Ben Affleck’s career trajectory rarely happens in Hollywood much less all by age 38: from unknown actor (Mallrats, Chasing Amy) to Oscar–winning co–writer (Good Will Hunting) to leading man (Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, Changing Lanes, The Sum of All Fears, Daredevil) to tabloid fixture (“Bennifer”) to washed–up star (after Gigli) to budding director (adapting Dennis Lehane’s novel Gone Baby Gone) to hot actor/helmer with the #1 opening movie September 17–19. For The Town, Affleck returns to his Boston roots and blue collar crime to adapt Chuck Hogan’s novel Prince Of Thieves for the big screen. The result: an adult–pleasing hit that has entered the Best Picture discussion. Mike Fleming talks to him about his and The Town‘s Oscar chances:
DEADLINE: So you wrote yourself a second career as a director in Gone Baby Gone. Now you’ve written yourself the edgiest role of your acting career since Good Will Hunting. How much of this was about you wanting to reinvigorate your onscreen career?
BEN AFFLECK: A huge part of this was wanting to play the role. I hadn’t had the chance to play a character as interesting as the one Chuck wrote in the book in a long time. In that sense, it did feel like Good Will Hunting because I was trying to make the movie, in part, as a step in my acting career.
DEADLINE: These R–rated crime dramas with action sometimes get marginalized in Oscar season, but this one has stayed in the conversation. Gone Baby Gone, though lauded, grossed only $35 million worldwide. The Town so far is nearing $150 million worldwide. What has most surprised you about the way it played and the reaction?
AFFLECK: Relative to my first movie, it didn’t have to do that well to be a step forward, so I was set up well. I think people caught up to that movie on DVD, but when you come out and do $20 million at the box office, nobody calls to congratulate you. In terms of pure commercial success, the thing that struck me was, our opening weekend on The Town was bigger than the whole number on Gone Baby Gone. This time, I had very modest expectations and I was really surprised the movie did as well as it did. It’s not a juggernaut, but my big goal was seeing it turn a profit for the studio. I use that as my metric for whether or not they’ll let me direct another movie. I remember calling up and saying, ‘So have you broken even yet? Are you going to make money on this? Are you happy?’ I’m a little embarrassed I’d done that, but it was what I set out to do. And it made me be sure I kept the costs down to under $40 million. This way I could make a movie that dealt with themes that interested me, at a pace I like dramatically.
DEADLINE: What went through your mind as you were deciding whether or not to do this?
AFFLECK: My first thought was, I really wanted to play the role. But I was concerned that the overlap between this and the other movie I directed would be too much, and that I ran the risk of getting pigeonholed for making crime movies in Boston. When I really want to tell stories that take place all over. That made me pause. But there were a couple things that ultimately persuaded me to take on directing it as well. There were a ton of great parts, and I thought the material gave me a shot to work with really good actors. And there was a big challenge in trying to synthesize the two elements of the movie. There was the traditional genre element — the robbery, heist, chase and all that stuff — which had to be done in an interesting and unique way in order to work. That needed to fuse with the character drama on the other side. I felt intimidated and daunted by that challenge, but felt, if I could execute it right, I’d put myself in a position to be able to make movies that I am really interested and attracted to. That is a rare thing in Hollywood. Mostly we’re just schmucks limited by our options.
DEADLINE: What did you do better this time?
AFFLECK: As director, this definitely had a broader scope than my first movie.