used something like that as motivation.
PLAYBOY: What kind of influence was your father? He did everything from tend bar to write, direct and produce. And he was a bookie.
AFFLECK: Yeah. Not in that order, but yeah.
PLAYBOY: It sounds like his dreams went unfulfilled.
AFFLECK: Yeah. My dad was—is a very gifted writer and thinker. He worked in a theater company in Boston with Dustin Hoffman, with Robert Duvall. He knew Jon Voight and James Woods, all of whom have come up to tell me this subsequently. My dad had ambitions but also a troubled life. He had a lot of tragedy in his family, a lot of pain, and he drank to ease some of that pain. Once you start drinking too much, it’s hard to fulfill your ambitions. He became a pretty serious alcoholic. He’s sober now. He’s been sober for 20 years, and I think it’s incredibly admirable. But when he was drinking, he fell apart. My mom kicked him out, and then he was kicking around and living on the street.
PLAYBOY: What does that do to a son who also has creative aspirations?
AFFLECK: That was a formative period for me. It caused me to obsess about success and money, because my dad ran out of money and got kicked out of his house. I obsessed about how important money was. It got wired into my DNA, and that obsession probably caused me to do some movies I shouldn’t have.
PLAYBOY: How did your dad’s struggle inform your voice as a writer?
AFFLECK: My dad definitely didn’t push me into this. He worried, based on how difficult his own experience was, and he was caught between that and not wanting to discourage me. He was working in the theater and then he was a bartender, and that’s when he was making book a little bit. He was making a lot of money betting against the Patriots, basically. And that’s how we got our first VCR and washer-dryer. My dad used to say, “You can thank [Patriots quarterback] Steve Grogan.” He got canned from that job and ended up a janitor at Harvard. That’s where the Harvard janitor dynamic in Good Will Hunting comes from.
PLAYBOY: That character was your father?
AFFLECK: Yeah. The tension of the friendship between the Robin Williams character and Stellan Skarsgård’s professor character was sort of me and Matt’s imagination of my dad and the guys he was in the theater with who went on to become successful. Pick any one of these famous guys. The notion was, Yeah, you’ve done well, but you’re not better than me. You know?
PLAYBOY: Matt Damon has been your friend since you were eight. What’s the value in a long-term friendship like that?
AFFLECK: I probably can’t overstate the degree to which he’s been helpful, even in that it’s psychologically good to have somebody you trust, who’s going through it too, who can understand what you’re going through and whose opinion you respect. Matt just moved down the street from me, so he lives closer to me now than when we were growing up together in Boston. Our kids hang out together; we have barbecues. I was at his place two nights ago. Having a friend you’ve been connected to since you were a little kid, that’s grounding. Matt and my brother Casey are the two people I rely on the most, emotionally and professionally.
PLAYBOY: Isn’t there a competitive nature between you? Who wins at poker?
AFFLECK: I’m still the better poker player, probably, though neither of us plays much anymore. Matt was talking about getting a game going in his house. Yeah, we’re competitive, but we learned to handle it early on. We would take the train from Boston to New York to audition. We both felt, Look, I want to get the part, but if it’s not me, I want it to be you. It was a healthy way of acknowledging you want what you want, but you’re also rooting for the other guy.
PLAYBOY: Since you don’t play cards anymore, what is your current guilty pleasure?
AFFLECK: A 1966 Chevelle, and the slight guilt comes from its carbon footprint. [laughs] I try to stay away from too much guilty stuff. Between working and then being home and spending time with my kids, I don’t have too much time. I still have my motorcycle, which I don’t drive too often. You have to have something, some contact with that part of yourself that’s not just putting shoes on kids.