In his upcoming film “Paycheck” (Paramount Pictures), Ben Affleck plays a genius whose work for high tech corporations requires that his memory be periodically erased. “Paycheck” is directed by acclaimed action film director John Woo (“Broken Arrow”, “Face/Off”) and has a cast that includes Uma Thurman and Aaron Eckhart. In a recent Hatchet interview, Affleck discussed his relation to this character, working with director John Woo, and even a little bit about being at GW.
In this particular genre of film it’s a distinct kind of performance. It requires a different set of skills because they tend to be filmed in a way which is more of a lot of little compartmentalized moments strung together so it requires maintaining a level of energy that is sometimes kind of counterintuitive. However, what was most interesting to me as an actor with this movie is that with most action movies they are just about the action and you are rolling along with it. But John Woo’s movies, I think, have always had another element. Some themes that John has worked with through his career are present in this movie, like friendship, betrayal, and love. So really it’s the same task as any movie in terms of acting where you have to find the character and immerse yourself in the imagined reality of that character’s emotional life.
Working with John Woo
I felt like it was an honor to work with Jon Woo. I have been a fan of his since his early movies like “Harboiled” and “The Killer”, and I continued to watch his work like “Mission Impossible 2” and “Faceoff”, so it was a real pleasure and honor for me and ultimately I just wanted to be available to him to do whatever he wanted so that Jon could make exactly the movie he wanted to make. A couple of things were surprising about him. One thing was that for a guy who has made so many “shoot ’em up”, macho movies he is an incredibly sweet, gentle, kind man, which is really sort of surprising at first. The other is that John sees movies as a kind of choreographed dance between the actors and the camera so that movement is laid out in a much more specific way and its really tied to the camera move and its all designed to evoke whatever feeling Jon wants to evoke, be it building suspense or suggesting romance. But, it was a real education for me and a true pleasure.
Relating to His Character
I was always into computers. I was always trying to install video cards and sound cards and faster drives and things like that so I got pretty used to opening up computers and pulling out parts and replacing them with other parts so I guess I have always been kind of a geek in that way. So, the reverse engineer elements of the movie I could readily identify with. The only difference was that this character is a lot better at it than I am. And in another way this is a guy who trades in some of his quality of life for the sake of his work and that was something I could identify with, too, and that dilemma. In this case the character has his memory of his work erased and in my case its more subtle and it just involves a kind of lack of privacy among other things, and lack of anonymity. Still, I think it was one of the most helpful things in terms of preparing for a role is finding things in your own life which evoke similar feelings to that that the character is experiencing and in that sense it was much easier for me than the “Daredevil” role.
His Diverse Roles
It’s absolutely a conscious effort on my part to try to do diverse stuff. I think of myself in some ways as a decathlete, and you can win a decathlon without being the best in any one event. One of my goals is to be able to look back on my career and say that I was able to successfully do a lot of different genres, from romance, to comedy, to drama, to action to horror to independent, unusual movies. I think that’s one of my greatest assets and hopefully one the things that will keep me working for a while. It also serves to prevent a kind of type casting.
Advice for aspiring actors
It’s a very difficult business. If you could think of anything else that you would be happy doing in life, do that. If not, then you can feel comfortable knowing that you really have no choice and you take it as it comes. In terms of practical advice, I would say there is a lot of opportunities in big cities…I would say the first order of business is to get five or six plays under your belt. If you are a college student, there are tons of opportunities to do that at school. You don’t necessarily have to be at a conservatory or anything like that but you just have to get experience doing it and that’s the best way to get better…and then pick your moment and make your move to L.A. or New York.
His Visits to GW
My brother went to GW for a while. I used to come down there and visit him on like K and 25th or something. So I have been in the dorms of GW. I have slept on the floor of dorm rooms there.