At the Toronto Film Festival premiere of ‘Argo’ I sat next a lady who I can only describe as “an over-reactor”. She was gasping and gawking even during the moments of low drama, and as the action heightened towards the thrilling climax… I thought she was going to have a heart attack. After the credits rolled, the audience breathed out, and the extended standing ovation subsided, I overheard a guy say, “Dude, no-one can ever talk badly about Ben Affleck ever again.” And I agree. The day after the premiere, I was with a select group of journalists who got the chance to sit down with Affleck to talk through his amazing career.
Q. How do you feel after the premiere? People are already saying Oscar…
It was just a wonderful screening. It’s very rare in ones career to have things come together in the way that this did. I really like the movie and I’m proud of it. It was a really, really nice feeling. Also this festival – it’s a great audience festival. It’s famous for having good crowds, a lot of reaction. Whatever it is I’ll take it because when I come up here I’ve just so much fun. You know when you premiere movies a lot of times it could just be dead. It’s like industry people or the press.
Q. Are you pretty confident as a director?
I don’t know that I’m very confident. I definitely approach it with a healthy sense of humility. I am aware that it’s so hard to do and there are so many great directors out there who I admire and model myself after and aspire to be. I know that everyday you have to work as hard as you possibly can and still you depend on the people around you and you depend on a degree of chance. All those things give me a sense that everyday I could fail so I have to work as hard as I possibly can. It’s the only formula I found. It’s still not a guarantee but its what I do and then I let the chips roll.
Q. Shooting outside Boston was it a way to get out of your comfort zone?
Yeah. If I had gotten the ‘Citizen Kane’ of Boston I wouldn’t have wanted to do it because I didn’t want to get pigeonholed as just that guy. I had done ‘Good Will Hunting’, ‘The Town’, ‘Gone Baby Gone’, and ‘Company Men’ was in Boston… I just felt like no one is going hire me to do anything outside of New England if I don’t make a different movie. I wanted to change. I wanted to do something on an international scale. I was a Middle Eastern studies major in college. I’ve tried to spread my wings I guess a little bit.
Q. How do you feel about the Oscar buzz? The ovation last night has confirmed that the film has a big chance.
I think the ovation was wonderful. You don’t have screenings like that very often. It’s my tendency is to just go, ‘they just accidentally liked it and no one else will like it’. But really, my goal at this point is to open the movie. I want to get people to see the movie. I don’t look past that goal. That really is the goal. As a filmmaker, the most important thing is you don’t want it to be a tree falling in the woods. I’ve had that where you put in all this time and you put in all these energy and then nobody sees the movie. I really, really want to get out there and do as much work as I can. I’m going to a number of cities in the United States, I’m going to go to Europe. I’m going to really try to push to get people to see the movie because it doesn’t fit in neatly to any programmable slots. It’s not a serial killer movie or a superhero movie or a robot movie… all these movies are easy to tell the audience in a sentence this is what it is. People will say, ‘what’s your movie about?’ I have to go, ‘In 1979, the American Embassy…’ That’s tough to sell.
Q. A couple of years ago it seemed like you became a target for…
I was definitely a target for tabloid press that’s for sure.
Q. Did you ever think about giving it all up?
No. This is what I like to do, this is what I love. This is my profession. This is my career and I’ve always understood from the very beginning, that when I looked at other people’s careers, there were peaks and valleys. There are movies that worked; there are movies that didn’t work. I was happy about the movies that worked. When they didn’t, I just thought ‘I have to do better, I have to pull out of this dip’. It’s a tricky business like that. If your last movie works people will go, ‘Hey great!’ If doesn’t, people pretend they don’t see you at cocktail parties. It’s just one of those things. I prefer it even though there are moments of pain and disappointment… I prefer it to something that is more consistent.
Q. Does it make you proud that you have made your own movies?
Yeah it does. I feel like I went through this twice. I went through this fighting uphill to get ‘Good Will Hunting’ made and then went back. Matt and I always say if things get difficult, we can always generate our own material. I went back to that idea and directed ‘Gone Baby Gone’ and as a result of that, even though it opened to $4 million or something, Jeff Robinov brought me to his studio and said, ‘I love the movie. I believe in you. I want to work with you.’ I thought he was mistaking me for someone else. He said, ‘Just tell me what you want to do. We think you can do it.’ He then hired me to do ‘The Town’. I really owe a tremendous amount to him and then ‘Argo’. But it’s an uphill climb. I don’t have any regrets because I know I committed everything that I had to them. It’s just about how hard you work. That’s how I commit myself. If I didn’t work hard enough the day before, I don’t expect a scene to be as good the next day.
Q. What is it that a story needs to have to pique your interest?
The whole story has to be surprising, it has to surprise me as I’m reading it. It has to seem real. I don’t like stories where I can’t attribute any genuine motivation to why people are doing what they do. It has to be something that’s largely absent of stuff that I’ve seen before or at least seen a lot of. It has to be something that I feel like can attract good actors because making movies is 90% casting. What I do is hire the right actors and I do nothing else. I sit back and watch Alan Arkin do it and people go, ‘Great movie!’ I’m thinking, ‘Yeah, Alan kind of just showed up and did it.’ Alan is great. John Goodman is great. Bryan Cranston is great. That casting goes a long way. You can’t cast a movie unless you have a script that for whatever reason actors are attracted to. Being an actor and a director, I have a better eye for the kind of thing that actors want to do.
Q. Will you focus more now on your directing career even without you in the movie?
I like being in the movies. I like acting and having the control editorially over my own performance. I like the way that doing research as a director helps the performance because you’ve done 14 weeks of research and you know everything about the character. I like the fact that being in the movies I direct means that I’m not out of the acting loop for two years because it’s a business with a short memory. It’s important to me just to stay active and stay present and stay in movies. And I think in some part because of directing, I’m getting some more interesting opportunities as an actor. I’m not pursuing the ones that don’t interest me, it keeps it at a nice balance.
Q. Have you considered to cast your wife in one of your films?
I have considered it. I’m very drawn to the idea of doing a movie if I wouldn’t be in it. Whenever I read – I’ve said if there is a strong female driven script with a great part, I would do it in a second. My wife is extraordinarily gifted. I think when somebody really knows you well – it was like with my brother in ‘Gone Baby Gone’, I was so able to determine what was real and what isn’t. I think I would be able to do that with my wife. She’s so talented and I’m just her fan, you really should direct people who you admire. It’s hard for women to find good roles. I would be lucky to do it.
Q. After this film, your next film should be a comedy or something after seeing this.
I hope so. I like doing ‘Saturday Night Live’ although I haven’t had too much. We had some nice comedy in this, and these guy are real comics – Arkin and Goodman and Cranston. They just deliver it. It feels real, never like shtick or a joke. That’s what makes that work for my money.
Q. Do you see Clint Eastwood as someone like a model?
Absolutely. I see him as a model. He’s an icon. He’s directed like 38 films. Can you imagine? That’s like the old studio system when guys just come out for six weeks and they direct 70 films in their careers. He’s amazing. He’s had an amazing career as an actor. I was scoring ‘The Town’ on the Eastwood scoring stage in Warner Bros, I was looking at a bunch of the technicians and we were talking about something and I saw them all stopped talking and look. I was like, ‘What’s wrong?’ I looked over and Clint Eastwood had just wandered in. I had never seen people star struck like that. I said, ‘Hi Clint. Come on in. What are you doing?’ He was like, ‘I’m just stopping by. What are you making?’ I said, ‘It’s kind of a cops and robbers thing.’ He said, ‘I’ve done a few of those.’ I was like, ‘Do you get a discount for scoring on the Eastwood stage? They got to give you a rate.’ He said, ‘if I knew they were going to name something after me, I would have aimed for the water tower.’ He’s wonderful. I do aspire to be like him. That’s quite an aspiration.