From Shakespeare in Love to Zack Snyder’s Justice League, Ben Affleck has proven himself to be one of the more committed actors of his generation. And although it was his role as a director on Argo that caught everyone’s attention, Affleck was also excellent with his crash-and-burn approach to Tony Mendez, the CIA operative who managed to hurdle six American diplomats out of Iran at a time of great conflict.
Affleck is a two time Oscar winner, although neither of his gongs was won for acting. His first was for co-writing Good Will Hunting with Matt Damon, and the second was for Argo, a war drama that won Best Picture, although inexplicably, Affleck was not nominated as a director. Joining him onstage was George Clooney, another actor turned director, who was proud of his friend and colleague.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Damon highlights how he was known as the “serious guy”, and Affleck gained notice as the “big movie guy”. In their shared interview, both men state that it was the work, not the critical notices, that ultimately counted for them.
It’s not an interview between two working professionals, but a conversation between two old friends who can scarcely believe their luck in life. Reminiscing about old times, they recall the opportunities Kevin Smith gifted them, although Affleck recalls the embarrassment he felt when he forgot to thank the creator of Clerks when he won his first Oscar.
During the conversation, they recall the times they spent with Robin Williams, the precociously talented actor who was as much a mentor as he was a fellow colleague. In one emotional address, Affleck remembers the influence Williams had on him, revealing: “God, he was a wonderful guy. And funny! It was the first time I ever got to hang out with somebody that talented and that famous. I remember walking down the street in Boston with him, he had done Good Morning, Vietnam and Awakenings and Fisher King and all that. And all everybody in Boston would say was, ‘Nanu, Nanu’.”
Williams died in 2014. It’s impossible to speculate whether or not he would have worked with Affleck again, but it’s tempting to imagine that he could have played the part of the nefarious Chief Irving Figgis in Live By Night, which was played by Chris Cooper in the end.
Affleck’s fourth feature as a director, the film was incidentally the last he has steered behind the camera. He was set to direct a solo Batman film, although he ultimately pulled out of that one, and handed over the reins to Matt Reeves. Shortly afterwards, Affleck left the series entirely, although he is set to appear in the upcoming film, The Flash.
Affleck and Damon co-wrote the screenplay for The Last Duel, a film directed by Alien/Blade Runner creator, Ridley Scott. More recently, Affleck played the part of a lowly bartender, who doubles as a surrogate father to a vulnerable boy on the cusp of greatness with his writing. In what is arguably his most nuanced role yet, Affleck plays the part of a teacher, demonstrating the many avenues that can open around an aspirational individual, and although he hasn’t said it as such in words, it might be his tribute to Williams, the consummate professional who encouraged Affleck to continue down his chosen path.
In another telling moment during the interview, Affleck credits Damon with his decision to leave the Batman cowl behind him for projects that were nearer and dearer to his heart. “I want to do the things that would bring me joy,” he says. “Then we went and did Last Duel and I had fun every day on this movie. I wasn’t the star, I wasn’t likeable. I was a villain. I wasn’t all the things I thought I was supposed to be when I started out and yet it was a wonderful experience. And it was all just stuff that came along that I wasn’t chasing.”
Affleck may not be chasing exposure and recognition, but he’s earned it, and then some. And hopefully, one day, he will put the third Oscar beside the other two gongs, but this one will be aimed at his acting abilities, rather than his work as an overall creative thinker.
Stream the trailer for The Tender Bar below.