Inside the affectations and afflictions of Ben Affleck
Exclusive interview with the star of ‘Triple Frontier’ on Netflix, a buddy-heist action film with some odd twists
I first met Ben Affleck about two decades ago. He was fresh off the multi-award-winning Good Will Hunting, a rangy kid with the world in his palm. Dressed like a 1950s-movie bad boy in black jeans, white tee and a leather jacket, he rode the chair he was seated on, on its back legs, like a horse rearing up. Smart – the words tumbled out in quick sketches of both sides of issues, bringing in philosophy and quoting experts, without effort. I got the feeling that although Matt Damon played the lead of the intelligent, underrated janitor in Good Will Hunting, it was Affleck-inspired.
When I sat with Affleck, 46, for Times Select in April, I was struck by the difference the decades had made. It’s never fair to judge people physically – disposition, however, is something to note. One has to imagine that given the demise of his marriage to Jennifer Garner – allegedly due to shenanigans with a nanny – and a recent rehab visit, he may have been guarded, pending any probing personal questions.
I don’t like to stick my finger in a wound and make someone squirm, so I didn’t go there. He laughed seldom. His delivery was still fast, but there was a sense of not only wariness but weariness as he discussed Netflix’s Triple Frontier – a buddy-heist action film that covers familiar territory with some unexpected twists that bring to mind Humphrey Bogart’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. The action is character based and explores need, loyalty and hubris; it co-stars some of the prettiest emerging leading men: Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund and Pedro Pascal.
The trademark macro view to specific questions is still on show when asked about his relationship to greed, another theme of the film. The former Batman tilts his head to the side, and the words spew.
“2,600 years ago, Buddha said he wanted people to rid themselves of greed, hatred and delusion – so, obviously, greed’s been around for a while. It’s an extension of wanting things. We’re biologically programmed to want things. It’s tied to our survival instinct. If you didn’t want anything you would just lie around the cave and never go hunt and eventually you would die. So, it’s healthy and drives us, it’s just when it gets overdeveloped it becomes a process unto itself. That can be really unhealthy. That’s a hard line to manage.”
“What am I greedy for?” His milk-chocolate eyes make contact. Given his recent history, there’s a host of ways this reply could go. He’s anticipated the question, takes it in another direction. “I’m lucky, I have a pretty good support system. I have a therapist, all those kinds of relationships and people that help me. What I’m greedy for is more time. Time with my kids is the most important thing – definitely the thing that I chase after and protect the most. Beyond that, for job opportunities. It’s hard, you’re always chasing it, there’s no seniority or tenure. You’re just as good as the script that you can get hold of. There’s a kind of constant chasing in this business that’s hard to avoid.”
In terms of money? His body relaxes. “I feel it shouldn’t be hoarded. I’m generous, in helping others, giving to philanthropies. I’ve been [laughs sheepishly] overcharged. I try to be responsible with money. I’m not wrapped in its pursuit. If that’s all you’re focusing on, you’re never going to get the satisfaction you think. There’s no ‘there’. It’s one of these things where you keep filling the hole and it just gets deeper and deeper.”
Talking of deeper, I have to ask the tough question. Good Will Hunting was shepherded by Harvey Weinstein. Has Affleck’s perspective of the experience altered in light of the #MeToo movement that Weinstein’s alleged abuse spurred?
Affleck is silent, considering. “It’s something you have to reconcile, when somebody you know and work with turns out to have a very different side. There’s reflection of, ‘Gosh, how could that be?’ There were a lot of people at Miramax [the Weinstein brothers’ company] when we made Good Will Hunting, and at the beginning of my career, too. I’m grateful to them, glad that I got a break, to get that movie made and others. But, obviously, the memory is now coloured by these extremely disturbing facts that have come to light.”
“But I do reflect positively on that time. It was exciting, and I did it with a good friend, so we were able to help one another. The late 1990s was fun, filled with opportunities, I was suddenly getting to do stuff I’d never had a chance to do. I didn’t get too carried away, like ‘Oh, I'm the greatest.’ At times I was overwhelmed, but my mom kept my feet on the ground.”
What would he advise his younger self? Again the smirk and I glimpse the carefree kid of yore: “You wonder whether you’d be in a place to hear or take the advice you’d give your younger self. Part of the reason why your self is younger is not just the years, but they haven’t had the experiences. So I don’t know that I would be able to follow advice.”
Real humour lingers when asked if being the “old” guy of the cast brought out his leadership skills: “I just look the oldest. I’m actually 27 years old. I felt lucky to be able to work with these guys. Some are closer in age but all are people I admire, like and wanted to work with, and [laughs] they don’t make me feel too old.”
He does admit to sharing one trait with his character: planning. “I like to feel structured and organised, but I’m not super-great at it. Not good enough that anyone would hire me to be the planner for anything, but I like a sense of order and structure to my life. It helps me.”
Being a dad to Violet, Seraphina and Samuel, it is vital to have an organised calendar: “It’s hard.” His eyes fix on a distant point across the room. “[Jen] and I go back and forth because we have one of those shared calendars that both access. Sometimes it’s a little tricky to move stuff around. I have to call her to clarify.”
Do his kids help him stay organised? Again the semi-smirk: “I think I’m better at reminding them. They tend to sort of be like, ‘Ahhhh,’ you know? I go, ‘Well, you're going to be late for school!’ ” He wiggles his head. “If it weren’t for that love of organisation, I would constantly miss soccer and karate and all the stuff they do.”
So what do his kids teach him? “They open my eyes in all kinds of ways – discussions about the world; they ask questions that force me to reevaluate assumptions. I think, ‘Well, how do I explain this?’ That’s really nice. You know you’re getting old when you’re getting exposed to music through your kids. I also read with them, so a window into a certain kind of literature. It’s eye-opening. They’re very politically and environmentally conscious, which they remind me of and keep me honest about.”
Our time is up. I slip in the question as he stands to his full 1.93m: No regrets? “Plenty,” he laughs, “but I don’t focus on them too much.”