For a few years there, Ben Affleck’s name had become something of a punch line. What with his very public engagement to Jennifer Lopez, an unfortunate music video in which he slathered oil on her derriere, and a string of cinematic duds like Pearl Harbor,
Gigli, and Surviving Christmas, it wasn’t difficult to imagine that the actor would soon be appearing in direct-to-video fare.
Then came the break-up, a new Jennifer, and, it seems, a personal and professional revolution — which led him to Gone Baby Gone. The screen adaptation — co-written by Affleck — of Dennis
Lehane’s crime thriller about the search for a missing girl marks the actor’s directorial debut.
The square-jawed Bostonian hired his brother Casey, a character actor best known for his bit role in the Ocean’s Eleven series, to play the part of the pint-sized lead.
The Current sat down with the brothers recently at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons to discuss the movie and their quickly evolving careers.
Casey, what was it like being directed by your big brother?
Casey Affleck: You know, I don’t really want anybody to tell me what to do. But when you do a movie and you work with a director, there’s always going to be a certain amount of conflict. At least in my experience, but maybe I’m a difficult person — or a difficult actor. It was much easier with Ben, though, because we’re very comfortable disagreeing. We’ve spent 32 years fighting, disagreeing, and also kind of getting along. I wasn’t sure what it was going to be like going into it, but our comfort level made things easier — if only because conversations happened faster. Our shorthand kind of sped things up.
Ben, you’ve recently become a father and you’ve been married for a few years now, too. What impact has that had on you?
Ben Affleck: I think just having a family allowed me to mature a little bit and think long-term about my professional goals and kind of where I wanted to be 20 years from now or even 30 years from now. What kind of legacy or body of work do I want to have rather than what do I want to do for the next three months?
Casey, how are you handling all the attention being heaped upon you for your performances in Gone Baby Gone and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford? This seems to be a watershed year for your career.
CA: Well, it’s definitely been a good year. I’ve had a lot of years where people didn’t like the movies I did, or didn’t even pay attention to them. That feels nice. On the other hand, you spend so much time saying, “This one isn’t as bad as they’re saying,” that, to be fair, you have to also respond to good reviews with, “You’re probably not as good as they’re saying.” Sometimes `actors` go, “This is it. Everything’s going to change for me,” and then nothing happens. So I don’t really believe it. I think it’s mysterious how somebody becomes `that person` everyone wants to work with, then become famous. I don’t understand it, and I would never claim I could control it or prepare for it.
But — and this might be a crude way to put it —
this is definitely the year in which you escape your brother’s shadow.
CA: It’s only the outside world that perceives it as a change. I don’t know anybody who goes through their life thinking, “God, how do I get out of this shadow?” You know what I mean? I’m kind of at the center of my own universe, doing my own thing, and other people have to go, “You’re great. You’re good now. This must be a big change.” But nothing feels different except for the fact that I’m in two movies that, A) people are seeing and, B) responding to that I also like.
Ben, do you think you could’ve accomplished Gone Baby Gone three or four years ago?
BA: I hesitate to say completely no, because one never knows. I mean, first of all, if you have that much distraction in the press — and I hesitate calling them press. I mean the tabloid-photographer-degenerate thing. But with that sort of presence in your life all the time, it’s very oppressive. And if you’re as spread out as I was, not focused, not really here or there, it would’ve been very difficult for me to do any of this. For a long time, I was kind of working and making choices based on, “Oh, maybe this will be successful or maybe that will be successful.” It kind of got to the point that the only choices I could really be happy with were the ones that I thought were good. That led me to smaller stuff, more unusual stuff, stuff more to my taste. That led me to Hollywoodland and Gone Baby Gone, which is scary. I live in a world where I knew if I failed, the press wasn’t going to let it go unnoticed. Nobody was going to give me a pass. Imagine that. It’s a scary thing. •