Ben Affleck: “Directing was something I wanted to do even though a lot of people were skeptical and the probability of failure was high”
LOS ANGELES – Ben Affleck has a history of rising from the cinematic equivalent of death. Once the darling of Hollywood in the years following Good Will Hunting and subsequent high profile romances with Gwyneth Paltrow and then Jennifer Lopez, the hunkish actor saw his world fall apart after Gigli bombed and earned him the worst reviews of his career. But then he rebuilt his life with his marriage to Jennifer Garner and a dual career as both actor and director, first with The Town, and then with his Oscar-winning film Argo.
Last year saw him star in David Fincher’s critically-acclaimed Gone Girl and then came the news – greeted with skepticism in some circles – that he was going to take over the role of Batman following the departure of Christian Bale. On top of that came the shocking announcement last June that Affleck and Garner were divorcing after ten years of marriage and three children. More stories following claiming that Affleck was having an affair with his nanny although Garner subsequently stated that their marriage was effectively over long before Ben’s rumoured indiscretion.
But Affleck is a resilient figure and his new film, BATMAN v. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE, co-starring Henry Cavill as Superman, has proven to be a massive box-office success earning nearly $900 million at the global box-office despite mixed reviews and ongoing reports about Affleck’s seemingly dejected appearance while doing press for the film. Affleck delivered a solid if dark take as Batman and the film’s impressive performance has doubtless given the 43-year-old Boston native some solace. He recently began filming the next instalment in the franchise, Justice League, again co-starring Cavill as Superman.
When asked to comment on why audiences tend to be drawn more to Batman’s dark side than true-blue Superman, Affleck quipped: “There’s something uninteresting about being a God like Superman. He’s too perfect. It’s boring. (Whereas) Batman is flawed, he’s the bad boy, you want to chase him, you want to fix him.”
Apart from his film work, Affleck has invested considerable time and money in the East Congo Initiative, an economic development programme he co-founded in 2010 that his since poured in millions of direct aid to that war-torn region. ECI supports local Congolese organisations working on a range of issues from small business start-ups to child welfare to women’s rights to promoting social justice.
Q: Ben, what made you want to play Batman?
AFFLECK: I’ve always been drawn to Batman because he’s the most complex and human of all the superheroes. He’s a very vulnerable and conflicted character and in that sense he most closely resembles us. Although we see him as this heroic figure he’s also deeply flawed and broken.
Q: One of the key elements to the film is the animosity between Batman and Superman. What was the basis for this bad blood?
AFFLECK: Bruce Wayne is a man who has experienced a lot of suffering and he takes issue with the kind of destruction that Superman caused in his fight in (the previous Superman film) and that many innocent people were killed when many buildings were destroyed in the process.
I liked how (director) Zack Snyder wanted to take a look at how there’s a human cost to that kind of devastation and you can’t ignore the consequences of that level of violence. It’s the kind of issue that amplifies Bruce’s own feelings of resentment and vulnerability and that’s why he reacts so negatively when confronted with Superman and his incredible powers that can hurt people and are beyond our control. Bruce feels threatened by this kind of presence and he’s also projecting his own cynicism and disillusionment onto Superman because he once had a much more positive attitude about the world that has given way to this brooding darkness.
Q: Was it important for you to be able to bring out Bruce Wayne and Batman’s damaged sides?
AFFLECK: That’s what always impressed me about Frank Miller’s take on Batman. I first started getting interested in those stories when I was a kid growing up in Boston and that’s something that has stayed with me ever since.
Bruce Wayne is carrying a lot of emotional baggage and even though he has a lot of advantages and has achieved incredible things he’s still struggling with his identity and his outlook on the world. Bruce suffered a lot of psychological scars in his childhood and he’s still dealing with a lot of unhealthy behaviour.
Q: How does your Batman differ from Christian Bale’s Dark Knight interpretation of the character?
AFFLECK: We’re starting out where other versions kind of left off. I’m probably the same age as Christian was in his last one when he retired as Batman. We’re doing something different and obviously what Christian and (Dark Knight director) Christopher Nolan did was amazing and I have nothing but admiration for them.
That’s part of the reason we felt we had to do something different so that we weren’t just trying to repeat that for audiences because they did it so well. So this Batman is a little older, he’s a little more world weary. He’s been around the block once or twice so he’s a little wiser but he’s definitely darker and more jaded.
Q: Your Batman has a mean streak…?
AFFLECK: Over the year’s he’s become darker and darker as he confronts all the violence and evil in the world around him. The more he’s had to immerse himself in that world, the more cynical and grim it’s made him. The best way to describe his mood is that he’s very disillusioned and broken in many ways.
You can’t go out at night and fight some of the most evil characters imaginable and not develop a dark view of the world. He also sees that no matter what he does, there are always more criminals cropping up. It’s an endless cycle of violence and that contributes to his grim outlook on things, and he never had a very optimistic picture of the world to begin with.
Q: You did intensive training to bulk up for Batman. But you also get to wear an armoured-plated suit whereas Henry Cavill is wearing a stretch fabric body stocking. Did that take the pressure off you from having to match Henry’s physique?
AFFLECK: I trained harder than I ever had to get ready for this movie. I worked for over a year getting ready for this movie but I never felt that I was in competition with Henry.
I had seen him in the first movie and at my advanced age I was under no illusions that I was going to be able to match him. I also tried to remind everyone that Superman is an alien being and Batman is human! (Smiles)
Q: How heavy was the Batsuit?
AFFLECK: It’s heavy. They screw you in and you can’t get out. You have to have guys come over with drills to get you out so it’s kind of claustrophobic and a little restrictive. But it’s what you need to do if you’re going to fight Superman. You gotta go prepared.
But a lot of the time I was wearing a (motion capture) suit that was like this silly pajama that allowed the digital effects guys to add stuff later.
Q: Did your children have any input or figure in your decision to play Batman?
AFFLECK: Oh, sure. I wanted to do a movie that had a serious edge and also one that my kids would think was cool. I don’t know what the public thinks, but at least my son thinks that playing Batman is cool.
Q: You’ve had an up-and-down career in Hollywood. What are your reflections when you look back at your time in the business?
AFFLECK: I feel incredibly fortunate. I’ve been able to achieve a lot more than I ever expected and I feel very lucky to be where I am considering how things didn’t always go my way. I’ve always been the same person and I’ve always wanted to do interesting projects and take risks. Directing was something I wanted to do even though a lot of people were skeptical and the probability of failure was high.
But I knew I wanted to take that step and that’s worked out very well for me so I feel very grateful for everything that’s happened.
Q: How have you remained so resilient despite having had your life played out in the tabloids and enduring a lot of unfair criticism and speculation about your private life?
AFFLECK: I started out in the film business with a lot of great aspirations and ultimately you realise that it’s a very uncertain world. You can have a lot of success and then suddenly everything can go wrong. I know how this business works and one thing I’ve learnt about my profession is that, just like in life, things are always going to change. I had a lot of luck but I also worked hard to achieve whatever I’ve done. I think there’s always going to be a strong correlation between success and hard work.