Talk about being (unfortunately) timely: Ben Affleck‘s latest film Argo, which he directed and also stars, focuses on a real-life story about the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, and currently the U.S. is facing similar tensions in the Middle East. It is also perhaps Affleck’s most acclaimed film, which is a tremendous accomplishment considering his two prior films, Gone Baby Gone and The Town, were also well received.
In interviews promoting the film, Affleck speaks about how he managed to direct this film (his most challenging to date) and explains why he isn’t ready to start giving directing advice.
Affleck confesses that the studio behind the film was taking a chance on him to direct a challenging script. He explains, “The truth is that Warner Brothers took a chance on me to make a movie that was very unconventional, that had a lot of elements that could trip you up, that would be a challenge to sell. They showed this faith in me and I’m really grateful because I got to make a movie that I’m really proud of, that has themes in it that I’m really interested in. I’ve worked on movies before where I didn’t feel that way and I know the difference.”
As a director, one of Affleck’s biggest concerns was handling the film’s lighter comedic moments with a terrible real-life situation. However, he notes that he was thankfully able to find a balance with the help of the cast. He says, “When I approached the movie I thought, ‘I won’t do anything, comically, that upends the sort of seriousness of the rest of the movie, that chews away at the fabric of that reality.’ Because if you kind of feel like, oh, we’re winking at the audience and we’re kind of mugging, you won’t be concerned about these people’s safety when we cut back to Tehran. I was ready to do all kind of directorial surgery — as it turned out, I really just needed John Goodman and Alan Arkin because they were so good at playing real, even when it was comic.”
Despite this being the third film he directed, Affleck shies away from giving any advice on how to become a good director. He says, “I wish I knew. I think for me it takes just hard work. I wouldn’t have been able to be a director at a really young, at a younger point in my life because I didn’t know how to work this hard. And it eats up the rest of your life, but I truly feel that that’s what’s necessary, for me anyway, and I marvel at guys who can do it more deftly and who can work eight hours a day. And also it just, it comes down, I guess, to taste. I learned to be really, really, really critical and that’s served me well. Frankly, I had something to prove when I got older. Down the road in my life. So I had something fueling that desire to work twice as hard, and I also had a little bit more maturity and perspective on it.”
Despite that, he has found a certain way to decide on what projects he will direct, pointing out, “What I’ve found — because I got a kind of second go on a career in Hollywood by directing — I got to apply some of the lessons I learned from this business that I learned from my acting career. And one of which, perhaps the most important, was that you have to sort of forget about all the other criteria when it comes to the movies you’re gonna do, except whether or not you think it can be a good movie.”