He won an Oscar for writing when he was just 26 — and spent the next 14 years figuring out who he wanted to be when he grew up. With the taut thriller Argo, the leading man proved he's also one of the best directors of his generation, and earned the title of EW's Entertainer of the Year
George Clooney on Ben Affleck
”The first anybody really was aware of Ben, he was winning an Academy Award [for co-writing Good Will Hunting with Matt Damon]. We got successful around the same time in the mid-’90s, so I saw him around a lot. I didn’t necessarily think about him becoming a director, but I knew he was a good writer, a good-looking kid, and a good actor.
Then I watched as he struggled, seven or eight years ago, and got stuck in a world that he wasn’t enjoying very much in terms of choices of films. And he directed his way out of it. Hollywood loves a comeback, and he’s an unbelievable comeback kid.
When we saw Gone Baby Gone, we realized Ben had incredible talent. Then The Town reaffirmed it. The idea that he was interested in directing Argo [which Clooney produced] made us very happy, because this was a piece of material that required a good director — someone who shoots with a point of view. Argo puts him in a whole different echelon; it moves him into the world of one of the better directors in the game.
I think he’s going to keep acting for a bit, and that’s a good thing. Eventually, he could end up in politics. He’s very smart and astute, and he works hard on issues in the Congo. But when your fallback career is being a world-class director, that’s not so bad.”
Affleck on his year
Would you say 2012 was the best of your career so far?
It’s hard to quantify, but yeah, I suppose it would be. We all worked really hard on Argo and were concerned that it might not be a movie that would reach a broad audience.
I listen to conventional wisdom as much as the next person, even though I probably shouldn’t. People say that no one wants to see an adult drama. If it’s a movie set in the Middle East, no one wants to see that. If it’s a period movie, no one wants to see that. So I had very low expectations for Argo‘s performance. I just hoped that over time people would find the movie. Also, being at a place in my life and my career where I know what I’m trying to do, it’s different than being 26. When you’re younger and have the early success I had — it sounds like the worst Hallmark cliché — but I didn’t have anyone to share it with. I don’t mean that I wanted someone to sit by the fire with. But when you have a family and children, you kind of see yourself reflected in them. I want to make the kinds of movies that my kids are proud of. I have higher standards, in a way, for them.
One of the common themes in the reviews of Argo is the critics’ sense of shock that you can actually direct. When are people going to stop being surprised?
Listen, if it’s a good review and it helps the movie, then I’ll take it. I can’t really handicap anymore what people’s expectations are going to be. I’ve just decided to have my own standards and work really hard.
Argo was the third movie you directed. How have you gotten more comfortable?
The first one, [2007’s] Gone Baby Gone, was terror. I thought at any point it could blow up. I was coming out of a very bad place in general, so I was very glove-shy about how I was going to get beat up for it. And I didn’t know if I’d be able to finish the movie! Or if the actors would walk off! Just getting through that one was a big deal. Then on The Town [in 2010], I was still in a place where I was comfortable, Boston, but I wanted to push and stretch myself cinematically. After that, the question became ”Okay, you can do it. Now what do you want to say?” I could take some risks as a filmmaker with Argo.
Why don’t more movies like Argo get made?
I think what’s really hurt is the quality of drama on cable. The audience for movies like Argo is there, and actually is pretty big — it might not rival The Avengers, but it’s still big. You just have to get them away from their TVs, because they don’t want to miss Game of Thrones, or Girls, or Breaking Bad, or Mad Men.
To change the subject for a second, you sport some pretty bad ’70s hair in the film — what did Jen think of that?
My wife is a very polite and kind woman. She and the kids did not like the beard, though. It had an exposed-wire vibe. It was hated in my home.
Argo‘s getting a lot of Oscar buzz. It would be your first trip back as a nominee since 1997’s Good Will Hunting. What do you remember of that night?
Well, that was a long time ago. It was a time I couldn’t really absorb or understand completely, but it was thrilling and fun. I’ve definitely had a lot of ups and downs since then. There was a part of my life that was like the ”Agony of Defeat” video in Wide World of Sports — how can this guy keep falling?! So to be at a place where I feel comfortable and proud of the movies I’m making and that my kids will one day be able to watch and be proud of, I’ve arrived at a nice place.
What’s in store for you in 2013?
I just finished a film called Runner, Runner with Justin Timberlake. The part I play is sort of modeled on Gordon Gekko from Wall Street, except it takes place in the world of Internet gambling. I have all these monologues like ”Greed is good.” I’m totally comfortable ripping something off. And then maybe a film called Focus, which is in the spirit of the original Thomas Crown Affair or Ocean’s Eleven. Terence Winter [the creator of Boardwalk Empire] and I are also adapting the Whitey Bulger story for me and Matt [Damon]. Matt would play Whitey, and I would direct. Other than that, there’s a few things here and there. It’s an actor’s life — you wait like a dog for the next bone.
Things that entertained Ben Affleck in 2012
”I could say Denzel and Daniel Day-Lewis, who were great, but everyone knows that. The girl from Beasts of the Southern Wild [Quvenzhané Wallis] is unbelievable. That is a level of acting you cannot do once you reach the age of self-consciousness. It was staggering.”
”I just did this movie called Runner, Runner, and one of the interesting things about it is that it was informed by EDM [electronic dance music] like Deadmau5 — I think you could make a case that EDM has changed pop music almost completely.”
”I read this book recently called The Heart and the Fist, by Eric Greitens. It’s nonfiction, and it’s about this guy who went to Oxford and became a boxing champion and got into philanthropy, and then he joined the Navy SEALs. He’s a living Jason Bourne with a Ph.D.”