It wasn’t too long ago that I looked at new Ben Affleck movies like trips to the dentist, especially the parts involving the dentist painfully picking at my gums. After excellent roles in films like Dazed and Confused, Chasing Amy, and, of course, Good Will Hunting (which he co-wrote) in the 1990s, the new millennium brought with it a string of films starring Affleck that ranged from inoffensively mediocre to reaching new levels of awfulness. But Affleck successfully taped into his Good Will Hunting creative energy to direct Gone Baby Gone, The Town, and Argo, three films that have received strong critical praise (he also co-wrote the first two).
While speaking to Details, Affleck not only talks about those ugly years in his career but what has inspired him about his shift to directing.
On why he decided to star in Argo, Affleck explains that he has a number of reasons, including the simple fact that he still enjoys acting. He says, “I liked the idea of being in the movie, pushing it forward. As an actor, you can steer a scene in another direction by playing it a little differently. And honestly? I like being an actor, and I want to keep having a career. It’d be very easy for me to get lost in directing for a year and a half or two. It’s a business with a very short memory.”
Still, rewind to about ten years ago and Affleck was coming off several of the worst years of his career as an actor: after starring in the extremely commercial Pearl Harbor (2001) and The Sum of All Fears (2002), he was poorly received as a superhero in Daredevil (2003) and starred in two financially disastrous and critically ridiculed movies with then-girlfriend Jennifer Lopez, Gigli (2003) and Jersey Girl (2004).
Reflecting on those years, Affleck confesses they turned him toward directing, saying, “I made a bunch of movies that didn’t work. I was ending up in the tabloids. I don’t know what the lesson is, except that you just have to find your compass. I liked Sum of All Fears. Daredevil I didn’t at all. Some movies should have worked and didn’t. At a certain point, it’s just up to the movie gods. Anyway, this image becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. And I just said, ‘I don’t want to do it anymore. This is horrible. I don’t want to be in this spotlight, this glare, in this way. It’s tawdry, it’s ugly, it’s oppressive, and it’s inane. So I’m going to try to get away.’ And most of the way I did that was by not acting. I said, ‘I’m going to steer myself toward directing. I’m going to do something that takes me toward a place where the work that I do is reflective of what I think is interesting dramatically.’”