Ben Affleck Interview STATE OF PLAY

     April 15, 2009

Written by Steve ‘Frosty’ Weintraub

A few weeks ago I attended two press days for “State of Play”. The first one was as a reporter for Collider, and the second was for our partner website Omelete out of Brazil. As you’ve seen if you’ve watched any video on Collider…there are two logos embedded – one is Collider’s and one is Omelete. That’s because we’re partners, and whenever either site gets anything we share it. Anyway, while Collider was only offered a roundtable spot at the junket, Omelete got TV.

Since I know some of you prefer watching video interviews and some of you prefer reading them, I’m offering both interviews. Of course this wouldn’t be possible without the help of Omelete, so a big thank you to them.

Anyway, let’s get to why you’re here.

Opening this Friday is director Kevin Macdonald’s (“Last King of Scotland”) “State of Play”. The film is based on the BBC mini-series from a few years ago and it’s about a team of investigative reporters that work alongside a police detective to try to solve the murder of a congressman’s mistress. And just like the BBC version, the film is loaded with great actors like Russell Crowe, Rachel McAdams, Ben Affleck, Robin Wright Penn, Jason Bateman, Helen Mirren and Jeff Daniels. While I never saw the BBC series, I really liked this movie. It’s a smart thriller that’s definitely worth checking out. Here’s the synopsis:

Russell Crowe plays an investigative journalist embroiled in a case of seemingly unrelated, brutal murders. Crowe plays D.C. reporter Cal McAffrey, whose street smarts lead him to untanglea mystery of murderand collusionamong some of thenation’s most promising political and corporate figures in “State of Play”.

Handsome, unflappable U.S. Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck)is the future of his political party: an honorable appointee who serves as the chairman of a committee overseeing defense spending. All eyesare upon the rising star to be his party’s contender for the upcoming presidential race. Until his research assistant/mistressis brutally murdered and buried secretscome tumbling out.

McAffreyhas the dubious fortune of both an old friendship with Collins and a ruthless editor, Cameron (Helen Mirren), who has assigned him to investigate. As he and partner Della (Rachel McAdams) try to uncover the killer’s identity, McAffreysteps into a cover-up thatthreatens to shake the nation’s power structures. And in a town of spin-doctors and wealthy politicos, hewill discover one truth:when billions are at stake, no one’s integrity, love or life is ever safe.

Anyhow, during both interviews Ben was extremely friendly up for talking about anything and everything. From acting again after being a director to what he has coming up, Ben was great to talk with.

So up first is the video interview, and further down is a transcript of my roundtable interview. For some clips from “State of Play” click here, here’s my interview with Rachel McAdams, and the audio of my roundtable interview.

Ben Affleck

· Since he is a huge Boston sports fan, I ask about his thoughts on the Patriots, Red Sox, and Celtics

· What was it like switching gears from directing to acting again

· What was it like meeting with real congressmen and did those meeting help him with his charity endeavors

Question: So how was it to have all that power but temporary?

Affleck: It was good, yeah, exactly. It was good just for a moment to feel the power in my hand. I have to say I think the power of an individual member of Congress is limited in general. It was definitely fun to play a politician.

Question: After making your very auspicious directorial debut what was the process of getting back into acting?

Affleck: I think for one thing it was a relief to not have to worry about everything all the time. Something can go wrong, things can take a long time, and there can be confusion about the scene. I was just able to remind myself that it wasn’t my responsibility. I could just go to the trailer and listen to music, or call people, and I didn’t have to have that full time anxiety or feeling of responsibility for the movie. Directing a movie was really instructive for me. I think I learned a lot about writing, and a lot about acting, and I learned how all the pieces fit together from the inside. That was really valuable. It was a good thing.

Question: Did you take anything from the John Edwards scandal, or any of them, did you develop in your own head things from the current things in news?

Affleck: We internalize almost these scandals. They are almost rote. They become like clichés. The story breaks, they stand next to the spouse, they say God has forgiven them, or are asking God to forgive them, and they want their constituents to forgive them. Then they go out and spear trash in the park or something trying to reconstitute their political career. Eventually people do forget. It’s this cycle that its lost its meaning of begging for forgiveness and hopefully receiving it. We are so familiar with those things, but what was more interesting to me was to think about the real experience. What’s the real experience that you wouldn’t think of from the outside? Once of the things that I think is probably true, as I thought about it from Gary Condit, Elliot Spitzer, to John Edwards is the notion of us all thinking ‘How could she forgive him? How could she stand there with him?’ Thinking about it from the point of view of the politician, when that media glare gets put on you and your family, and it’s blasting on them. It seemed to me that their instinct would probably be to protect themselves and come together. That way forgiving someone publicly to me seemed obvious. If you were in that situation, for that wife it’s probably not even a thought. ‘I may give you a hard time about this privately, and rail against you, but when we go out there we are going to be a team. I’m going to forgive you.’ To me I was less surprised by it when I did the movie and really thought about it.

Question: Do we hold politicians up to too high of standards? Should we expect more from them?

Affleck: I don’t think that we hold politicians to too high of a standard. I don’t think that we hold anyone to a particularly high standard anymore. I think we’ve become accustomed to the frailty of all public figures. We start to traffic in scandal so much, people with shortcomings, and the train wreck has become such a popular exhibit. I think we like to see the inside of politics for whatever reason. We like the underbelly. We chase these stories and often times find them. I think that politicians should be held to a certain standard. They are elected officials, for God’s sake. If they aren’t going to keep it together then who is?

Question: We know that you are very interested in politics. How happy are you with what Obama has accomplished so far?

Affleck: Obviously it’s quite early in his administration. It’s 68 or 70 days. I think anybody could open the window and know that a lot of folks are having a very hard time out there. They are faced with a steep uphill climb towards the economy collapsing on you. It’s going to be challenging. I think that the Obama administration I believe will be defined, ultimately in four years when they are running, by how well they handle this economic crisis. Whether or not our economy is back on it’s feet in the next couple of years, or whether it’s still sputtering. I think it’s too hard to know now.

Question: Even to have a plan early on seems like an improvement.

Affleck: Let me tell you something, you can judge Obama as compared to Obama and be critical. You can judge Obama as compared to the previous administration and it would be almost impossible for him to fail.

Question: Do you look at the media here as a nostalgic look like a sort of ‘All the President’s Men’ kind of noble media that doesn’t exist anymore? Do you think it offers hope for a positive direction?

Affleck: I don’t know. You guys are the experts on this stuff. Is there a nobility to media and what goes on inside a newsroom. I think that this is the last movie that will be set in a newspaper. I don’t know how this movie will be perceived but I do believe that people will look back and say ‘Oh, yeah. That was the movie that comes out right around the time that the Internet destroyed newspapers. That is happening. The New York Times laid off 200 people yesterday. They are cutting salaries. The blogging, the news sites, they are all now superseding the traditional news gathering. Ink on dead trees organizations. I don’t think that the verdict is in on what that means, what’s going to happen, or what the integrity is of one institution versus the other. It’s really interesting. Part of what this movie looks at is the tension between Rachel’s [McAdams] and Russell’s [Crowe] characters is which side of us is going to win out. What does the world look like with just bloggers gathering news? I think there are two mobs right? One is this incredible, global journalism. It’s a full democratization of journalism. You have actual correspondents in every home. For example there were people blogging from Mumbai right when those incidents started happening. You get to the truth and you don’t have to worry about bias because you have so many bloggers. Ultimately, it’s impossible to lie because there is too much evidence that can come out from other people to refute people who report with bias. You have this ‘everyone is a reporter’ model. The other model is that everyone is biased, no one sources anything, it’s just ugly noise, and we’ve destroyed our journalistic standards.

Question: Do you subscribe to a daily newspaper?

Affleck: We are moving, and I just had this conversation, I feel like I’m in the mean of society. We are moving and I get the L.A. Times, and the New York Times, but we only read them online. As we were moving I said ‘Why are we going to pay for the newspaper again?’ So I didn’t. I felt like ‘Look! I’m either part of the problem or part of the solution.’ I don’t know which one.

Question: What is your perspective about the difference between media in the celebrity relationship as opposed to the media and politics relationship? Is it the same or different?

Affleck: I’m not a total expert, but I have some experience, and they are very similar. They are similar in the pressures that exist. The pressures that are brought to bear on the media side to sell magazines, to sell newspapers, get hits on the website. The focus has to be on the thing that sells the most, which tends to be the most sensational, scandalous, headline grabbing. So maybe the temptation is to bend the truth. In the case of entertainers, they will flat make up stories. They will completely use sources that don’t exist, or stuff that is very thinly sourced. On the political side people are a little bit more judicious about completely abandoning journalistic standards. You still have those same impulses to push, find the story, and dig up the most scandalous aspect of it. I think there is the other side that is at war too, which is the side that wants to do good journalism. They want to do good reporting. They care about the substantial stuff. That’s saying to the powers that be ‘I don’t want to do this all the time. I want to do something interesting. The Yin and Yang is at play on both sides of entertainment and politics. The only difference really is that with entertainers people feel more comfortable saying ‘It’s fine. Just print it and run it.’ Because they know it’s not the President of the United States. It’s not going to change the world so they figure they can just print it.

Question: A story will break in print, and then it’s on the web, bloggers comment on it. In the past it would just be a story in the newspaper. It wouldn’t be millions of different outlets. Do you think it’s hurting or helping?

Affleck: Part of the blogging culture that is good is that it’s made the traditional press much more nervous. They become more accountable because they are the ones who are most sensitive to what they bloggers are going to say. Most American’s don’t spend their days worrying what bloggers are going to say. They just read the blogger that they want to read. They aren’t going ‘Oh, what’s going to come out in the blogs?’ But mainstream media sweats it because for the first time they are actually accountable to someone who is going to write about them and their work. I think that has a very strong impact on mainstream media and how they work. I think it has coarsened the dialogue a little bit. There is a lot of shaming, a lot of finger wagging, and it’s a public, gossip high school mill. Every time a story comes out then 50 people start digesting it, a lot of them are very jaded, so you get all these different viewpoints on it. Ultimately, you have a million blogs and a lot of them are different iterations of the same take on something. There are a few that are really good and smart. A lot of them are just people who want to be ugly about something. One of the things that will be interesting to see is that bloggers are sourcing from the mainstream media, the newspapers. So if the newspapers are gone then bloggers are going to have to do more reporting. I think that will be good actually and I hope that’s what happens. Conversely, the newspapers have gotten lazy, gotten nervous, and started sourcing from blogs. That I think is dangerous. You could pick any blog. I could start a blog tomorrow. Then I can say ‘I heard that so and so is an alien.’ Then its on a blog, it’s out there, and enough of a source to pick it up and start a fire going. Obviously, something as outrageous as that people won’t use, but a lot of false stories got started and had false currency because they were placed in blogs.

Question: Do we need to know everything?

Affleck: I don’t think we need to know anything about people’s sex lives or personal lives. I think that is totally irrelevant.

Question: You spent a lot of time on the Hill. Can you talk about what the coolest part of that experience is having a bird’s eye view?

Affleck: I thought that the people in Congress would be a little bit reluctant. Not even reluctant but too busy to have the time to have me show up and sniff around, stand in their office, or do anything. They were quite busy but luckily they felt like people don’t understand Congress very well. In terms of their opinion of them, they felt they hadn’t been portrayed fairly in the past. A number of Congressmen said to me ‘Yes, you can come in here. I will talk to you. Get it right. It’s this, this, that. We don’t do this. We do that.’ and they had pretty strong opinions. Granted my character has some unflattering behavior. I said ‘Listen, I want to tell you right up front. I don’t want to say I’m basing my character on you because that won’t be good for your political career.’ The overall sense that people wanted to get across was that there are folks working hard, people who are intelligent. There is a bias people have about Congress. There is this huge lumbering body, that gives away money, like the big sloppy Muppets from ‘Dark Crystal’ that march next to each other incredibly slowly. That wasn’t what I saw. It was something much faster, much faster Muppets.

Question: Is a political career something that is in the back of your head?

Affleck: I really like my job that I have now. Plus, unlike in Hollywood where you need one director to hire you, in politics you have to have a lot of people to vote for you. I think it’s harder work. I really am happy with what I’m doing now. In fact I’ve never been at a place where I’ve felt better about going to work everyday. I’m more engaged and very, very happy.

Question: What’s the change? Why is that?

Affleck: I don’t know. Life is weird. Whether its family, or place, or you learn. I learn as I’ve gone along. It’s gotten to a point where I’ve really gotten comfortable with the things that are important to me. I don’t worry as much about making choices that I hope will appeal to certain externalities. Like ‘Well, this movie has to work in this way, I make X amount of money in order to keep me at X place in my career.’ All this other stuff gets in the way. Rather its, this is an interesting role. It’s got a character in it that seems complicated and real. I get to work with talented people. That’s my criteria and it’s easy.

Question: You had a very successful directorial debut. I heard you might be getting behind the directors chair again in Boston?

Affleck: Yeah, I’m directing another movie and I’m going to act in the movie as well. That’s a slightly daunting prospect, but we’ll see. I’m nervous but excited. It’s called The Town – that’s the title I’m using now but I’m not sure it’ll be that – and it’s based on a book called ‘Prince of Thieves’ by Chuck Hogan. It’s based on a true fact that there is this neighborhood in Boston called Charlestown where there are more armed robbers per capita than anywhere else in the world. It’s about this group of guys who rob a bank and an armored car. Rather than a heist movie it’s very realistic. You see how the guys really operate and what they really do. It’s about their lives, the connection to one another, and the way that where they live is changing. It’s unusual and kind of complicated for a movie that has a conventional genre at its root.

Question: Will you be keeping the Fenway Park climax?

Affleck: I hope so. We are in discussion with them right now. We have to get their permission. If they say ‘No.’ I don’t really know what we’ll do. We’ll have to come up with a new climax. Is it going to be Gillette stadium? I don’t know.

Question: Did you write this yourself?

Affleck: There was an adaptation already. Someone had adapted the book already. There was an adaptation that I fooled around with, but it was strong. The author adapted it and it was really good. I’m lucky that it was there. ‘Gone Baby Gone’ there was no previous writer. This somebody already did all the hard work and all the really good work. I’m kind of coasting on that.

Question: When you hear talk about a possible ‘Dare Devil’ reboot do you feel like ‘What’s wrong with mine?’

Affleck: No, I don’t ask that question. [Laughs] Honestly, I’ll get myself in trouble, so lets just not.

Question: What would you do to get Dunkin’ Donuts out here?

Affleck: I heard that some people were pitching in to buy a franchise. Then that fizzled. I would do that. My only fear is that L.A. people would … One donut is 20,000 calories. I love the coffee more than anything.

Question: You can get the coffee at Ralphs.

Affleck: But you can’t get the full…

Question: John Krasinski from ‘The Office’ said he talked to you about it and said there may be a charity one on Sunset. He’s trying to put it together.

Affleck: I would do whatever it took. I told John that so I think he’s aware of that. That was who I had this conversation with in fact. He said a couple of other guys from New England would do it. He was more gung ho than I was. He was fired up. I love it. I really do love Dunkin’ Donuts. Not to go into a full pitch commercial. I should be getting the Johnny Damon money. Remember those ads?

Question: How is fatherhood with a second baby at home?

Affleck: It’s great. I am very lucky. I feel blessed to look around and see that I’ve got a healthy family and a job. Especially now days, you really feel very good.

Question: Are we passed the banana mashing conflicts?

Affleck: Yeah, I’m in a pretty good zone right now. I say that and I’ll go home to everything exploded. So far so good.

Question: You have a saying in the movie at the end. It was discussed about the $26,000. That was vague to a few of us. What was your take on her knowing about that?

Affleck: There was some issue. At a certain point there was some talk about making her complicit. That didn’t end up being the way we went. I thought it would be really bold actually. I really pushed for it with Kevin [Macdonald] and he was non-committal to my face, which means that behind my back he’s was like ‘Affleck’s crazy. We’re not gonna do it!’ [accent] ‘No! Shrek! Donkey!’ He talks like Shrek! No, he barely has an accent. He’s Scottish. The idea was that the money, I had told her innocently, and she had passed that on to Russell. She was a conduit of that information without knowing she was passing on something. In explaining to her ‘No, just this one time.’ and trying to make her feel more comfortable about what happened, that she was being paid. I gave her an amount of money she had been paid. She remembered it and tells Cal, and then Call realizes ‘He must have told his wife this.’ Trying to explain ‘Honey, you don’t understand. She got paid $26,000, it wasn’t like that, they gave her all this money.’ There is no way he could have told his wife. It’s basically me saying the $26,000 and him saying ‘How do you know that?’ except it was through Robin [Wright Penn].

Question: It was a sinister plot for me.

Affleck: I would have loved that, man. I agree with you.

Question: You worked with Mike Judge on ‘Extract’. I love his two previous films. Could you talk about your character?

Affleck: I love Mike. [Jason] Bateman, is the lead of the movie. He is spectacular in the movie. If you are a Bateman fan, he has gay rage, and it’s on fire in this movie. This is the third time I’ve worked with Bateman. My wife has down three bids in Bateman. We’re a six-time Bateman household. We’re fans. Mike has a very particular sensibility so it’s not just straight down the middle. That’s one of the things I like about it. I think it’s really funny. I haven’t seen the whole thing, just bits and pieces of it. Jason is great. I’m playing a guy who is kind of the worst friend in the world. I’m Jason’s friend, but it turns out I’m really into drugs, I like to give him drugs. I keep trying to get him high. He tells me he’s got this wife, but he’s attracted to this other woman, but he’s married so he’s conflicted about it. Meanwhile I give him some Xanax. I’m telling him ‘What you should do is hire a gigolo to hit on your wife. Then if she says yes, you won’t feel guilty.’ He’s high and thinks it kind of makes sense. She immediately fucks the gigolo. That’s at the very beginning.

Question: What does that have to do with vanilla extract?

Affleck: He owns a vanilla extract plant, basically. It’s very, very funny. Mike is great, a really gifted and smart guy. Jason is terrific. I was just really happy to be in the movie.

Question: The thing about Mike’s films is that he’s been screwed over by the studio twice. Is this going to be the one that people can actually see?

Affleck: I don’t know. It’s Miramax. Its incumbent on them I think, because I think it could be a commercial movie if it were released properly. I know them, I think they are smart people, so I have no reason to expect that they will screw him. I’m optimistic, but I’ll let Mike speak for himself in that regard.

Question: Does the timing feel right for you and Matt Damon to find a project to work on together?

Affleck: Yeah, we were going to do something together the end of this year. Then I took the other thing to direct, so that pushed it off till next year. Supposedly we’re doing this thing next year. I think we will. Matt is always pretty busy but claiming that he’s going to try and slow it down a little bit. He’s going to do the Bourne movie and this really cool Mandela movie he’s doing now. He’s doing the movie that George Nolfi is directing in between. He doesn’t mind taking a year to wait. I would love to, it’s great, and we’re both busy. Matt lives in Miami so it’s hard to get a chance to see him. If we work together its an excuse to hang out.

Question: Celts, back to back?

Affleck: I don’t want to jinx anything. I hope so. It’s great to have basketball be exciting in Boston. It’s a good thing to have some winners. We’re all right, Boston sports.

Question: Have you and Matt worked out what you’re going to do?

Affleck: We have a project but we haven’t said what it is just because of lame political money reasons. This is the movie we’re going to do together and I think it will be good.

Question: Did you write it together?

Affleck: No, the script is actually mostly already written. We wouldn’t write it together.

Question: Would you direct it?

Affleck: It’s possible I would direct it or else we’d both be in it and find a director.

Question: Should we expect to see anymore YouTube antics from you?

Affleck: I hope so. If I find something as funny as that, if Jimmy Kimmel writes me something as funny as that in the future. That was really great. I like Jimmy a lot, he’s a great guy. That experience was a lot of fun. It was one of those things where I thought ‘Will the Internet still be around when my kids are teenagers?’

Question: Having the Hollywood success you have what’s it like when you have your families together?

Affleck: It’s cool. We went on vacation last summer. It’s nice. It always has been. He’s got his family ballooning, and we’re doing okay, it’s nice. I think it would be the same for anybody. You’re friends when you are young, you have a certain life. Then in your twenties you have a different life. In your thirties you get married and have families. It’s a different kind of thing. It’s a different kind of satisfaction being around your friends, the friends you grew up with. They have kids, have barbecues and that kind of deal. That is really satisfying too. Its one of the nice things about having friends for a long time.

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