With a Venice Film Festival award under his yellow belt, Oscar winner Affleck opens up about his new ''Baby'' and what it's like being a player in ''Hollywoodland'' again

By Michelle Kung
September 20, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT
Ben Affleck: Nicolas Guerin/Azimuts Production/Corbis

One award doesn’t a comeback make, but for Hollywoodland star Ben Affleck — who just picked up a Best Actor statue at the Venice Film Festival for his portrayal of suicidal TV Superman George Reeves — it’s a welcome start. The Oscar winner and new father recently chatted with EW about his win abroad, his self-imposed two-year break from the big screen, and his upcoming directorial debut.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Congrats on your win in Venice. When did you first find out?
BEN AFFLECK: I found out at like five in the morning in Los Angeles, or whenever the corresponding time of the awards banquet in Venice was. They just called me and said, ”You’ve won this award, do you have a statement to be read?” And I was shocked. If I thought there was any chance of me winning, I wouldn’t have left early.

The film has been received pretty well.
It was a great part, so I was just happy to get the job. I’m trying to do my very best, mostly out of fear of failure. But you never really know how people are going to perceive something. I guess there are people who are really attuned to buzz or read the pre-release tea leaves, but I certainly do not know ahead of time, as has been discovered. So we were just happy to get in. It’s a really prestigious European film festival, and I’ve been in quite a few movies where the idea of taking it to Venice wasn’t even discussed.

Although this is your first released movie in two years, you’ve been keeping busy.
Yeah, I did [Joe Carnahan’s Vegas drama] Smokin’ Aces, and I’ve been directing and developing [an adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s] Gone, Baby, Gone, which I’ll be [in post-production with] until February or March of next year, certainly. I’ve been prepping it for a year now, and I wrote a TV pilot before that. But I’d been wanting to take some time off, so that was all by design. I was pretty fatigued, and felt the [film] options I was going to be offered was stuff that I didn’t really want to do, and I didn’t want to be tempted to do it, so the smart thing to do was just to take a break and let the chips fall as they may.

Gone, Baby, Gone is actually the fourth book in Lehane’s Patrick Kenzie/Angela Gennaro mystery series. Why did you decide to start with that one?
The reason I chose to do it first is because I like the writing best in this one. It’s an examination of an ambiguous moral universe in terms of child abuse and neglect and it was the least conventional and most compelling. The challenge was that I was making the two main characters [played by Affleck’s brother Casey and Michelle Monaghan] the age of the characters in the first book [when they’re in their early 30s], but putting them in the circumstances of the fourth book [when they’re in their late 30s]. There’s something to be said about being in your 30s; your life can still go a certain way, so I thought that maybe that was more dramatic.

Are you concerned about alienating fans of the series?
Because there are a core group of fans and he’s such a well-respected novelist, I wanted to be really, really careful. Obviously, the story needs to be shorter, so characters got compressed, but we didn’t change the ending. I consider this to be very faithful. Maybe I’ve done a disservice, but I didn’t approach [the movie] as one in a series, I did it as one story — and it’s a pretty dark, down story.

When’s the film slated to come out?
Right now, we’re still editing; we don’t even have a composer yet. But we’re starting to have discussions about whether it will be next year; we’ll certainly be finished for spring or fall. I assume it’s not a summer movie.

What was your pilot about?
I pitched a one-hour show that did not get picked up. I kind of knew going in, because I had written it as a two-hour drama, and everyone was like, ”Why don’t you turn it into a one-hour drama, and come back?” It was a post-apocalyptic America political piece called ”Resistance.”

Are you excited about [the Project Greenlight-generated film] Feast finally hitting theaters?
Yeah, I’m going to the premiere tonight in Las Vegas. [Director John] Gulager, as a man, is simply spectacular.