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OSCAR: Ben Affleck Q&A On ‘The Town’

Mike Fleming

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. Read More »

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Ben Affleck Mulling ‘Replay,’ a 22-Year Old Suddenly Hot Project At Warner Bros

Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Sometimes, the hottest projects in town aren’t the newest. Warner Bros is in early talks with Ben Affleck to come aboard to direct and possibly star in Replay, a Jason Smilovic-scripted adaptation of a Ken Grimwood novel. The protagonist is a 43-year old radio journalist who dies, wakes up in his 18-year old body, and gets to relive his life over and over. With his original memory intact, he takes the opportunity to travel down roads he passed up the first time around. The book was published in 1989, and Lee Rich first set it up as a movie back then. It languished, and then Smilovic turned out a script that has top leading men circling. The question will be: does Affleck play the lead role himself? He’s age appropriate and co-wrote and directed The Town primarily to give himself the killer lead role of the thief who falls in love with the bank employee during a heist. Rich and Elaine Goldsmith Thomas are producing.

After the strong grosses and acclaim for The Town, Affleck is being offered a lot of stuff to direct. He is still keen on The Trade, the Dave Mandel-scripted film based on the 70s wife swap of New York Yankees pitchers Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich, Affleck is indeed interested in Replay, and in playing that starring role. He just met with Smilovic and Goldsmith Thomas, and gave them a bunch of notes. Smilovic has … Read More »

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The Importance Of Academy Screenings: Oscar Prospects For ‘The Town’ Lift Quickly

Pete Hammond

The Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Science’s official private weekend screenings for voting members are generally a must-stop for serious Oscar contenders, not only to show the films to voters all at once but also to gauge reaction both audibly during the film and by buzz in the lobby and restrooms after. After complaints about the quality of some the films shown, the Academy last year revamped the committee that chooses them and now seems much more savvy about booking movies that aren’t wasting members’ time – or so they’d like to think. While some fluff still gets screened, the cinematic menu this time of year turns to a heavy sked of Oscar prospects.

Not everything gets booked because there are basically just four slots each weekend: two matinees and two evening shows. But of the 10 pictures nominated last year, only The Blind Side, which seemed to catch even Warner Bros by surprise, did not play at one of these screenings.

In terms of this year’s Oscar contenders, it was a big weekend for Ben Affleck’s The Town (which he directed and co-wrote and stars in for Warner Bros and Legendary Pictures) which topped the weekend box office with nearly $24 million. That was a bit of a surprise, particularly for an adult-skewing drama (albeit one with a LOT of action in it). Then again, it had a 94% fresh critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But what was really significant awards-wise is that I hear it had a smash screening at the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theatre in Beverly Hills on Saturday night. So you have a film right out of the gate among Fall releases that looks to be a serious awards prospect.

Even though the movie’s official Academy screening was skedded just as Yom Kippur was ending, the turnout was larger than normal and the response at the end very enthusiastic. A 2-time Oscar winner who frequently attends these private weekend screenings for voting members told me, “There was big loud applause at the end credits — and that’s something I rarely see at the Academy.” He went on to praise the film as easily one of the best he has seen there in some time (and, interestingly, he’s not impressed with much of the 2010 output so far). He singled out Affleck’s direction and the acting ensemble for particular kudos. Two other Academy members who saw the film at non-Academy screenings told me the same thing. So Warners could Read More »

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Ben Affleck’s ‘The Town’ Surprises For #1; ‘Easy A’ #2, ‘Devil’ #3, ‘Alpha & Omega’ #5

SATURDAY PM/SUNDAY AM: Actor/director Ben Affleck’s Warner Bros crime thriller is overperforming at the North American box office. Extrapolating from Friday’s $8.3M grosses and Saturday’s $9.5M (+13%), it easily finished No. 1 this opening weekend when it was only predicted to come in 2nd. It received a “B+” CinemaScore. (Males 55% rated it A-, and those under 18 rated it A+.) The Town‘s opening gross has moved WB into the #1 market share for 2010 “and we will retain that crown for the third year in a row,” a studio exec boasts to me. The R-rated movie’s $23.8M was still well shy of the $28.6M of the same studio’s October 6, 2006, Boston crime thriller The Departed directed by Martin Scorsese. That “R”-rated film starred Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon and went on to win Best Picture Oscar. Affleck’s The Town is also in the running and stars Affleck, Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker) and Jon Hamm (Mad Men). Warner Bros even marketed it as The Departed 2. The studio, which financed The Town 50/50 with Legendary Pictures, paired its first trailer with Inception.

For his 2nd big directing effort after Gone Baby Gone also based on a book (Chuck Hogan’s Prince Of Thieves), Affleck promoted the heck out of it. He called movie journalists personally in Hollywood, NYC, flyover country, and eventually this month’s Venice and Toronto Film Festivals. Even so, at the start of this week, expectations were for The Read More »

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