Whispered conversations across the lunch table conjure illusions of grandeur, recognition and Hollywood success. Big plans burst from the mouths of little kids. Children get bigger, though, and sometimes so do their plans.
Ben Affleck and schoolyard chum Matt Daemon have made their careers realizing the plans first scratched on notebooks and discussed together between classes. Playing off the success of the duo’s breakthrough project Good Will Hunting, Affleck, especially, has ascended to the apex of celebrity culture. He’s an icon, appearing in several films a year, never too busy to add another notch to his belt.
Anyone can make one movie, but given the fickle nature of the entertainment industry, it takes masterful planning to hold onto a career. Opportunity is admittedly a force in Affleck’s decision to do a movie. He has been criticized for eschewing more thoughtful roles in pursuit of big-budget summer flicks like Pearl Harbor and Armageddon. Affleck said in a recent telephone interview that it’s all part of managing life as a working actor.
“Part of me decides to do things based on when I have the opportunity,” Affleck said. “The objective in my career is to be able to get the things done that I want to get done. In order to that, it’s a lot easier if you’re in these types of movies that make a bunch of money.”
So Affleck often finds himself alternating between summer popcorn flicks and more introspective pieces. Affleck has no reserve in admitting this necessity of survival in the movie industry.
“I absolutely feel that in order to do stuff I want to do, there’s a need to alternately choose movies that are likely to be commercially palatable and movies that are kind of fresh,” he said.
One opportunity for Affleck to be a bit avant-garde has been afforded by his involvement with Kevin Smith movies such as Chasing Amy, Dogma and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. Affleck sees a definite distinction between Smith’s films and larger studio films.
“With Kevin’s movies, they’re much more thoroughly rehearsed,” Affleck said. “It’s much more about the actors and what people say to each other than it is about what is or is not falling from the sky.”
He may have made a name in larger motion pictures, but Affleck feels a certain satisfaction in escaping from the throes of big-budget Hollywood.
“To be honest with you, Kevin’s movies are a lot more satisfying for me,” Affleck said.
Career maintenance may be a difficult task for Affleck, but so is keeping his sanity and roles intact after shooting.
“It’s hard. Actors spend their lives fooling themselves, thinking you really could be the people that you play,” Affleck said. “A lot of times it gets them in trouble, because they start believing their own storylines. It turns out they really couldn’t be a professional hang-glider or whatever it is.”
While he may not be neurotic about it, but Affleck does say he can see himself in many of the characters he has played.
“With Changing Lanes I realized I could have ended up going to law school,” Affleck said. “Conversely, I also felt that way about Good Will Hunting. I could have stayed around Boston, kept working construction and had that life.”
But Affleck doesn’t see himself in all of his roles.
“The character I played in Dogma might have been a stretch. No matter how long I live, I don’t think I could be an angel,” he said.
In his newest film, The Sum of All Fears, Affleck must take on another stretch, although he’s not striving for divinity this time. He plays Jack Ryan, a character conceived and made famous in Tom Clancy’s novels. He plays a young academic called in a pinch by the CIA for his expertise on foreign affairs. Affleck follows in the footsteps of actors such as Harrison Ford and Alec Baldwin, who have played Jack Ryan in other films based on Clancy’s work. Though he gained their blessing, Affleck said he seeks to portray his version of the character, largely ignoring actors that preceded him.
“It had to be my choices. If I did it the way Alec did it or the way Harrison did it, it would just be a plain imitation,” Affleck said.
While he didn’t seek to imitate Ford, Affleck seems to have gotten on well with the Hollywood alum when discussing the character. But not all the rumors you hear are true. Affleck said he often finds the desire, when asked about other celebrities, to make things up, just to be sensational.
“All the time,” he said. “I’m constantly tempted to lie. I could say I called up Harrison Ford, and we went out, got drunk and lit a stage on fire.
“It ends up being a thing where you learn better, though, and curb your tongue. If you don’t, then you’ve got to write in and say, ‘It was a joke. I didn’t really cruise gay bars with Harrison Ford.'”
In preparation for the film, Affleck says he got some coaching from Clancy.
“Clancy was really one to make sure I knew how to shoot properly, how to hold a gun. He thinks that’s something that’s lacking in movies today,” Affleck said.
Now, with The Sum of All Fears slated to come out in late May, Affleck has a bit of time to make new plans. What’s he looking to do? “Time off,” he said jokingly.
In a serious moment, Affleck admits that he anxiously awaits the film’s opening day.
“There’s a part of me that just likes the movies to come out, so people can see them, because you work so hard on them,” he said.
But he does experience some reserve.
“That’s also hard, though, because you expose yourself then to the slings and arrows of everybody,” Affleck said. “It’s something you just have to deal with.”
While Affleck boasts a strategy for success, he feels that his judgment is not infallible and that he can make a bad film.
“There’s kind of a nebulous, unknowable movie god who, somehow in the course of the movie coming out, kind of smiles or frowns on a movie despite your best efforts and your best instincts,” Affleck said.
In spite of a few critical embarrassments, Affleck is still one of Hollywood’s golden boys, at least for the moment. He’s a working actor, and his strategy of manipulation within the industry seems to be working. He manages to have a sense of humor about both his successes and his failures.
“The truth is, even if there was some movie that I thought was terrible, I probably wouldn’t tell you,” Affleck said.