Ben Affleck has been in the press these past few months not only because of his movies but his engagement to one Jennifer Lopez. Greeting the press for the release of his latest movie, Daredevil, Affleck is self-deprecating, hilarious, honest and eloquent as he talks superheroes, Kevin Smith, JLO and the press. PAUL FISCHER reports.
Paul Fischer: How does it feel to be in the eye of the hurricane, so to speak in what Hollywood is calling the most celebrated love affair?
Ben Affleck: That’s you that are calling it that. That’s not Hollywood. It’s a little weird, you know. It’s a little strange. I’ve been in relationships, public relationships before with Gwyneth and it wasn’t quite the same thing. And I don’t know what’s different about it. I didn’t anticipate that it would be different. I felt like there’s a degree of publicity that goes along with this but, you know, I was a little shocked, but I feel like I take a lot of comfort in the fact that, you know, there’s only so much you can say about that stuff and then there’s somebody else, then, like, Colin Farrell is dating Britney Spears and you’re off the hook. [LAUGHTER]
Can you clear up the current rumour of the week; bring us up to speed on where it’s at’ Is there a wedding coming up?
I’m not even abreast of all the rumours in the way that you guys probably are. I can tell you that nothing’s changed as far as I know. But I’m not up to date with the papers. Yeah, I’m not getting married anytime in the near future so don’t worry.
Q: With regards to Daredevil. You play a blind person. Did that hinder you in any way?
Ben: I’m glad to get to some of the questions that won’t make any of the copy.Yes, you can all take a little break now. Yeah, Daredevil, it was interesting playing a blind guy. What’s interesting about it is when you look at Red Dragon; I think Emily Watson did a great job. I watched that, playing a blind character. Pacino did it famously and won the Oscar for A Scent of Woman. There was a high bar for playing blind people that’s out there. The interesting thing about this is although he’s blind with his eyes, because of this sort of superpower that he has in terms of advanced hearing that allows him to create this 3-dimensional map using a kind of sonar of his surroundings is not the way in what we think of people who are blind, technically blind. A lot of times, as Matt Murdock, it’s kind of an act that he plays at being more helpless than he really is. What I did was work with a guy named Tom Sullivan who’s blind. He’s one of these guys who jumps out of airplanes and is a really good skier and makes you feel inadequate. He helped me in terms of how one who is blind and can’t use their eyes, uses their other senses to navigate their surroundings and so on and so forth. And the big kind of cheat for me was that I was able to use these contact lenses which are completely opaque, which I couldn’t see out of at all, which meant that I didn’t consciously have to act blind or try not to use my eyes. I just sort of took that away and then the challenge was really not walking into furniture.
Q.In which roles would you cast Kevin (Smith) and your brother as superheroes?’
My brother I feel is a superhero. Incidentally, my brother has a movie opening this weekend as well, which I think is one of the great American art movies ever made. It’s a staggering movie worth checking out. Matt’s in it. Gus Van Sant directed it. It’s called Gerry. It’s like playing art houses and stuff and really worth seeing Kevin is Internet Boy. That would be his superhero. Talkback Man. Kevin manages to keep up with every person who posts on the Internet in the world about movies. Kevin writes a reply. I don’t know how he has the time to do it.
Q.How did you feel about your character allowing the guy to die on the train tracks?’
Ben: That was a real controversial issue in terms that I know that the really hard core fans, myself included, and probably even Marvel felt like that was stepping over a line in a way. We went back and forth on that many many times. Ultimately what we decided and that’s the one way that it deviates from the heart of the book, where Daredevil never killed anybody. He does that Bullseye drop in the comic book and in this one; he throws him out the window. That’s very consistent with the comic. He was not as vengeful as we portrayed him in the beginning but for the sake of giving the character an arc, from letting him go as a guy who’s seeking ultimately vengeance to a guy who understands between that and justice and who understands about mercy and compassion largely through the love of this woman, we kept it in there. There’s part of me that’s ambivalent about it, because it is the most significant departure between the tenor and tone of the comic book itself, which is the thing I wanted to be the most faithful to. But I do think it works in the context of the movie and I think that ultimately because he’s not the Punisher, he’s not a vigilante that shoots bad guys or kills them in a comic and ultimately that’s not where he ends up. Where Daredevil ends up at the end of this movie is very consistent with whom he is in the comics.
Q.The prescription drugs?
Ben: I thought that was emblematic of a way in which this has its own tone. It’s a little grittier, a little more realistic and it represented the fact that in this comic book superhero universe a guy gets hit, he’s hurt. He’s stabbed, he bleeds. There are consequences to it. Still, it’s a comic book movie. You have to suspend your disbelief if you were to add up all the injuries the guy takes over the course of the movie. It’s borderline that you could keep going. But we did want to make the point that, and I think it speaks to the violence issue, that there are consequences to violence. That this is not a wanton, graphic, random violence that hurts, that people suffer, so I supported that. And I like that part of the movie.
Q. Which sense do you think you could do without and why?
Probably smell. I have a friend, a guy named Chris who I knew when I was a kid, who introduced me to Daredevil when I was 9 years old, it bears mentioning, I just ran into him again and he emailed me and said, I can’t believe you’re doing Daredevil. It’s amazing. He sort of couldn’t fathom it. So he came down and visited me on the set and when he came down and visited me he said, You know, it turned out that he had this very rare, little known condition and I was like what’s the story with this condition and he said, one of things is that I can’t smell anything. I said you have no sense of smell? I never knew that. He said, I would always just go along with what people would say. They said, oh, that stinks and I’d just go along with it. But Chris never seemed to be lacking anything of any kid so I have to say, I never noticed it. That has to be the most disposable of all senses although if you have it, I think you’d miss it. But half the things you smell, you wish you hadn’t.
Q.Why Daredevil as a kid?
It’s hard to say. I suppose this is a conversation better suited to my shrink. But why not? Every other issue of my life is worth bearing with the world. I don’t really know. I know that when I was a kid, there was a contrast between that hero and others in the spectrum of this comic book universe; many of whom were kind of chaste, boy scout, black and white, golden age ‘50s kind of comic book heroes that were predictable. You always knew they’d do the right thing. They were fighting intergalactic foes and it was fun in a little kid way but it was nothing I could ever identify with. And as I got into preadolescence and into adolescence, this guy represented something to me I guess that I thought was more realistic. It sounds funny to say about a guy who puts on a red suit and fights crime but he was a flawed hero and he had his own struggles. He was this hero; he was openly religious. He had these tragic love affairs. He struggled with himself as much as struggled with the (unintelligible). He didn’t always win; he didn’t always do the right thing. I guess that resonated with me a little bit more. He also was more of a ground level guy. He wasn’t fighting intergalactic empires or travelling through alternate universes and didn’t have a ring that shot green rays, he was just a guy, who had evolved. In particular, he had this handicap. So he has this peculiar vulnerability that I thought was really interesting. I also have to credit the writers and artists who worked on that comic then and now and made it in my opinion and really significant work and one that I was really drawn to. It’s hard to so what makes one story good and another story bad; it’s relative and subjective and if I polled all of you in the room you’d all have different opinions about various movies and novels. It was just something that I thought was good.
Q.You say he’s not a vigilante but how much of the 9/11 era affect the character?
Ben: There’s been a seismic shift. I saw an article I think in the New York Times today about how the CIA is represented in a way that’s like, what was that Redford movie, (Three Days of the Condor), where he says you people think that not getting caught in a lie is the same as telling the truth, and there was a time when the anti-authoritarianism, and the government scandals and the Vietnam war had made a generation of people very sceptical of authority and wanted to pull back and reign in secret government programs and the like and now, like with Colin’s movie that’s out now, I haven’t seen that actually, but they were citing lines from that where guys were saying do I get to kill people and Pacino says, do you want to kill people? It’s kind of like very much the Bill Casey mentality of give us free reign and we’ll be able to fix the problems and don’t ask questions. I think it’s a reflection of as people feel more and more in jeopardy they want their guardians, watchmen, the policemen, even the vigilante’s, there’s more sympathy for them. The NYPD went from dealing with the Diamidou Dealou case and all these scandals and segued right into people recognizing by and large these people are heroes. They’re here to protect us. I think probably that trend means that people are more interested in stories about heroes and the conflict of people being out there trying to protect us at large. I don’t know if that will help or hurt us with the movie or if its relevant, but it’s interesting to note that societally we’re kind of more willing all of a sudden to be less restrictive of the people who are protecting us and maybe be less judgmental of them.
Q: Talk about Kevin Smith and his impact on your career.
Ben: Kevin is the reason why Good Will Hunting got made. Kevin is the reason why I have a career, playing leading roles and not being stuck playing obnoxious bad guys and bullies. Kevin believed in me after Mallrats, casting me in the lead in Chasing Amy. We were doing Chasing Amy and he told Miramax, who already had passed on Good Will Hunting initially, that they should read the script when it was in turnaround at Castle Rock. It’s the reason why we got it made there. And Kevin has always been a big believer in me. I really owe the guy a big part of my career if not the whole thing. Don’t tell him that, because he’ll ask for money. He’s also seen in some circles as the Godfather of the comic book/movie connection. Right? Because he’s such a comic book enthusiast. He owns a comic book store. He worked for Avi (Arad) writing Daredevil. And he’s a filmmaker. I think it was natural for Mark to go to this guy. In some ways when you do something like this, like taking on a character that already has been built, you kind of seek people’s blessings; people have already worked on it. Kevin did a great run of Daredevil. People like Frank Miller, Kevin Smith are the people that Mark and I wanted to please with this because they represent the hardcore fans and the base support group. And Kevin was enthusiastic. He brokered my connection with Mark and has been like a champion of me doing this, very encouraging, watched very early cuts of the movie, gave feedback, and is in the movie and isn’t nearly as bad an actor in this movie as he is in his own movies. It’s curious. It seems like he should get a guest director to come in and direct him and tell him not to bug his eyes out so much. Kevin does a weird Al Jolson performance thing in his own movies but he’s grounded and down to earth in this one.
Q.You were originally going to play Bullseye in Daredevil?
What it was they wanted to go really early. I was shooting Gigli and they said look, by the time I heard about this Daredevil thing, that they were doing it and Kevin brought it up to me, I already was committed to doing this other movie and they wanted to go in that slot. Which kind of broke my heart because I so wanted to be involved with this. But they had a release date issued they wanted to meet. There’s a whole other side like what quarter they come out and where they fit particularly with large, multinational corporations they’re basically these huge pipes and these pipes cost a lot of money just to maintain and these pipes need to be filled with product at specific intervals so there was that issue. So I said, Jesus, I can’t because I’m not available but this Bullseye, I’ve always loved Bullseye. In the forward I wrote to Kevin’s graphic novel, the run of Daredevil he did, I talked about sympathizing with Bullseye. I thought he was one of the great villains. You kind of love him in a way and Colin was a perfect choice for that because he is literally the loveable rogue. So I went in and sat down with them and said maybe I can do this (Bullseye) for a couple of weeks, they can compress the days, and so on and so forth. Then Mark said he could work with you as Daredevil with that. I said, it would be a dream come true for me. That’s how it sort of evolved from Bullseye to Daredevil. I would have been happy to play Bullseye; that’s a great part.
Q.What happened with the slot?
They slid the movie, functionally that’s what happened. They started shooting the first two weeks the origin stuff with the little kid while I was still shooting Gigli. So technically, I had two movies shooting at the same time. I just wasn’t in that two week section of filming and as soon as I wrapped Gigli, I went right into the next day doing Daredevil, which meant that a lot of the physical training I had to do for this movie was done after work on Gigli. I would wrap then go train for 3-4 hours at night. It was sort of exhausting.
Q. What fears do you have?
I have so many fears that it would be hard to itemize them all. My real superhero would be like Anxiety Guy.
Q. How about flying?
I used to be really scared of flying until I took flying lessons actually for Pearl Harbor [one of the good things to come out of my doing that movie] and that got me past that fear. It’s like a control thing. I don’t know why I’d do any better flying a plane. Clearly, I’m much worse. But it’s a thing you don’t have control over. That was a fear of mine. I put my seatbelt on now, stuff like that. I much more conscious and fearful. I think everybody kind of is in the last year or two. Even look at yesterday’s news: there’s that constant fear of turning on the TV and some horrible thing has happened. Living with that kind of awareness; that’s a lot of anxiety
Q. Do you fear losing acting jobs?
I’m hopeful. Ultimately, I’d like to be able to work in this business and make movies without being in the middle of a tornado. It means the trade off is you don’t make as much money. The big part of why I get cast in things, I like to think is because I’m a great towering talent of an actor. But I have to acknowledge that some of it has to do with marketability, visibility, name on a poster, sitting down and talking to you folks and that’s the trade off. You make a bunch of money because you kind of sell your life along with the movie, the story of yourself and that sort of thing. So there’s a part of me that wants to segue from that kind of acting and movies to one where you can take more of a backseat and somebody else is up here talking about their love life and all their personal details. And you can do acting in a way that I did with Shakespeare in Love or Boiler Room and come in and out and do stuff and maybe direct and write stuff where it’s not so much about the work speaks for itself. Nobody really wants to talk to directors all that much.
Q. How has love changed you’
Ah yes. You do movies like this and they take place in this alternate universe and this one is unique in the comic book movie adaptation pantheon while there is this tonal thing of people dressing up in costumes and fighting crime and super-villains and stuff and element of realism in it, and it’s not tongue in cheek. It dares to ask the audience to take the character seriously and get invested in their emotional journey which could be absurd so you have to immerse yourself in it and be convicted in it and in order to do that, t was hard for me because it’s far a-field from my everyday life, putting on a costume, doing flips, fighting crime, people getting stabbed, this operatic, melodramatic scale of good versus evil, but one of the things I could identify with this movie was and this is at the centre in some ways which is this love story and the transforming power of love and the redemptive qualities that falling in love has and without going into too much detail, I can tell you that’s the thing I really could identify with and I used as an actor as a centrepiece to hold onto. But sometimes I was trying to think what does this feel like in my life. I can’t think of anything.
Q. How does Matt (Damon) feel about you being a superhero?
He’s threatened. He feels intimidated. Wishes he made that choice. A little jealous. He likes the tights. What does Matt think? (imitating Matt) Hey man, so you’re doing this superhero thing. You’ve met Matt, he’s like a hail fellow well met, he’s a pretty genial guy but I think he’s a little intimidated. I know that he feels a little comforted because on those lonely nights when he hears a noise in the room, he can say, honey, get up. Will you go look downstairs? And I’ll go down and look downstairs. (jokes) Jennifer is always the one who goes downstairs, and I’m like, Honey, get up and go downstairs.
Q. How was it working with Jennifer Garner?
It’s probably hard for you because you see actors that say, oh, they’re great and so on, and I’m sure they’re actors when they sit down you think, this person’s an asshole. Clearly, this is a charade. But with Jennifer Garner, it’s really one of those things she’s so up with people, you keep thinking there has to be some dark side, some twisted underbelly here. But as far as I could tell from the months we spent together, there really isn’t. She was professional, patient. I think she if she has a flaw it’s that she’s too patient, indulgent and puts up with too much when she should really be saying, wait a minute, this isn’t my job. Or this should be done better. It’s product of her upbringing, being this girl from West Virginia. Very well mannered, very smart and one of the great things about Jennifer is that really doesn’t know how beautiful she is. There are a lot of women who are not only aware of that but particularly in this business, subconsciously instructed to use their physical attributes that trades on their sexuality, trade on their beauty. That’s what’s valuable and that’s what’s interesting about them. Put it out there. Do plastic surgery and go through this whole thing. And it really isn’t about that for her. I don’t think she thinks she’s as drop dead gorgeous as she is. That is what gives her this incredibly appealing quality. She’s more than the girl next door because she’s va-va voom but also she’s not threatening and I think women look at her and don’t say she’s going to seduce my husband, either. She’s somebody I can trust. She’s somebody I can get along with. As far as working with her, she was better at the action stuff than I was. Flat out. No questions about it. Just better at it. It was something I had to address in my own life.Jennifer Lopez could be accused of trading on her physical appearance. That’s a common misconception about her. The thing about Jennifer Lopez is that she’s somebody who wasn’t told that she was super beautiful her life growing up. What she trades on and counts on is this incredible work ethic. It’s all hustle. Nobody ever gave Jennifer Lopez anything. Nobody ever said, Hey, kid, you’re going to be a star. This world’s cut out for Latina women with a different shape than Kate Moss. The whole world’s you’re oyster. She always knew that if it was ever going to happen it’s all on me. She’s very self-reliant and very determined and focused which often is confused with naked ambition and other unpleasant character attributes, which I have to tell you, are not true.
Q. Talk about being the sexiest man alive.
The only thing I can tell you is that People magazine called my mother, and she told me (in his mum’s voice) People magazine called me and said that you’re the sexiest man alive. I said, Mom that might be a prank. She said, no, it’s not, and I just want to tell you I think it’s ridiculous. I’m sure there are people who will agree with you. Don’t get a big head. Ok, I’ll try not to. That’s my feeling.
Q. If you stopped acting, what job would you want to do?
I think the coolest job to have and I might just be influenced by watching the West Wing, I think that being a speechwriter is a pretty cool job. It’s fun, you get to try stuff and pitch stuff and it’s also substantive. If you write for TV show it gets a laugh or it moves people but it doesn’t move the engine of the world and government. I think that would be a pretty cool thing.
Q.Would you write for this particular president?
I’m not so good with folksy down home anecdotes. That’s not my thing. They’d have to get a different guy. I could I just don’t think he’d ever deliver any of them. I think that would be a fun job to have. I also think that Rob Lowe should stay on the West Wing.
Q. Why do Jennifer’s video?
Ben: I’m surprised that with so many astute smart people in the press so many people missed the point of that which was to sort of satirize the very thing that was happening. We were in the midst of this manic, crazy, paparazzi hiding under the bushes, photographs coming out of the most mundane, bizarre everyday activities. They would be published, not only published, but bid on. It was madness. I thought here’s a way to hold up this pop culture phenomenon to the light and ask what is this thing that we’re collectively engaged in, a group voyeurism. The act of paparazzism that takes the mundane and through the grainy prism of a long lens cast this other light on it and make it look more sexy, different. The idea of that video was to make people uncomfortable, to have this degree of voyeurism where the audience would feel uncomfortable and think this is sort of invasive. Why am I watching this’ Why am I seeing these two people do this’ Then ask themselves what is this process we all do. And, of course, satirize it. When we were shooting it, the paparazzi showed up and masked the satirization of the paparazzi. I said to Francis Lawrence, you’ve got to shoot these guys, you’ve got to put them in the video. So he turned the camera on them. We ended up blurring their faces out but they’re in the actual video. It’s like when you have a video camera and aim it at the TV and it’s like infinite boxes. It reminded me of that and that was the point. Some people recognized it as that some people said it’s just further exploitation of your personal life. I understand why because I know people in the press get tired of being bitched at by celebrities who they have to cover and don’t really want to cover anyway. Their editors saying but people want to see it. So you go out there and ask so what’s it like getting your warts burned off. It’s so depressing,. Then you have the uphill battle of the celebrities themselves who say don’t intrude on my private life but promote my movie which is kind of a contradiction in terms these days. It’s frustrating the press saying what we are supposed to do. That’s the point of it. I don’t’ know.
Q. How do you feel about all of this exposure?
I feel an acute sense of dread, not dread, but people are going to grow weary of this. I’m not out there saying, Hey, I go shopping. I’m a regular guy. I buy pizzas with my girl. But people volley to take your picture. I wish it weren’t out there so much because eventually there’s a limit to it at which point it becomes nauseating. I can’t really control that and the big concern for me as an actor, because I’ve given up protesting the process itself, which I was aware of before I was ever in a movie, is that it does get in the way of people being able to watch your movies because eventually if all you see are these other images of you as a real person, it becomes harder to suspend disbelief and you don’t’ see the person as the character in the movie. Where it takes you five minutes with someone else, it takes you 15 minutes with an actor you’ve seen. It’s like enough already.
Q. I hear you impersonate people in the films you do. Who did you try to impersonate on this movie?
The best imitation was Colin. The bigger the personality, the easier they are to imitate. So working with Colin, it won’t be quotable. (goes into Colin impression) The truth that should be said about Colin, in a way he’s actually not crazy or out there. He’s actually just really friendly and sweet. He has nothing but love. He’s really open to everything. He’s really not like that actor guy who’s putting on this demeanour of being remote and distant as a mask for I don’t know who I am or what I’m doing. He really is accessible, sweet and kind. For all these rumours of carousing and going crazy, he shows up at work every day. He works really hard. Never anything but a prince. I got to really love Colin Farrell. If I could do my bachelorhood all over again, I would do it the like Colin Farrell.
DAREDEVIL OPENS NATIONWIDE ON FEBRUARY 14