DETAILS: Well, you were kind of in that place.
Ben Affleck: Exactly! I made a bunch of movies that didn't work. I was ending up in the tabloids. I don't know what the lesson is, except that you just have to find your compass.
I liked Sum of All Fears. Daredevil I didn't at all. Some movies should have worked and didn't. At a certain point, it's just up to the movie gods. Anyway, this image becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. And I just said, "I don't want to do it anymore. This is horrible. I don't want to be in this spotlight, this glare, in this way. It's tawdry, it's ugly, it's oppressive, and it's inane. So I'm going to try to get away."
And most of the way I did that was by not acting. I said, "I'm going to steer myself toward directing. I'm going to do something that takes me toward a place where the work that I do is reflective of what I think is interesting dramatically."
People bring up 2003, and I get it. Jennifer Lopez, and Gigli, and all this shit just kind of blew up. But, you know, in 2003, Barack Obama was a state senator in Illinois! Okay?
DETAILS: A lot can happen.
Ben Affleck: A lot can happen. And a lot has for me. Maybe not as much as has happened for Barack Obama! But you know, it really does feel like ancient history.
DETAILS: I was fascinated that you chose to play the 1950s TV Superman, George Reeves, in Hollywoodland. Because he was, among other things, an actor frustrated at the limits of being a superhero.
Ben Affleck: You know, putting on the uncomfortable, cheesy suit—I understood that. And I understood what it was like to feel limited by perceptions and having ambitions to do things that were more interesting.
And also, I got married, and I got older. And had kids. You know, the current of the river of life moves you downstream anyway. But I definitely reject the narrative that says, you know, Bad Guy Turned It Around. My life isn't Behind the Music. I wasn't a criminal!
DETAILS: Since Good Will Hunting, the pairing of you and Matt Damon in people's minds has never quite gone away. Did you ever feel, "This comparison is not helping"?
Ben Affleck: It's interesting. At the time, I didn't even realize that it was being used to promote a movie. I was 25, and I was na´ve enough to think, "Well, Entertainment Weekly is just really interested in this!" And, you know, we really were friends and roommates, and we did write the movie together.
I started to realize that people conflated us, or particularly me, with the characters. People assumed that I was the amiable, dim-witted friend, right? [Laughs] Which wasn't exactly what I was going for! Matt and I have had a friendship for 25 years. We don't get wound up about that stuff. You learn to roll your eyes.
When I was doing The Town, I'd tour the actors around Boston. I was with Blake [Lively], and I saw Matt's childhood home. And I said, "Oh yeah, that's where Matt grew up." And she said, "Who?" And I said, "Matt Damon." And she said, "Oh my God! You know Jason Bourne?!" She really didn't know. And I thought, "There it is. The first age of people who are adults who missed the whole Matt-and-Ben propaganda campaign!" Mostly, it just made me feel old.
DETAILS: You've got three young kids now, so I imagine you've had to learn to conserve your resources.
Ben Affleck: Absolutely. Anytime you think, "I'm wasting my time here," the first thought you have is "I could go home and be with my kids." Now, you may go home and be with your kids and very quickly start thinking, "I wonder what's on the work front?" Because running around after three kids is very trying. Now everything has to compete with being with my family. I don't want to be a stay-at-home dad. Work is very important to me. I like to work. So does my wife. But I need my work to mean something to me in order for me to not be home with them.
DETAILS: As a director, you seem to pay attention to everything—the actors, the camera, the edit, the sound mix, the film stock, the lenses. Is there any part of the process you don't like?
Ben Affleck: I love all of it. I feel like when you're a director and you get to the point where everyone else is rolling their eyes at you and wants to go home, you're probably doing it right! [Laughs] Definitely the most frustrating part is visual effects. In this movie, it was all, like, changing signs into Farsi and taking satellite dishes off the roof. And I have no experience with visual effects, so I just go, "Make it better! Just make it look better!" And people look at me like, "Really, asshole? Make it better? Is that what you want? Ohhh, okay, better!" I'm still learning that language, and it keeps changing.