— LOS ANGELES - Ben Affleck might be making all the wrong moves in his new film “State of Play,” but in real life, he’s been making all the right choices concerning his career.
After a more than two-year hiatus from acting, the Oscar-winning screenwriter is once again stepping in front of the camera, playing an ambitious Kennedy-esque congressman who bumps heads with a Washington, D.C., newspaper reporter (Russell Crowe), who also happens to be his college roommate. This political whodunit thriller, which hits theaters April 17, resurrects the sexual scandal involving former U.S. Congressman Gary Condit, and the more recent affairs affecting the political careers of ex-New York governor Elliott Spitzer and former vice-presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards.
Additionally, it explores the divide between traditional reporting and blogging. Affleck, who thinks the future of daily newspapers is “dire,” thinks that blogging has made the mainstream press “much more nervous.
“I think this will be the last movie that is set in a newspaper,” he said. “I don’t know how this movie will be perceived, but I do believe that people will look back and say that this movie came out right around the time that the Internet destroyed newspapers.”
No plans for a political career
Affleck's character, Rep. Stephen Collins, is a guy who is likely to blame both for his downfall. And he’s a guy that Affleck, an Obama supporter who is very active on the political scene, felt was very right to play at this point in his ever-evolving life.
“What’s really interesting to me is that this guy is a hero,” Affleck said. “He’s a hero in his own mind, he takes actions that are heroic to him every day. That’s how he sees himself and how he lives. To try to find a place where the guy really was a good person and really did find himself in a place where he had done things that were not good was a hard thing to do and a real challenge.”
But don’t get it twisted. Although Affleck had a blast researching the role on Capitol Hill, and enjoyed having “the power in my hand” for a moment, he’s not about to give up his day job to run for political office.
“I really like my job that I have now,” Affleck said. “Plus, in politics, unlike Hollywood where you only have to have one director to hire you — you have to have a lot of people vote for you. It’s harder work. But I’m 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 every day — or more engaged.”
As articulate as he is, Affleck, who recently appeared in the romantic comedy hit “He’s Just Not That Into You,” was unable to fully express what has caused his priorities to shift. Certainly his growing family with actress Jennifer Garner is a factor — she gave birth to the couple's second daughter in January. But perhaps it's just that, at 36, he’s getting older and wiser.
“As I’ve gone along, I’ve gotten comfortable with the things that are important to me and what I don’t need to do,” he said. “I don’t worry about making choices that I hope that will appeal to certain externalities. (I don’t believe) like this movie has got to work in this way or make X amount of money in order to keep me at X place in the career.”
Hopes to re-team with Matt Damon
Although acting appears to be something that Affleck still enjoys — he’ll next appear in “Extract” with Jason Bateman — it seems that his passion for the film industry is fueled more these days by directing and writing. Affleck made his directorial debut in 2007 with the crime thriller “Gone Baby Gone,” and will soon step behind the camera again to helm “Town.” Both films are set in Boston, the city in which he grew up. This project, however, is a little more daunting than the first, since Affleck will be acting in the film as well.
“I’m excited,” he said. “Nervous but excited. ‘Town’ is the title I’m using now but I’m not sure it will still be that. But it’s based on a book called ‘Prince of Thieves’ by a guy named Chuck Hogan. There’s this neighborhood in Boston called Charlestown where there are more robbers per capita than anywhere else in the world. It’s about this group of guys that rob a bank and an armored car. It’s very realistic.”
But while directing provides a real rush, the process — budgeting, shot selection, wrangling talent — also causes him some anxiety. That’s one of the reasons why he was happy to wear his thespian hat again. “It was a relief not to worry about everything all the time,” he said. “If something went wrong I had to remind myself that it wasn’t my responsibility. I could just go to the trailer and listen to music and call people.”
Affleck does admit, however, that directing helps inform his creative process as an actor and he’s hoping to have the opportunity to do both again when he and Matt Damon, his “Good Will Hunting” collaborator and friend re-team sometime in the near future. The two haven’t appeared onscreen together as lead players since 1999’s “Dogma.”
Trying to find the time to do something, however, has been challenging. Damon is currently shooting Clint Eastwood’s “Mandela” film in South Africa and will then begin work on the fourth “Bourne” film.
“Supposedly we’ll do this thing next year and I think we will,” Affleck said. “Matt is always pretty busy but he’s claiming that he’s going to try and slow it down a little bit. We haven’t said what it is. It’s just a movie that we’re doing together. I think it’ll be good, I think it will be right.”