Ben Affleck admits when he was lazy with his movies, he got lambasted by critics

Ben Affleck (left, with actor Jeffrey Tambor) plays a mathematics genius who cooks the books for clients in The Accountant.
Ben Affleck (left, with actor Jeffrey Tambor) plays a mathematics genius who cooks the books for clients in The Accountant.PHOTO: WARNER BROS

If you spot actor Ben Affleck and his family out and about in Brentwood, their posh Los Angeles neighbourhood, there is a good chance you will also spy a paparazzi photographer lurking nearby.

Pictures of Affleck, his soon-to- be-ex-wife Jennifer Garner and their three children - often just going to the supermarket or doing the school run - have become a fixture in American tabloids and women's magazines.

This is nothing new for Affleck, of course, thanks to a string of high-profile failures in both his career (Gigli and Daredevil, both 2003) and love life (Gwyneth Paltrow, 1997 to 2000; Jennifer Lopez, 2002 to 2004; and Garner, 2004 to last year).

Yet the Oscar-winning screenwriter (Good Will Hunting, 1997) and director (Argo, 2012) says he accepts the scrutiny as part of "the bargain" he struck in order to do what he loves: make movies.

You just understand that you make this exchange to do this work you really love doing. Part of the price of that, the bargain, is you're also up there for everyone to comment on... You have to have a thick enough skin and enough perspective.


The 44-year-old has learnt to tune out everything else, he tells The Straits Times and other press in Los Angeles, where he was promoting his new film The Accountant, opening in Singapore tomorrow. He plays a mathematics genius who cooks the books for some very dangerous clients.

Given his ongoing divorce from Garner, 44, is still a hot tabloid topic, one might expect him to be uneasy or to see a publicist hovering over his shoulder ready to pull the plug at the first hint of an intrusive question.

But apart from a slight case of Resting Morose Face, which Affleck appears to be prone to, he breezes through the interview, bantering with reporters and offering thoughtful, self-deprecating answers, even as he expertly dodges queries indirectly fishing for details about his personal life or upcoming projects, which include reprising his role as Batman in next year's Justice League or the standalone Batman movie he will also direct.

"You just understand that you make this exchange to do this work you really love doing. Part of the price of that, the bargain, is you're also up there for everyone to comment on," he says matter of factly.

"Everyone's got an opinion. Sometimes they like your stuff and sometimes they don't - it's just the way it is. You have to have a thick enough skin and enough perspective."

Without naming specific projects, he also takes responsibility for some of his own professional failures, which included the much- pilloried Gigli, the crime drama he appeared in with former fiancee Lopez when the two were the tabloid fixture known as "Bennifer", and the ill-fated superhero flick Daredevil.

"What I find is when I've been lazy or haven't lived up to the potential I felt I had, I've regretted it. When I've worked on something exhaustively and given it my all, I've been proud of it.

"And I've developed my own criteria for evaluating my work, which is healthier than clicking on every last website to see if everybody loves me or hates me."

Still, according to his best friend and collaborator Matt Damon, 46, "there's nobody who's more misunderstood" than Affleck.

In an interview last year, Damon - who shared a Best Original Screenplay Oscar with Affleck for Good Will Hunting, the film that launched their careers - observed that in the early 2000s, Affleck was often portrayed as "a talentless kind of meathead", which "could not have been further from who he actually is".

But the star has had an image overhaul since then. He went on to direct acclaimed films such as The Town (2010) and Best Picture Oscar winner Argo (2012), which he also starred in; landed the plum part of Batman in Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice earlier this year; and had a seemingly blissful 10-year marriage with Garner, the Alias (2001 to 2006) actress with whom he has two daughters and a son, aged four to 10.

Last year, however, the couple announced they were splitting up amid tabloid speculation that Affleck had had an affair with the nanny.

The star also became a bit of a punchline when Batman V Superman was slated by critics - an interview of him looking glum while promoting the film was manipulated to create the "sad Affleck" meme, which cheekily suggests he secretly agreed that director Zack Snyder's film was terrible (the actor has since clarified that he "loved" how the movie turned out).

With Affleck due to both direct and star in the first standalone Batman film in the franchise, some are wondering if the Oscar winner can do any better at the helm.

He concedes that many blockbusters favour action and special effects at the expense of story and character development, but he says this is not the sort of superhero movie he is interested in making.

There is a tendency now to think that "one of the big things that translates, particularly internationally, is just big effects", says Affleck, who is currently developing the standalone Batman movie script.

"And there may be a sense of 'the more effects, the better' and you've to heap that stuff on. But I think there are great visual-effects movies and movies with visual effects that are really boring. It comes down to whether you're connecting with the characters at the end of the day."

His favourite part of the movie- making process is post-production.

"There's no pressure. It's quiet, in a dark room and if you don't get it today, you can get it tomorrow," he says.

"There's a sense of agita for me in directing. I always feel so stressed. My assistant directors absorb my neuroses. I'm always going, 'It's a disaster! We're never gonna make it!' And they go, 'We'll make it.' They're kind of like my therapists."

He also writes, directs and stars in the crime drama Live By Night, which he adapted from a Dennis Lehane novel, and will be out later this year.

It adds to an already overflowing plate for the star.

Pearl Street Films, the production company belonging to him and Damon, was behind Damon's hit thriller Jason Bourne earlier this year, as well as the ongoing reality television series Project Greenlight, in which Damon and Affleck mentor aspiring film-makers.

The company is also responsible for film festival favourite Manchester By The Sea, a drama that is already getting Oscar buzz for Affleck's brother, Casey, 41; and for Witness For The Prosecution, an Agatha Christie story that Affleck will direct and act in.

Affleck says: "It's a lot, but Jennifer says she thinks I need to keep my mind sort of turning all the time and that it's good for me."

The unbidden mention of Garner throws off several reporters, who have been quietly racking their brains for ways to ask him about her and the children.

But it turns out they do not have to try very hard because his family is clearly always on his mind.

Asked what he would put in a getaway trailer such as the one his character in The Accountant has, and fills with his most treasured possessions, the star does not even have to think about it. "My kids," he says.

The children also dictate what projects he says yes to, which are generally those he thinks are "good, interesting and challenging, and something I think I could do a good job with".

He adds: "The other criterion has to do with how long I'm going to be away from home and how present I can be with my kids.

"That calculus has a much greater impact on my choices than some sort of meta career management - you know, do a movie this size and then that size. I don't think there's any real science to that anyway.

"If you want to have a successful career, do good work."

•The Accountant opens in Singapore tomorrow.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2016, with the headline 'Thick skin, public scrutiny part of the job, says Affleck'. Print Edition | Subscribe