Ben Affleck steps behind the camera for his big comeback ‘Gone Baby Gone’, out on DVD from this weekend.

It was the movie that was going to reignite his career, but then, a real life tragedy derailed Ben Affleck’s comeback. It’s got to be tough.

One minute, you’re an Oscar-winning, box-office-chomping hunk, about to get married to a multi-platinum-selling diva honey with the most famous ass in the world, and the next, well, you can’t even open a supermarket. Or a crappy Christmas movie where Tony Soprano gets to whack you in the face with a snow shovel.

Yep, times have certainly changed for Benjamin Geza Affleck Boldt.

 

Jump back a few years, and Affleck was scoring no.1 box-office hits with the likes of The Sum Of All Fears (2002) and Daredevil (2003), still riding on the goodwill of his Oscar win for 1997’s Good Will Hunting, and very much an A-list celebrity, thanks to his impending marriage to that girl with the top-of-the-range, Grade-A, oven-ready ass, Jennifer Lopez.

It was a match made in tabloid heaven, and the couple’s courtship sold a gazillion magazines. Or thereabouts.

As is so very often the case with these headline-hogging courtships though, it didn’t take long before the overexposure sparked a backlash. Soon, Ben and Jen were struggling to sell a movie ticket – even together. Then again, maybe nobody went because the films themselves sucked.

Together, they made the much-ridiculed Gigli (2003) and the sugar-coated Jersey Girl (2004). Apart, Lopez gave us Maid In Manhattan, Enough (both 2002), Shall We Dance? (2004) and Monster-In-Law (2005); Affleck offered up Paycheck (2003) and Surviving Christmas (the 2004 turkey where he gets the flattened face courtesy of James Gandolfini).

 

Whether it was the media overkill or the Really, Really Bad Movies that derailed their careers is hard to say, but Affleck and Lopez both walked away from their broken engagement in January, 2004 crying more over their shattered careers than their broken hearts.

Lopez still hasn’t recovered (anyone here seen An Unfinished Life? Or El Cantante, Feel The Noise or Bordertown? Anyone hear last year’s Brave album? I rest my case), and Affleck had his first reason to be cheerful about his career in a long time back in 2006, with his well-received, award-winning lead performance in the George Reeves biopic, Hollywoodland.

As with any smart actor who finds themselves on the ropes though, Affleck has decided to step behind the camera as a way of getting a little respect in Hollywood. And it seems to have worked.

A gritty thriller that pulls no punches, when Ben Affleck’s directorial feature debut, Gone Baby Gone, hit US cinemas last October, the critics were impressed.

The New York Daily News said of Affleck, ‘he’s got real chops as a filmmaker’. USA Today reckoned the 36-year old Bostonian ‘has come of age as a director’. The Washington Post chipped in with their comment that Affleck ‘shows that even if he never developed a memorable performance when he was in front of the camera, he was paying attention to what was going on behind it’. Ooh, bitchy.

“Yeah, it was definitely something of a relief to see those reviews,” says Affleck today. “There’s so, so much work that goes into making a film, and I knew there was a lot riding on this. Not only because it’s my first time directing a feature film, but my little brother Casey’s in there as the lead, I’ve got friends like Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris and Michelle Monaghan in there too – lots of favours being called in – and, you know, there’s this great book too that you want to do proud.

“So, yeah, that initial reaction from the critics, that was wonderful. You suddenly feel, oh, okay, I did actually do my job properly…”

Yep, all signs pointed to a glorious comeback for the fallen hunk with the cheeky smile. And then Ben Affleck heard about the Madeline McCann kidnapping. Which, eerily, echoed the story at the centre of Gone Baby Gone.

Based on the eponymous 1998 novel by Dennis Lehane (Mystic River), the story deals with a young girl, Amanda, going missing in Boston, the case attracting widespread media attention.

Ben’s younger brother, Casey, plays the private detective hired by the missing child’s aunt to go sniffing around the neighbourhood he knows so well, his partner and girlfriend, Angie (Michelle Monaghan), by his side.

“The Madeline McCann tragedy just hit me like a train,” says Affleck. “It’s such a terrible, terrible thing, to have something like this happen, and we naturally didn’t want to add to anyone’s pain by releasing a movie that might stir up difficult issues or bad memories. We just had to put everything on hold when it came to releasing Gone Baby Gone on this side of the water.”

Whatever about the film’s delay in getting to our shores, there’s no question that Gone Baby Gone is a fine film. And it might just be the making of Ben Affleck.

Having decided some time ago to stop making movies just for the money, Affleck is now content to wait until the right project comes along. No matter what the box-office potential might be.

“There was a period of time there where I did a bunch of movies just for the money,” he nods. “I just grew up seeing my father struggle to make ends meet, and I just felt, okay, I’m going to put some money in the bank here so my family need never worry.

“It meant making a few movies that I wouldn’t exactly recommend to anyone, but they were designed for a certain market, and I have no problem with that. They were popcorn movies. Right now though, I’m looking for something a little more filling.”

As Ben grinned and beared such Hollywood mush as Pearl Harbour and Daddy and Them, younger brother Casey was getting arty and no-budget in desert scapes with Matt Dillon and director Gus Van Zant for Gerry when he wasn’t going all Brat Pack for the Ocean’s movies. And getting Oscar nominations for his Mark Chapman-esque turn in that big-screen arthouse western.

“Wasn’t Casey incredible in The Assassination Of Jesse James By That Coward Robert Ford?” says Affleck. “I’m so proud of him. Which means, hey, I’m also a little jealous. We both know how the industry works, and we both have our own individual opinions on what films are great and what films suck, so, there’s a healthy sibling rivalry going on all the time there.

“We fought like cats and dogs – or, like brothers – on the set of Gone Baby Gone, but it was all constructive stuff, you know. I think there are those you are close to where any argument is actually productive. Well, most arguments…”

Having a wife who’s also in the business – the lovely Jennifer Garner, recently seen in Juno, and the mother to their 3-year old daugher, Violet Anne Affleck – means that young Ben is indeed very much aware of how the industry works. It’s a knowing attitude that was there in his directorial debut, the 1993 short, I Killed My Lesbian Wife, Hung Her On A Meat Hook, And Now I Have A Three-Picture Deal At Disney.

“I’ve always been in love with films,” says Affleck, “and I’ve also always had this love of the madness that comes with filmmaking. The way some careers are made, some films are revered, some are buried, and it’s not always the right candidates. There’s so much more to it all than just doing good work. I knew that before I even got on the merry-go-round…”

 

Having had a little fun in Joe Carnahan’s almost-great Lock,Stock-esque Smokin’ Aces, Affleck will next be seen in Ken Kwapis’ ensemble piece He’s Just Not That Into You (due out later this year) and, in 2009, Kevin Macdonald’s big-screen adaptation of the BBC mini-series, State Of Play.

“Again, I’m happier in these kind of movies right now,” he says. “I’m not the big hero, I’m not the leading man, I’m just part of a team. With State Of Play, I’m in there with Helen Mirren, Robert Wright Penn, Russell Crowe, Rachel McAdams, Jeff Daniels – how can I not sign on for that? And with He’s Just Not, there’s Ginnifer Goodwin, Scarlett Johansson, Jennifer Connelly, Jennifer Aniston, Kris Krisofferson…

“It’s a good feeling, getting into work, and you find yourself standing opposite people like that. You don’t think about how well will this movie do, how buffed up do I look, or what sort of pose should I do for the poster? You just think, I’m going head-to-head here with someone that I know I’m going to have fun with, someone I’m going to enjoy doing this scene with.
“A big opening weekend just doesn’t compare with that. Not anymore…”

Words : Paul Byrne

 

‘Gone Baby Gone’ is out on DVD in Ireland now!