Why Ben Affleck feels so ‘very lucky’
NEW YORK — Ben Affleck’s wife, Jennifer Garner, calls it the bike test.
Meaning, can her three children with Affleck — Violet, 8; Seraphina, 5; Sam, 2 — be normal and pedal down the street without the paparazzi getting in their faces? Not so much, but it’s getting better, says their dad.
"I have unique concerns. I’m not going to send my kids down the street on their bikes and say goodbye, for obvious reasons. It’s about finding little locations," says Affleck. "We have one and a half kids that can even ride a bike. We don’t want our kids to become celebrities. It’s gross enough for an adult. It’s even grosser for a child."
The obsession with celebrity — unwanted and otherwise — is one of the themes of Gone Girl, the drama opening Friday and starring Affleck and Rosamund Pike as a couple that comes undone under very extreme circumstances.
Pike’s Amy goes missing, and Affleck’s Nick becomes the focal point of a murder investigation. The film was adapted by Gillian Flynn from her best-selling book.
"I don’t feel a very close relationship to the character. At the root of this story, even though it’s told in an exaggerated way, the root of the movie is about men and women and the differences between us and the ways we see relationships differently," says Affleck, 42. "In terms of men, we do present ourselves a certain way, more in tune with what we think women want. Then it becomes about, did you get lucky and meet the right person underneath that? Which I feel I did. And it’s figuring out how to relate to somebody who is intimate with you and to whom you are really vulnerable. In this movie it starts to dissolve and gets poisoned."
David Fincher directed the film, and his body of work, which includes Zodiac and The Social Network, was pivotal in convincing Affleck to take on the role of Nick because, says Affleck, Fincher had never made “a bad movie.” And it helped that he’d already
Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in ‘Gone Girl.’(Photo: Merrick Morton, 20th Century Fox)
"I called him and we met for drinks," says Fincher. "He said this sounds really interesting. He’s a very sophisticated Hollywood being — you don’t sell him on the wardrobe. What was interesting was playing in the sandbox of both private and public perceptions of who these people are. It’s intellectual candy, this story. You get so many shades to play.”
For Affleck, who has directed the Oscar-winning Argo and the critical hits The Town and Gone Baby Gone, it was a chance to learn from a master.
"I decided I wanted to work with directors I really trust and I could learn from. I did learn a lot from David. Mostly in terms of, force of will. He insists on, "It’s going to be this way," and he pushes for it harder than I would push. He doesn’t care who gets offended or whose agenda gets disrupted. There’s a lot in that. You get what you’re willing to take in life," says Affleck.
As for him, he has no regrets looking back on his unconventional career arc, which has careened from early fame as the fresh-faced co-writer of Good Will Hunting to duds such as 2003’s Daredevil and Paycheck to an acting resurgence that began with 2006’s noirish Hollywoodland and culminated with his foray into directing and Golden Globe and Oscar wins for 2012’s Argo. He’s currently shooting Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in Detroit, out in 2016, and next plans to direct Dennis Lehane’s Live by Night.
"I’ve been very lucky. I’ve had a 10-year run that I never would have expected in my life, starting with Hollywoodland. It’s tempting to say that I had some epiphany,” says Affleck. "That’s not really true. I’ve always been the person who I am. I feel like I’ve taken risks and tried things that are interesting to me. There’s a tendency for people to want to look at 2000 to 2003 and say, ‘Well, you went through this period of being Job.’ I’m 42. I have this great family. I can continue to take risks. I’m really, really lucky when I consider where else I could be. For all the questions about the troubles I’ve had, I see myself as having been nothing but fortunate and I’m grateful.”
Given his high-profile charity work, especially in Africa, and his deep knowledge of world affairs, would he seriously consider ever running for office?
"I thought about it at one point. I think national office is more interesting to me. But the thing that discourages me about it is that so much of the time is spent raising money. It’s just become about digging your heels in. The idea that you work collectively to advance the interests of America as a whole has been forsaken. Nothing gets done," he says. "Running for office strikes me as difficult and onerous."
He’s also candid about his own circumstances.
"President Bush saved me a lot of money in taxes. Most Americans would look at that and be like, ‘Really? Why is he saving money?’ I’m not even as close to rich as a lot of these ultra-mega-crazy rich people. But it’s a fair question to ask. The argument is, you can give the money away anyway. I can’t actually give it to the federal government or the state government. I can give it to the Red Cross, but that’s different," says Affleck.
He said he and Garner traded in their cars for Ford and GM vehicles after visiting Motor City car plants, something he feels is worth supporting. And he proudly shows off his Shinola watch, made in Detroit (where Batman v Superman has been in production), and muses about teaching his own children the values he and his brother, Casey, learned growing up in Boston.
"That is a really vexing issue. It goes back to riding your bikes. You want your children to be raised the way you were. My parents were very invested in social justice," says Affleck. "I’ll take my oldest daughter to Africa in the next couple of years, start to expose her to that. She came to visit me in Detroit and we did a tour of Detroit. We saw streets that had one house where anybody was living in. My daughter asked a lot of questions. I want her to see that. People are struggling.”