Ben Affleck Interview Ė GONE BABY GONE
Posted by Frosty
Iíll come out and say itÖ I didnít think Ben could do it.
When I first heard that Ben Affleck was going to write and direct a big Hollywood movie and it would be based on a book by Dennis Lehane (ďMystic RiverĒ), I figured this could be a real bad career move and it might cause some irreparable harm. Instead, shockingly, Mr. Affleck has delivered a great film and one that might be remembered at the end of the year come award season. Yup, itís that good.
The film stars Benís younger brother Casey (whoís having a fantastic year) and Michelle Monaghan as two private investigators in Boston that are hired by the family of a missing girl to augment the investigation by the Police. Playing some of the cops are Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman Ė two great actors who always deliver top performances.
Of course nothing in the investigation is simple, and every layer uncovered causing more questions.
So to help promote the film, Miramax recently held a press day here in Los Angeles and I got to speak with both Ben and his younger brother Casey. During the roundtable interview with Ben we covered a lot of ground, but the thing I took away from the interview was just how nervous he was about the film. Like he knows how important this is for his career. But as I said above, he absolutely hit a home run with his feature debut and I think youíll all agree with me when you see it.
As always, you can either read the transcript below or download the audio as an MP3 by clicking here.
And if you missed the movie clips I posted from the film, you can watch them here.
ďGone Baby GoneĒ opens at theaters everywhere this Friday.
Question: Clint Eastwood said at the time of Mystic River that Lehane was a very textured crime writer which meant he posed some real challenges to him being adapted to the screen. Did you encounter that?
Ben Affleck: Yes, and if he challenged Clint Eastwood, imagine how he challenged me (laughs).
Iím talking about in adapting it as well.
Ben Affleck: Yes the adaptation was extremely challenging and I had the benefit of a gifted partner named Aaron Stockard who worked on it with me. It was challenging for a number of reasons, chief among them was that simply on a basic kind of plot level, it was extremely complicated just trying to get all the, not to mention the nuances, but the basic fundamental plot twists seeding enough of the elements that you buy the reveals that happen at the end and understanding simply the basic factual elements of the story was really tough considering tough that you have how many pages that the book is and you have to distill that into an hour and 54 minute movie. It is hard and then you donít want to lose all the wonderful nuances, the texture, the dialog, the ambiance Ė I picked it really kind of foolishly first of all because I really liked it and because I also thought you know, Iím not that good at writing plot. I donít really want to write and original story. Iíll find something that has a story architecture that I can fall back on set in a world I understand, and I can work on character and dialog which I feel more confident about. It just turned out that I set myself up for the most difficult job possible.
Well you did it well.
Ben Affleck: Thanks.
Did you have Casey in mind in particular when you were writing the story?
Ben Affleck: I actually was not. The character in the book and the character in the original adaptation was olderÖ.say 35 or almost as old as 40. It got to the point where the script was completed, started to go as far as looking for an actor. I wasnít still really happy how I was feeling about this whole story arc and couldnít find an actor really and thought what if I make him younger and make him 29, 30 somewhere in there and that I thought gave him more to lose and somewhere to go and thought if youíre 40 and something bad happens to you, itís scarring but it doesnít really change you fundamentally. But if heís 10 years younger maybe it could sort of put a fork in the road of your life. Then I thought, and, it lets me cast this great actor who knows Boston, who I can get, who I can afford (laughs) soÖ
You never thought of starring in this yourself?
Ben Affleck: Initially I wanted to. When I first optioned it or went to the guy who had the rights with Aaron and said let us just try and adapt this. I thought maybe Iíd just adapt it, weíd go to director and Iíd act in it. That was the idea. But then as I got more and more invested in itÖfirst I didnít think it worked as a screenplay and we just hadnít done a very good job, and then I thought we did a mediocre job, and then we thought we had done an OK job and then I thought maybe I should direct it, and then I thought I canít direct and act in it. So it just sort of shifted because I was terrified of acting and directingÖthe thought was completely daunting. The idea of directing, alone, was terrifying much lessÖI donít know how in the world guys like Clint Eastwood manage to do Unforgiven or Dances with Wolves is every shot youíre in it and acting and it just seems incredibly difficult.
How did you know that Amy could do this accent so well?
Ben Affleck: I was auditioning people; I was really concerned. This part is pivotal. The mother needs to be, sheís vial, yet I wanted to find somebody you could evenÖthere are moments in the movie where you empathize with her. You feel like this is a woman whose child has been taken and you feel for her and you recognize her humanity and yet, she should be also repugnant in some ways. Then there are times when you recognize she is a victim in her own way of her own upbringing. All this complexity in this character and I had read a ton of actors. And sheís a drug addict and sheís skanky. I had read all these actresses in Los Angeles but none of them could do the accent or they seemed too put together, not real people. Most of the actors I was casting in small roles were non professional. So I was getting very discouraged and very frayed. And I was sitting there and they brought in this woman and she read the 1st scene and I thought, Oh, it was really good and it was of the shorter scenes and I said oh youíre from Boston. And she said naw, Iím from Queens (hits himself in the forehead). I couldnít believe it. It was the first time in my life that someone had truly, totally fooled me right to my face that I know of and I said Well, can you read the next scene? And she read it and I said youíre hired, youíre hired. I thought I had found this one thing in the movie I know will be good now and the producers kind of huddled and (whispering) you canít just offer her a movie like this, you have to have a meeting, you have to talk. So we had to have a fake meeting (laughs). She came in and soooÖIím offering you the movie and sheís like OK.
Is there anything that surprised you about Casey now that you were directing him? Did you see him in a different light or was it business as usual?
Ben Affleck: You know I have respect for him so itís a weird thing to say I have more respect for him but you see someone in a different light seeing how talented he isÖI was really struck by that and impressed by that. He was brave. And I got to see that he had a fearlessness that I really admired. And I really was just so satisfied and kind of felt personally rewarded by the fact that I saw that he wasÖit got to a point halfway through where I was just like he was going to be really good in this movie. It just makes me so happy. I know on some level there are people who thought oh heís just casting his brother. And there were some people around and they were going to see the movie and they were going to see that he was wrong.
Itís interesting in the fact that heís never had a leading role before but itís interesting in the fact where a couple of us were at the Jesse James press conference, he was there and there was tons of press. He didnít want to say anything. Heís obviously very proud of the performance but he doesnít want to step into the shadows by the roles heís taken. Did you feel you were kind of pushing him into the role?
Ben Affleck: It was a new thing for him just in terms of that role. He has played leads before like Lonesome Jim and Me and Jerry but those are more unconventional films. This is a much more conventional movie so there were definitely ways in which he was in new territory even though heís been acting for 15 years, I donít know how longÖa long time. And thereís two distinct and separate arenas. Thereís the work that you do as an actor in the movie when they turn the camera on and they point it at you and you talk or donít talk. Then there is this arena here where you come in and talk to people and communicate with members of the press and talk, or donít talk. Yet those two obviously have some overlap and they have a relationship with one another. And a lot of people make no distinction between those two yet they are totally separate. So the evolution in his navigation of those two things, the one, the acting thing, he gets and he can do. Itís a small adjustment. The other is a bigger adjustment. Iím confident that heíll make that. And heís been around a lot of people who have done a lot of moviesÖitís not his first time like being around like Wow, thereís a lot of cameras here. But still itís a bigger transition. So if heís being quiet at the Jesse James press junket, itís probably because heís just like taking it in and thatís maybe not a bad thing.
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Were you guys always in sync on this project or were there times you maybe disagreed?
Ben Affleck: Sure, there were times we disagreed. Youíre not doing the right thing kind of if youíre always agreeing, thatís a bad thing. The worst mistakes Iíve made creatively have been when Iíve just always agreed. Iíve just made terrible mistakes just agreeing with folks, Jesus (laughs). We made a lot of stuff a lot better just going through like what are you talking about, why you want to do that, well that doesnít make sense and almost always the scenes got better doing that. Sometimes we maybe talked ourselves in circles and thatís the nature of the creative process. Heís very smart. Heís a very smart guy and he focuses always on making the scene better and the movie better. I think heís the guy you want doing a movie with you because you know heís a really good actor and heís a really good protagonist in the sense that you know protagonists are on camera for most of the movie so he needs to be kind of interesting. Casey is really authentically thinking and living and surprising and engaged throughout while youíre photographing him and giving you a wide array of stuff to use. And also engaging you and kind of challenging you to make sure that you know what youíre doing and you have an answer for these questions while youíre making the movie.
What does it feel like being part of this Boston trilogy of Mystic River, Departed and now youÖand what did you learn from Kevin Smith as a director?
Ben Affleck: I mean to be in a Boston trilogy itís kind of like thatís Everest, Kilimanjaro and you (laughs). Obviously, those are towering giants. Iím just happy to get my movie made, man, you know, those guys are legendary filmmakers and this movie is just a little movie that Iím glad to get out there and hope that people go see and I hope that people like. I will be pleased that if in 40 years that I get some portion of those guysí great successÖsome fraction of that would be wonderful. For now, Iím just trying to just cobble together a little directing career. Part two involves a different kind of answer. No, what Iíve learned from Kevin Smith isÖin a way this movie has a very simple actor focused feel to it and itís similar in some ways to a Kevin movie. Kevinís got a little bit more verbally rigorous like writing focus. He doesnít permit any deviation of the word whereas this is like itís OK to change a syllable or two. One of the things I learned from Kevin is that he really pays attention to language and this is definitely something I took away from him, the rhythm of language and how actors sound and thatís something I really came to appreciate working with him. I think thatís something thatís really important, like not just what they say, but the cadence of how they say it and also make stories that oftentimes are being told in the interestÖjust holding your interest. Kevinís kind of relying a lot of times, the raw power of the writing and the importance of the writing and thatís always been the centerpiece of his movies. Itís a reminder that thatís the underpinning of movies and I think thatís a really good thing to learn and remember.
Working with Kevin, did you know that you already wanted to direct. What triggered you?
Ben Affleck: Working with Kevin, I mean when I first worked with him in I think í93 in Mallrats, and I didnít know anything in í93. I was very new and just trying to figure things out. But over the course of working with him, I just became really good friends with him and picked up a lot from him and from the other people we worked with and just tried to study and learn from him as I have from all the directors Iíve worked with and over the course of that time developed an increasing interest in trying to direct.
What do you think about the difficult moral choice that Caseyís character has to make at the end of the film?
Ben Affleck: Obviously itís the choice thatís presented in the book, but in terms of trying to convey it in the movie, I tried to present it as provocatively as I could in the sense that I wanted it to feel really difficult. I think itís a tough choice and underneath it, thereís this sort of pull between these sort of classic things in our society whether weíre willing to forgive people or judge them, whether we think itís OK for us to make decision for other peopleÖif the right thing was easy, everybody would do it. The idea that Casey really believes that once heís Ė I donít want to give this whole thing away so Iím trying to figure out what to say that wonít give it away Ė but you know the movie Rules of the Game? I stole a line from it where at the end of the movie she says ďeveryone has their reasonsĒ and itís like his accusation really is that everybody is kind of rationalizing their actions based on their own self interests. In other words, youíre all sort of claiming this moral high ground but really itís just based on what you all want to doÖyou just want to have this girl and heís the one doing the difficult thing and sometimes the thing that doesnít seem pleasant or totally right or totally comfortable but itís right. And if itís the right thing based on the rules that we have set down, the reason the rules are there is that theyíre there to protect us from our own subjective prejudices and those are the things we have to follow. And itís really difficult to make those choices. But we have to make them. Thatís a strong argument and yet when youíre sitting there, at the end of the movie with the choice that heís made, itís profoundly ugly and disturbing. So the idea was to try and set both those things up as strongly as I could and build both arguments as strongly as possible so that they would be at loggerheads with one another because I thought it was a coming of age movie, not like American Pie like losing your virginity kind of movieÖthat coming of age kind of movie. Iím not disparaging American Pie but that level of age of teen or early 20s. Real coming of age meaning like you become an adult is like 30 I think because itís around the time you discover that the decisions you make in life have lasting, real consequences and that you never really know if youíre right or wrong. That there is no answer, there is no end of the book to turn to tell you Oh, actually I made a mistake there. And oftentimes those decisions have real consequences, not only for yourself but for other people. At the end of the day all you can do is live with them and try to be at peace with them.
I just wanted to ask you if had any Project Greenlight like moment in there where it was one of those things in terms of first time director. Obviously youíve been exposed more than people that were there, but just kind of like having a momentÖ
Ben Affleck: They did tell me that I was running out of film at one point (laughs). I was shooting too much film and I was running out of film. I was like Whereís the film store? Is there a place that is selling film. They were like the film store is in New York City. I was like well, someone go to the film storeÖwe got into like whereís the film store discussion. But actually in truth they were just kind of manipulating me.