The actor teases his role as an math savant (and hit man?) with autism in the upcoming film
Credit: Chuck Zlotnick

Between playing a piece of Gotham City meat in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and returning to his oft-acclaimed spot in the director’s chair for the forthcoming Live by Night, Ben Affleck took a breath to explore a more beautiful side of his mind in Warner Bros.’ unusual, wholly indescribable thriller The Accountant, due in theaters this October.

Part cerebral mind-meld, part conspiracy actioner, and part heated family drama, The Accountant is the latest directorial effort from Warrior helmer Gavin O’Connor, who enlisted Affleck to play the central character: Christian Wolff, a forensic accountant who’s often hired to cook the books of dangerous world organizations. Hidden behind his math savant skill set is a violent background, and between his place on the autism spectrum and his cultivation of a lethal flair for physical altercation, the role as the titular CPA is one that’ll certainly vex audiences — and took time for Affleck and O’Connor to wrap their own heads around.

“It was a part that I didn’t think people would see coming,” Affleck tells EW. “I thought, this movie could look like a lot of other genre action movies, but when you went and saw it, you get something a lot more interesting and layered. He’s a very distinct and unusual character — a little bit different than your average, everyday person in the way he processes information and social thinking, and the way he sees numbers and logic, and that he’s trapped a little bit in his own mind.”

That captivating cerebrum is visualized early in the film when Chris is called in by a legitimate client: a robotics company that looks to him to plug a leak discovered by whistleblower Dana (Anna Kendrick). In this pivotal scene, pictured above, Chris falls into a vortex of “a Jackson Pollock painting” of data in a crystalline conference room, revealing the extent of his much-teased mathematics to the audience.

Rain Man, this is not. In fact, Affleck would seem to equate Chris’ problem-solving finesse to an athlete over a scholar. “I find that when you’re playing someone who has a great gift, that’s the hardest thing to do because in a way, it’s the hardest thing to fake,” says Affleck. “It’s like a great baseball swing — if you could fake a great baseball swing, then everyone would hit like Ted Williams.”

O’Connor gushes about Affleck’s approach to keeping the part away from cliché: “Ben refused temptation to over-act the role. Whenever actors have the chance to depict [either] genius or mental disorder or anything like that, I think with gifted actors sometimes it can be license to show off a little bit, like, ‘Look how good I am.’ And Ben really resisted those temptations to over-act anything, and I loved him for that.”

Affleck continues his metaphor: “I didn’t look at this as ‘You just have to write down numbers on a wall, how hard can it be?’ You watch these great, naturally gifted people — Steph Curry, or LeBron James, or Baryshnikov — and something in you responds to that person on a visceral level. You feel like, ‘Wow, I’m watching somebody do something amazing,’ whether it’s from 10,000 hours of practice or something God-given. You know you’re seeing something genius, and that’s the most intimidating thing. Obviously, I didn’t have to dunk a basketball, luckily, but people who are brilliant athletes tend to bring a grace and poise and elegance to what they do, and I wanted to bring that quality so you could see that Chris was gaining something special out of this elaborate calculation: a sense of ecstasy. That’s what I was hoping for him: An elevated state of grace, because seeing a genius do something kind of does that to us.”

The Accountant hits theaters on Oct.14. To continue reading more from EW’s Fall Movie Preview, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly, on newsstands now, or buy it here – and subscribe now for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

The Accountant (2016)
  • Movie
  • 128 minutes