Batman isn’t the loquacious type. And for the longest time, Ben Affleck stayed silent about playing him, too.
Just a few months after winning the Best Picture Oscar for Argo in 2013, Warner Bros. announced he would become the new man beneath the cowl, picking up the role after Christian Bale’s massively popular Dark Knight trilogy for a new take on the character in director Zack Snyder’s Batman/Superman film.
He did no interviews. Appeared nowhere to discuss the character. Haters had a field day, while supporters had little backup to defend the choice. Even a year later, at 2014’s San Diego Comic-Con, Affleck appeared onstage with costars Henry Cavill and Gal Gadot … and simply waved. The idea was: Let the fans wait and see.
With Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice finally opening on March 25, Affleck is dispelling the smoke bomb and finally opening up about his version of Bruce Wayne. We’re seeing a lot of the gray-haired, world-weary Batman who will face down Cavill’s Man of Steel and Gadot’s Wonder Woman.
When the actor spoke by phone with Entertainment Weekly, he was traveling to the editing room for Live By Night (the new thriller he’s directing from a novel by Gone Baby Gone author Dennis Lehane) after just finishing a full-body scan for the Batman visual effects in Justice League, which starts shooting April 11.
Batman’s a multitasker. Obviously.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How was Batman first pitched to you — because you’re not just signing on to one film or a couple of sequels. There seems to be no end in sight for the number of films that could involve your version of Batman.
BEN AFFLECK: Initially I took the idea of doing Batman in the abstract. I was sort of uncertain about it. I went in and looked at Zack’s long-term worldview and the take he had on this character. It’s within the kind of canon of Batman, and the part of the Batman canon that he chose and the way that he saw taking it long-term, that was interesting to me. And the partner that he chose in telling this story is Chris Terrio [who won an Oscar for his screenplay for Argo]. Chris Terrio wrote not only this movie, but he wrote Justice League, and he also helped the long-term vision.
What would you say Chris contributed to the overall Batman vision?
Chris is such a smart guy and so thoughtful and so invested in realism that it really was exciting to me. Zack was the guy who is so into the comic books and the fanboy world, and Chris was the guy who did political thrillers and wasn’t a comic book guy. They were sort of perfect compliments to one another. I thought that was a brave partnership on both of their parts, a perfect match, a yin and yang sort of thing. That combination was really exciting to me. So I was really psyched.
Did Chris sign on before you did or was it kind of a simultaneous thing?
Right around when I signed on. That was part of what was being talked about even though he hadn’t signed his deal yet.
Were you like a package deal? Obviously you two have this history together from Argo.
No, we were not a package deal at all. We were totally separate components, and this was a coincidence. Obviously we had some history from Argo, but it was just lucky happenstance for me. Obviously, Warner Bros. hired Chris to write Argo before [I signed on to direct], so they knew Chris long ago. I’ve had a long history with him and a successful history with them, and so it was sort of on a parallel track.
The Batman character has been played by a lot of people, and he’s been written by a lot of people, and every iteration brings something new to it. Looking back on this movie, what would you say is your contribution to Batman’s legacy?
Oh gosh, I wouldn’t. I would leave that for other people to say. What I wanted was to create a Batman that was sort of at the end of his rope physically and psychologically and emotionally, a guy who was beaten down by the world, a guy who was a little bit more of a slugger, who has more gray in his hair, and who was questioning whether the whole journey that he lived as Batman was in fact even worth it, given that he was not superhero, but now had to face a super-being, which none of the other Batmans had to confront in the movie world. It’s an interesting thing to combine, because in the Nolan Batmans, which are the defining Batmans — so magnificent — there are no other superheroes. It’s just this guy. He never has to reconcile who he is with this idea that there are all these other people who can do these supernatural things. Having to confront that and having to deal with that is my contribution to the character.
I like that Zack took this issue that some people had with Man of Steel, the anger over all this chaos and destruction unleashed in the climax of that movie and actually turned it into the plot. Can you talk to me about the contempt that Bruce Wayne feels for this godlike figure?
Yeah, watching destruction and seeing things exploding, which we take for granted in this genre of movie — there’s a price for that. There are people in those buildings, and the people in those buildings get killed, and that’s the real price of violence. The real cost of that is in people’s lives and suffering. And we see that through the suffering that Bruce Wayne goes through. I think it’s really interesting. I really liked the idea that you can’t just blow up a whole city and just blindly move on.
Sometimes it makes us lash out, too.
There’s an enormous amount of fear and resentment and suffering that would engender. And we know what that is, we know what that’s like now. It ties in nicely thematically with Bruce’s dilemma. We know what happens now when confronted with powerful things that scare us, that can hurt us. We get afraid, we get reactionary.
And Superman’s presence is confusing to the our world. Who is this guy?
We often fall back on our haunches and want to arm ourselves or we want to attack, so I don’t think it’s a very farfetched reaction that Bruce has to the arrival of Superman in the world. It’s not like we all know Superman’s a good guy, he’s been in comic books since the fifties and he’s standing for truth, justice, and the American way. The truth is, a super-being showed up and was in some fights with some other super-beings and a lot of people were killed. I think a tremendous amount of controversy surrounds that. You figure that a lot of people think, “This guy should be locked up.”
Your Batman has been doing this for more than a decade or so, maybe even longer than that. But he doesn’t feel like things are better. Is Batman projecting some of his own anger toward himself on Superman?
Yeah, he’s projecting in some ways his own sense of failure, his own sense of disillusionment, his own cynicism onto Superman, having at one point been certainly much more idealistic about what he was doing. He’s also always been kind of a dark guy. You can’t go out at night and avenge crime the way he does, obviously, without a darker view of the world, but you can see that this probably contributes in some degree to the greater cycle of violence. And that doesn’t put an end to crime. There’s a line about weeds just cropping up and criminals are like weeds, you just pull more of them and they grow back. He’s very disillusioned and very bitter.
He had a Robin at one point, and we don’t know exactly which Robin that was, but we learned he died.
He’s bitterly disappointed in the past that he’s lost this guy who fought by his side. That character’s death must have been devastating to him, and he’s suffered. We get the sense that he’s suffered a lot of devastating losses before this movie even starts.
How does Wonder Woman play into Batman’s thinking? Because we learn that she’s been doing this for ages – much longer than him. And if she’s not jaded …
It inspires in him the idea that well, if there’s one of these kinds of people out there, then maybe there are in fact more. If there are more, then maybe that’s hopeful and also terrifying to him, because then they could make humans even more powerless — or they could serve on our side. You’ve got to remember that Batman is the world’s greatest detective, and if he suspects that there may be more, and if he suspects in particular that Diana may be somebody special, he gets inspired.
What was it like acting with Gal Gadot, both as Diana Prince and Wonder Woman?
She’s particularly beguiling and inspiring. Gal as an actress, I think is spectacular. It’s an incredibly hard part to pull it off, and she pulls it off with ease and grace, and it’s also just really fun to watch. I think it’s exciting to him that she’s out there and, ultimately, without giving too much away, he realizes that it’s not only exciting, but also necessary that he finds more of them if they are, in fact, out there.
Can you give me a status update on this Batman movie that you might direct? Is it definitely going to happen?
There’s definitely willingness and a will and a desire to make a Batman movie on the part of Warner Brothers. It’s in development, and right now I’m really focused on finishing Live By Night. That’s where my focus is, and I tend to be a one movie at a time guy. So, when I’m finished with this movie, I’ll then focus on my next movie and figure out what that will be.
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