/ FACES Magazine January 2017
Ben Affleck has experienced the best and worst of times in Hollywood. After an early taste of movie stardom and a storybook romance with Gwyneth Paltrow, he suffered public humiliation and a career meltdown following the collapse of his relationship with Jennifer Lopez and the critical mauling of Gigli. But Affleck rebuilt his personal life when he married and started a family with Jennifer Garner. He also recast himself in the dual role of actor and director, ultimately winning the Oscar for Argo in 2013. Alas, his mercurial persona got the best of him—just as his acting career was once again taking off—with both his appearance in Gone Girl and having been handed the role of Batman. Garner filed for divorce last year and Affleck looked lost as he struggled to get his life in order again.
And now it appears that Affleck and Garner have reconciled and are very much a couple again. That explains why Affleck was looking far more upbeat as he spoke about his new film THE ACCOUNTANT recently. In March, his grim demeanour sparked a flurry of sad internet memes while being interviewed for the critically-reviled but box-office juggernaut, Batman v. Superman. But today he’s all smiles and positively giddy in conversation, admitting to finding great solace in his role as a father, however, and considers his three children, Violet, Seraphina, and Samuel, to be his most important responsibility.
“When you have kids, what’s that expression, ‘Your heart is outside your body,’” Affleck says. “All of the sudden you feel so vulnerable and this fear of a child being vulnerable is very very powerful . . . It’s not easy.”
Coming on the heels of his debut as the caped crusader in Batman v. Superman, Affleck delivers arguably the best performance of his career in The Accountant. Playing the part of a mathematical genius afflicted with autism, Affleck’s character has a Batman-like identity crisis: he works by day as a forensic accountant while at night he metes out Equalizer-level justice as a marauding vigilante. Directed by Gavin O’Connor, The Accountant stars Anna Kendrick, Jon Bernthal, J.K. Simmons, Jeffrey Tambor and John Lithgow. The 45-year-old Affleck lives in Los Angeles and remains actively involved in co-parenting his children with former spouse Jennifer Garmer.
Ben, this is a very unusual and demanding role in many ways. How did you approach the challenge of playing a man afflicted with autism in The Accountant?
It was a lot of work because we cared about getting it right, because the last thing we wanted to do was a cartoon version or a caricature or an oversimplification, because it is a condition that people really have. So, the more complicated the better because that meant it was more real.
The people that we met and talked to all had very complicated situations, very complicated lives, some limitations to do stuff. There was an amazing spectrum of special gifts that we found as well. So it is definitely the most complicated, more interesting character that
I have played, for sure.
Your character undergoes brutal martial arts training as a child. As a father, how do you reflect on that harsh treatment?
That’s what I thought was the most heartbreaking thing about the story and it was definitely moving to me. As a parent, I face dilemmas, as we all do, every day. What’s the right way to raise children? What is the right thing to teach them? We all make mistakes,
for sure, but we kind of try our best.
There are a lot of fight scenes in the film. Did your Batman training come in handy?
It was helpful. I know Gavin (O’Connor, the director) was really concerned that the action be real and good and he has done it really well, in Warrior for example. So training was as much a part of this as it was for the Batman movie. In fact, even more so because it is harder to hire a stuntman to do your stunts when you’re not wearing a mask. So I had to really be on top of my game and work with some really great professionals...I guess we geeked out on it. It was a lot of fun.
Was the fight scene choreography very different in The Accountant?
I trained in an Indonesian martial arts technique (pencak silat) every day for several months and that helped me adapt to a different style of movement as opposed to what we did in Batman v. Superman.
Also, in that film we were able to add a lot of things digitally but in this film I had to do longer takes and that meant having to memorize the choreography and movements. It was a different process, really, more like learning elaborate dance steps and then having to
execute them precisely.
Were there any similarities between your accountant persona and that of Batman/Bruce Wayne?
The same chin! (Smiles). You know, if you stretch hard enough you can draw parallels with a lot of different characters. But this is a really distinct and unique character, and a unique film, and that’s what drew me to it. You think you are getting one kind of movie and then you get something that, in my view, is smarter and more interesting and more challenging.
You’re now in the process of doing the final editing on your latest film as a director and actor, Live by Night (a crime thriller set in the 1930s -ED)? Do you have a preference when it comes to acting or directing?
It’s probably more satisfying to direct because you’re responsible for developing the story and working with the actors to create the final product. I enjoy having that kind of creative control although it takes up your entire life not just for the three or four months you’re shooting the film but also all the months you spend working on it before and after the filming.
And sometimes when you’re in the middle of directing a film you’re suddenly filled with a lot of doubts and you don’t know how to make the film work and that it’s going to be a disaster. Those are the times when you think how much easier it is just to be an actor and spend most of the day in your trailer waiting to be called to shoot your scene, work for half an hour or even less, and then go back to your trailer and relax until the next set-up.
Was your decision to get into directing in some ways a life-changing choice?
I think it was one of the best decisions I ever made. Most of the people I talked to around that time were against the idea. A lot of my friends thought I was crazy but in the end I decided to follow my own instincts
and I’m very happy that I did.
That taught me a lot about how I should approach most things. You can have a strategy, but in the end you have to listen to that voice inside yourself. I’ve also been able to learn a lot from working with brilliant directors like David Fincher and it’s gratifying that a lot of my dreams have turned into reality.
You’ve said in the past that you grew up watching art house films?
I love all kinds of movies. I can get just as much pleasure watching a film by Michael Haneke (White Ribbon, Funny Games) as I can from watching Ocean’s 11 or Raiders of the Lost Ark. A big studio film like Gone Girl is an example of a film that functions at a very high artistic level and also has a very commercial appeal. Those are probably the kinds of films I really aspire to.
Getting back to The Accountant, did you ever wish you had those kinds of mathematical abilities in real life?
Yes. I’m pretty involved with my kids’ homework but I wish I knew more. Lately I’ve been helping my eldest children with their math homework a lot and right now I’m still able to follow everything and figure out what they’re doing. But I know that in three or four years they’re going to be at a much higher level and I won’t be much help to them.