Sex, scandal and political corruption, Ben Affleck fills us in on the film remake of the much acclaimed BBC miniseries “State of Play”.
Political intrigue, corruption, scandal, sex – it’s all here in this Americanised adaptation of the much acclaimed 2003 six-hour BBC miniseries. Shifted from London to Washington D.C., Ben Affleck and Russell Crowe star as a congressman and an investigative journalist drawn together in the wake of a murder with “The Last King of Scotland” director Kevin Macdonald in the driving seat. Movies.ie caught up with the acclaimed actor turned director Ben Affleck to talk politics, his future as a director and his recent prank on Youtube.
Q: You play Stephen Collins in State of Play – how was it to have all that power, even if it was only for your role?
BA: “It was good just for a moment to feel the power in my hands. I have to say I think the power of an individual member of Congress is limited in general. But it was definitely fun to play a politician.”
Q: Would you consider a career in politics?
BA: “I really like my job that I have now. Plus, unlike in Hollywood where you need one director to hire you, in politics you have to have a lot of people to vote for you. I think it’s harder work. I really am happy with what I’m doing now. In fact I’ve never been at a place where I’ve felt better about going to work. I’m more engaged and very, very happy.”
Q: Do you look at the media in the movie as a sort of ‘All the President’s Men’ kind of noble media, that doesn’t exist anymore?
BA: “I don’t know. You guys are the experts on this stuff. Is there nobility to media and what goes on inside a newsroom? I think this is the last movie that will be set in a newspaper. I don’t know how this movie will be perceived but I do believe that people will look back and say ‘Oh, yeah. That was the movie that comes out right around the time that the Internet destroyed newspapers. That is happening.”
Q: Do you subscribe to a daily newspaper?
BA: “We are in the process of moving, so I get the L.A. Times, and the New York Times, but we only read them online. As we were moving I said ‘Why are we going to pay for the newspaper again?’ So I didn’t. I felt like ‘Look! I’m either part of the problem or part of the solution.’ I don’t know which one.”
Q: What is your perspective about the difference between media in the celebrity relationship as opposed to the media and politics relationship? Is it the same or different?
BA: “I’m not a total expert, but I have some experience, and they are very similar. They are similar in the pressures that exist. The pressures that are brought to bear on the media side to sell magazines, to sell newspapers, get hits on the website. The focus has to be on the thing that sells the most, which tends to be the most sensational, scandalous, headline grabbing. So maybe the temptation is to bend the truth. In the case of entertainers, they will flat make up stories. They will completely use sources that don’t exist, or stuff that is very thinly sourced. On the political side people are a little bit more judicious about completely abandoning journalistic standards. You still have those same impulses to push, find the story, and dig up the most scandalous aspect of it. The only difference really is that with entertainers people feel more comfortable saying ‘It’s fine. Just print it and run it.’ Because they know it’s not the President of the United States. It’s not going to change the world so they figure they can just print it.”
Q: Do we need to know everything?
BA: “I don’t think we need to know anything about people’s sex lives or personal lives. I think that is totally irrelevant.”
Q: You spent a lot of time on Capitol Hill. Can you talk about what the coolest part of that experience is, having a bird’s eye view?
BA: “I thought that the people in Congress would be a little bit reluctant, too busy to have the time to have me show up and sniff around, stand in their office, or do anything. They were quite busy but luckily they felt like people don’t understand Congress very well. They felt they hadn’t been portrayed fairly in the past. A number of Congressmen said to me ‘Yes, you can come in here. I will talk to you. Get it right. It’s this, this, that. We don’t do this. We do that.’ And they had pretty strong opinions. Granted, my character has some unflattering behaviour. I said ‘Listen, I want to tell you right up front. I don’t want to say I’m basing my character on you because that won’t be good for your political career.'”
Q: Do we hold politicians up to too high a standard? Should we expect more from them?
BA: “I don’t think we hold politicians to too high a standard. I don’t think that we hold anyone to a particularly high standard anymore. I think we’ve become accustomed to the frailty of all public figures. We start to traffic in scandal so much, people with shortcomings, and the train wreck, has become such a popular exhibit.”
Q: We know that you are very interested in politics. How happy are you with what Obama has accomplished so far?
BA: “Obviously it’s quite early in his administration. I think anybody could open the window and know that a lot of folks are having a very hard time out there. They are faced with a steep uphill climb towards the economy collapsing on you. It’s going to be challenging. The Obama administration, I believe, will be defined, ultimately in four years when they are running, by how well they handle this economic crisis. Whether or not our economy is back on its feet in the next couple of years, or whether it’s still sputtering. I think it’s too hard to know now.”
Q: After making your very auspicious directorial debut, what was the process of getting back into acting?
BA: “I think for one thing it was a relief to not have to worry about everything all the time. Something can go wrong, things can take a long time, and there can be confusion about the scene. I was just able to remind myself that it wasn’t my responsibility. I could just go to the trailer and listen to music, or call people, and I didn’t have to have that full time anxiety or feeling of responsibility for the movie. Directing a movie was really instructive for me. I think I learned a lot about writing, and a lot about acting, and I learned how all the pieces fit together from the inside. That was really valuable. It was a good thing.”
Q: What’s the change? Why is that?
BA: “I don’t know. Life is weird. Whether it’s family, or place, or you learn. I learn as I’ve gone along. It’s gotten to a point where I’ve really gotten comfortable with the things that are important to me. I don’t worry as much about making choices that I hope will appeal to certain externalities.”
Q: We hear you might be getting behind the director’s chair again in Boston?
BA: “Yeah, I’m directing another movie and I’m going to act in the movie as well. That’s a slightly daunting prospect, but we’ll see. I’m nervous but excited. It’s based on a book called ‘Prince of Thieves’ by Chuck Hogan. It’s based on true fact that there is this neighbourhood in Boston called Charlestown where there are more armed robbers per capita than anywhere else in the world. It’s about this group of guys who rob a bank, an armoured car. Rather than a heist movie it’s very realistic. You see how the guys really operate and what they really do. It’s about their lives, the connection to one another, and the way that where they live is changing. I don’t know. It’s unusual and kind of complicated for a movie that has a conventional genre at its root.”
Q: When you hear talk about a possible Dare Devil reboot do you feel like ‘What’s wrong with mine?’
BA: “No, I don’t ask that question. [Laughs] Honestly, I’ll get myself in trouble, so let’s just not.”
Q: Does the timing feel right for you and Matt Damon to find a project to work on together?
BA: “Yeah, we were going to do something together the end of this year. Then I took the other thing to direct, so that pushed it off till next year. Supposedly we’re doing this thing next year. I think we will. Matt is always pretty busy but claiming that he’s going to try and slow it down a little bit. He’s going to do the Bourne movie and this really cool Mandela movie he’s doing now. He doesn’t mind taking a year to wait. I would love to, it’s great, and we’ re both busy. Matt lives in Miami so it’s hard to get a chance to see him. If we work together it’s an excuse to hang out.”
Q: Having the Hollywood success you have what’s it like when you have your families together?
BA: “It’s cool. We went on vacation last summer. It’s nice. It always has been. He’s got his family ballooning, and we’re doing okay, it’s nice. I think it would be the same for anybody. You’re friends when you are young, you have a certain life. Then in your twenties you have a different life. In your thirties you get married and have families. It’s a different kind of thing. It’s a different kind of satisfaction being around your friends, the friends you grew up with. They have kids, have barbecues and that kind of deal. That is really satisfying too. It’s one of the nice things about having friends for a long time.”
Q: Have you and Matt worked out what you’re going to do?
BA: “We have a project but we haven’t said what it is just because of lame political money reasons. This is the movie we’re going to do together and I think it will be good.”
Q: Did you write it together?
BA: “No, the script is actually mostly already written. We wouldn’t write it together.”
Q: Would you direct it?
BA: “It’s possible I would direct it or else we’d both be in it and find a director.”
Q: Should we expect to see anymore YouTube antics from you?
BA: “I hope so. If I find something as funny as that, if Jimmy Kimmel writes me something as funny as that in the future. That was really great. I like Jimmy a lot, he’s a great guy. That experience was a lot of fun. It was one of those things where I thought ‘Will the Internet still be around when my kids are teenagers?”
“State of Play” is in Irish cinemas from Friday, 24th April.