A highly opinionated Ben Affleck spoke to Loaded in January about playing a penis-flashing “dick” of a husband in Gone Girl and getting ready to face down his critics when he straps on the Batsuit.
He also gave tips on how he tries to make his marriage to Jennifer Garner work – including how he submits to his wife “beating the living shit” out of him.
Five months later, he announced he was splitting from Garner.
Here are Affleck’s thoughts reprinted in full.
Interview by Tom Mitchelson
Holy Hollywood revenge Batman! Ben Affleck is angry.
He’s raging about the mass criticism his dud films have received in the past.
Now, he’s determined to prove everyone wrong when he dons one of the world’s most famous disguises as Batman. And he should silence the doubters who say he shouldn’t be playing Batman – Affleck’s anger is the perfect emotional inspiration to make his version of a scarred, rage-filled vigilante unforgettable.
Yet the announcement he could be wearing the cape formerly cloaked around Christian Bale brought forth the same howls of protest you’d expect to hear from Robin’s bedroom in Wayne Manor if he ever faced up to his closet homosexuality.
Previous occupants of the Batsuit offered support to Affleck in the face of fans’ and critics’ protests. Michael Keaton exclaimed, “He’s going to be great!” Adam West warned, “Remember, Ben, with the cape and cowl comes great responsibility – and lots of heat. Bring deodorant.” Outgoing Bat Bale said, “I’ve emailed Ben offering bits of advice that I learned the hard way.”
“Most women journalists go, ‘What was it like playing a dick?’”
Frankie Boyle joined the mass critical reaction and greeted the announcement by tweeting, “As a dad, I have to go to all the big superhero movies. Ben Affleck’s casting has actually made me love my children less.”
The rest of Twitter simply responded to the news with variations on the word, “Nooooooooo!”
So, the fact that Ben is the new Bat got the same reaction he’s been getting for years – hatred from his critics.
There is something about Affleck that has always divided opinion – unfair as that may be.
After soaring into the limelight on the wave of 1997’s Good Will Hunting, he started dating movie stars and working with master of movie testosterone Michael Bay. Suddenly adoration turned to irritation.
A series of dud movies nearly did the sort of career damage a wrecking ball made of Kryptonite could do to Superman’s Fortress of Solitude.
First Affleck stunned audiences in Pearl Harbor for all the wrong reasons. He then struggled in Harrison Ford’s shadow as Jack Ryan before reaching a personal nadir in Gigli with his then girlfriend Jennifer Lopez.
Their on-screen chemistry was more of an inert gas than nuclear reaction. His grimmest years were 2003 to 2004 after the release of five back-to-back flops – Daredevil, Gigli, Paycheck, Jersey Girl and Surviving Christmas. All the while, the public sneered at his relationship with Jennifer Lopez.
A series of dud movies nearly did the sort of career damage a wrecking ball made of Kryptonite could do to Superman’s Fortress of Solitude.
And all he’d done was act the way most of us would if we were handed global fame – take big-money roles and date beautiful celebs.
Critical hostility was typified by the drubbing meted out by the Wall Street Journal at the time. One critic wrote about Affleck’s turn in Gigli, “More stupefying follies may come, but it’s impossible to imagine how they’ll beat this one for staggering idiocy, fatuousness or pretension.”
Even Affleck’s home paper The Boston Globe turned on him and once snarled, “It is fashionable to loathe Ben Affleck. To be honest, the guy makes it easy.”
Yet after a career that’s been more checkered than a chess grandmaster’s, Affleck seems to have come full circle. His pet political project Argo picked up a Golden Globe and Bafta for Affleck’s directing, followed by a Best Picture Oscar.
The 42-year-old’s recent performance in Gone Girl has united audiences and critics in praise, along with a surprising amount of coverage for the brief cameo of his penis (watch the closing shower scene very carefully… apparently.)
But Affleck still hurts from the days of his bad press. He smarts so badly, he has recently compared the crucifixion-by-media his character Nick Dunne endures in Gone Girl to the slagging he has faced.
Before we get to the Bat, the first question is: does Affleck feel playing an unlikeable character like Dunne in Gone Girl (who cheats on his wife) is a more fulfilling role than the square-jawed good guy?
“As far as Nick being a dick or a jerk or whatever and becoming smarter later, it’s interesting,” muses Affleck.
He talks very calmly, choosing his words carefully. He’s clearly now a man who thinks before he speaks, after years of criticism. Affleck adds, “I have seen different reactions to the Nick character and I think that it’s complicated. He does change, but a lot of it has to do with the audience perception of him changing as they learn more about him.”
“So my job was to empathise with him and really what I found is that women and men have a very different reaction to this character. Like, most of the women journalists go like, ‘What was it like playing a dick?’”
“Ben makes life tough for himself. He’s got a lot of complications” – Gwnyeth Paltrow
It’s a question that clearly stirs up unpleasant memories of the hatred he got when he went out with Jenny from da block.
The complicated marriage at the centre of Gone Girl (combined with the likes of Argo and the directional flair shown in Affleck’s Boston-based crime epics Gone Baby Gone and The Town) seems to have made people appreciate he is far more complicated than the “wooden piñata” who was suffering “over-exposure” and a “curdling of talent” in the words of some critics.
Those are the types of remarks to which Affleck was once subjected almost daily in the Press.
He says about the layers of his character in Gone Girl, “This movie says really provocative things about marriage. If you look at them together it says that marriage is fraudulent in some ways and it’s based on lies.
“I think in this story a real marriage means you have to go through this crucible of hurting each other and loving each other and hating each other, lying to each other and telling the truth.
“And then after you’ve done everything possible to each other, you can truly be married.
“Now, I don’t believe that, but that’s what the movie says.”
Affleck has been married to Jennifer Garner since 2005 and they have three children together. They met on the set of Pearl Harbor but didn’t fall in love until they appeared together in another ill-fated film, Daredevil.
Affleck portrayed a superhero blinded by toxic waste, which enhanced all his other senses, though the role didn’t seem to sharpen Affleck’s critical faculties. The film scored a less-than-fresh 45 per cent on film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Artistically, it’s a film he regrets.
Affleck has said in the past of the experience, “It just kills me. I love that story, that character, and the fact that it got fucked up the way it did stays with me.”
He has also attributed meeting Garner with helping his career and life when it was at its “lowest” (if you consider being a multi-millionaire who’s shagged J-Lo “low”.)
“My wife and I made Pearl Harbor and Daredevil,” he says. “With our track record, I don’t know if anyone’s looking for a three-quel”
He says, “Getting to know Jennifer, falling in love with her and being connected with her gave me a foundation to reach out and said, ‘OK, I’m going to do Hollywood. I’m going to direct Gone Baby Gone’. Those were the first steps forward I needed to put positive stuff on the board.”
“My wife and I made Pearl Harbor and Daredevil,” he says. “With our track record, I don’t know if anyone’s looking for a three-quel.”
Affleck has said before it was Daredevil that set the tone for his relationship with Garner, revealing, “She won most of the fights in the movie, which was a pretty good predictor of what would happen down the road – my wife holding swords and beating the living shit out of me.”
So did the combative element in his home life provide inspiration to convey a very volatile marriage to a psychotic missus in Gone Girl?
“Well, Rose (played by Rosamund Pike) is so good that it was easy to play opposite her. What was really interesting was that the book asked really hard questions about marriage and relationships and it didn’t want to gloss over the things that we don’t like to look at – whether it be in others or ourselves. And sometimes you find out ugly things when you ask hard questions – and that’s why they were hard.
“So Rose definitely had the courage to go toward that, and we wanted to sort of give truth to a really dark look at marriage and David Fincher’s subversive take on that very dark look at marriage.”
Affleck’s past relationships have been well documented. Surely he may have drawn on any experiences of difficult past loves, I ask?
“I’ve been really lucky in my personal relationships,” he insists. “I look back and think the major relationships I’ve had were all with really good people who I like quite a bit still to this day.
“So I’ve ducked that landmine of romantic encounter in this way that Gone Girl paints with this big brush, a story of murder and so on, but at the end of the day, this movie does talk about how we as men and women see things differently. We have different expectations, and we act like different people when we’re getting to know people instead of who we really are – and you eventually find out who the real person is.”
Affleck’s ex-girlfriend Gwyneth Paltrow (who dated him after she split with Brad Pitt) has said of the actor, “Ben makes life tough for himself. He’s got a lot of complications and you know, he really is a great guy. I just think we have a very different sort of value system.”
“I’ve never been accused of murder – which is about the only thing”
It seems she never thought she was the one for Affleck. Paltrow was quoted as saying his perfect woman would be “any sort of stripper… anyone that serves cold beer in a bikini”. Whether or not that’s what Lopez did so well for him, we may never know. Though those famous shots of him stroking her booty in the sun on holiday would suggest she was a fan of that sort of activity.
Lopez recently admitted Affleck was her first love – despite, when she met him, having been married twice before. And, she said, she enjoyed smartening him up so that he looked more like a movie star.
This led to an awkward looking Affleck shuffling around in public clad in a white cashmere overcoat when he was with her – leading to more public mockery.
But that’s all in the past.
The chauvinistic character suggested by Paltrow is at odds with Affleck’s current standing as one of Hollywood’s leading liberal political mouthpieces.
A few months ago he appeared on US TV, passionately defending Islam and accusing the host of being racist and the guests of being ignorant.
A magazine once called him, ‘‘The world’s most over-exposed actor”. But his current renaissance has been met with enthusiasm rather than suspicion.
Hollywood needs more like him – politically astute men who seem no-nonsense at the same time. Yet Affleck is a sensitive soul. He tells Loaded he got as much stick from the media as Dunne does in Gone Girl – despite Dunne being accused of the murder of his wife.
He says, “I’ve never been accused of murder – which is about the only thing.”
“Notoriety is the American version of crime. You have people going out and committing crimes just so they can be famous and hoping that happens because we treat criminals like celebrities.
“It was great to work with David Fincher…I would do it again and again a million times. It was a joy”
“We cover them so much in the media and we focus on them so much. And in America, everyone can reel off everyone from OJ Simpson to Amanda Knox, and the whole gamut in between. They are famous killers, and the way we obsess over them is interesting. It goes back to John Dillinger and Al Capone. I don’t know why we want to make people like Jesse James a hero – people who murdered other people – but it is what we focus on. I don’t know. We watch these things on TV and I can identify with the tabloid media fame part of it, but I think it’s a whole other thing when you get into this cable killer 24-hour cycle.”
Affleck clearly doesn’t suffer fools. But he also isn’t rash enough to burn any of his Hollywood bridges by being difficult on set. Gone Girl director Fincher is a famous perfectionist with a back catalogue that includes The Social Network, Seven, Zodiac and Fight Club. Robert Downey Jr has compared working with him to being in a gulag and it is rumoured the actor used to leave jars of urine around the set of Zodiac in protest at the long hours he was made to work.
But when the chance to work with Fincher – who, like the famously exciting Stanley Kubrick, does an average of forty takes per scene – Affleck says he couldn’t have signed up faster.
He enthuses, “I definitely at this point in my career as an actor decided that it’s all about the director really. So when David called me I thought, ‘I would have done the phonebook with David’. So you could imagine my relief, when I read Gone Girl, that it wasn’t an alphabetical list of names.
“Before all my movies that I directed, I watched David’s Seven, and I feel like it’s the most perfectly meticulously Swiss watch-made thing. I thought, ‘What kind of person makes a movie like that?’ It was great to work with David and I learned a great deal from him. It was a pleasure to be around him and it was a true learning experience I loved. And I would do it again and again and again a million times. It was a joy.
“David is also, in spite of his reputation, a very funny and nice guy, not just a demon. Smart and sweet. I was really learning a lot as a director and sort of standing next to David and watching what he did and why he did it, and being really interested in learning why he did it, because I truly do, without jerking him off, think he’s one of the greats working today.
“He is genuinely an actor’s director. And he’s got one of the deepest and most proficient understandings of the technical aspect of film-making of anyone I have ever worked with. So he’s got this engineer’s mind and yet this taste of an artist. I didn’t think there was that filmmaker out there, so I was really impressed by that duality. And that’s the last time I say anything nice about David!”
“Is he taking on the Batman role to get his own bit of revenge?”
Affleck obviously hasn’t let his devotion to Fincher influence his choice to take on the biggest role of his career. Fincher said in a recent interview that superhero moves are dull and lack jeopardy – but Affleck tells us he couldn’t be more excited about the prospect of donning the Dark Knight’s cape. Maybe it’s his sense of injustice during his dark years at the hands of the press that makes him want to fight back onscreen? Is he taking on the Bat partly to get his own bit of revenge by proving critics wrong and becoming a monstrously influential blockbuster draw? Affleck sort of sidesteps that one.
“It’s definitely a dream,” he says.
“I’m excited to do it and it’s a real challenge. The thing I’m most excited about is the script and the director.”
Affleck’s Batman will be even more serious than Bale’s Bat.
There will definitely be no nipples on the Bat suit, à la George Clooney, or harking back to the surrealism of Adam West’s portrayal when Robin would ask him things like, “Where do you get a live fish, Batman?” and he’d reply, “The true crime fighter carries everything he needs in his utility belt, Robin”.
Affleck’s more world-weary persona will fit the idea of the older Bat – a beaten-down, ageing crime fighter.
The latest movie incarnation of the Bat is said to be based on graphic novelist Frank ‘Sin City’ Miller’s take on the superhero. Miller’s version sees the vigilante bitter and bruised after decades of battling corruption, hiding in Wayne Manor in semi-retirement. But new levels of sick violence and government corruption drive him back to the streets – putting him at odds with US authorities and Superman. The pair go head-to-head in a bruising battle at the end of Miller’s story.
Roided-up Bruce Wayne gets himself into a metallic Iron Man-esque suit in a bid to bash Superman. But movie geeks are saying he’ll team up with Superman in the film, not try and kick him to pieces.
How does Affleck feel about the return of the scepticism – that he’s so used to – since he took the role?
He shouldn’t feel too bad. It’s not as if he’s the first actor to be a controversial choice for Batman. When Michael Keaton was announced as the star of Tim Burton’s 1989 movie, Warner Bros received 50,000 letters of complaint. But we’re in the Internet age, so objections to Affleck’s casting have taken the form of a Change.org petition that asked the Obama administration to denounce the decision to let Affleck play the Caped Crusader.
“If you do the movie well, people will like it. And if you don’t, they’ll appropriately let you know”
“It’s this thing where these huge projects like Star Wars or Batman or even Fifty Shades of Grey, anything where fans have really intense feelings about it and they want to vent them and get them out there – that’s part of the give and take,” says Affleck. “And they’re entitled to their opinions.”
He chooses to accentuate the positive when talking about the reaction. “I’ve never done a movie where I’ve had more people come up to me with more enthusiasm,” he says. “So it’s a movie that gets a lot of attention. But the truth is, it doesn’t really mean anything. It’s how you make the movie, and that’s what I have discovered about anything I’ve done is that if you do the movie well, people will like it. And if you don’t, people will appropriately let you know.”
He can bet on that. What’s known for sure at the minute is that Batman vs Superman stars Henry Cavill as Superman, Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor and Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. The rest of the facts we’ll leave to online geekdom until it’s out in March 2016.
Affleck is that strange thing: a box office draw who sometimes turns people off. A big name with art-house sensibilities. He’s had a career that’s hit highs and plumbed depths – making him an established star who still feels that need to prove himself.
But, as I said, if Affleck needs emotion to draw on so he can play a vigilante determined to go his own way and prove his doubters wrong, he only needs to tap into his old anger.
That, and his square jaw, should see him through far better than any of his doubters might expect.
Tom Mitchelson is a writer and journalist who profiled Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner for Loaded. He is the author of Shut Up And Kiss Me.