For Playboy‘s 60th anniversary issue, the magazine needed an iconic subject for the Playboy Interview, and I hit the lottery. I got to talk with actor-writer-director-producer Ben Affleck about his life and the remarkable second act that he wrote for himself as writer-director of Gone Baby Gone and The Town, which culminated in the Best Picture Oscar for Argo. Naturally, the first topic on the menu was his surprise decision to become the latest in a long line of actors to play the Caped Crusader in Batman Vs. Superman. At the time we met, Affleck was watching as the Internet exploded negatively to his Bat-candidacy. Having weathered career hardship before and come back stronger for it, Affleck was unconcerned by the Bat-zealots who actually started online petitions against him.
Affleck told me that he initially turned down the Bat-overture, but his home studio Warner Bros implored him to see what Man Of Steel helmer Zack Snyder was cooking up. “The stuff was incredible,” Affleck told me. “It was a unique take on Batman that was still consistent with the mythology. It made me excited. All of a sudden I had a reading of the character. When people see it, it will make more sense than it does now or even than it did to me initially. … If I thought the result would be another Daredevil, I’d be out there picketing myself. Why would I make the movie if I didn’t think it was going to be good and that I could be good in it?”
As to how his Caped Crusader will differ from past incarnations, particularly Christian Bale’s portrayal, Affleck said, “The idea for the new Batman is to redefine him in a way that doesn’t compete with the Bale and Chris Nolan Batman but still exists within the Batman canon. It will be an older and wiser version, particularly as he relates to Henry Cavill’s Superman character.” It is Affleck’s second superhero turn after Daredevil, and it is clear the missed opportunity on that film had a lot to do with him taking this job. He said that Daredevil was the only movie in his entire career that he regretted. “It just kills me,” Affleck said. “I love that story, that character, and the fact that it got fucked up the way it did stays with me. Maybe that’s part of the motivation to do Batman.”
Of Affleck’s Argo Oscar earlier this year, he said he felt validation for “plenty of moments when I didn’t know where I was going to end up. I had been kicked around some and maybe left for dead. I’m not a great believer in awards and the idea that some movie is best, because it’s subjective. But standing there at the Academy Awards eased some of the pain and frustration I’d been carrying. I loved movies and felt I knew how to make good ones and had something to offer, but there was a time when I wasn’t sure I would be invited to try anymore.”
That was a world of different from Affleck’s remembrance of the time he and his baby-faced Good Will Hunting writing partner Matt Damon took the stage to collect their scripting Oscars. I thought his stream-of-consciousness rant was the funniest thing in our interview. “We go down the red carpet and see all these journalists from TV,” Affleck recalled. “We’re starstruck. Holy shit, is that Roger Ebert? I see Dustin Hoffman, and he says, ‘You know, I did theater with your father.’ … When [my father] said he knew Dustin Hoffman, I thought he was bullshitting. And there I am at the Oscars and Hoffman brings it up. … So now I’m re-evaluating my whole relationship with my father as we’re walking inside. Every star you could ever imagine — there’s Jack Nicholson. It was Titanic’s year, and there’s James Cameron. We sat down, close to the front of the stage. Billy Crystal comes out, starts this song, and it’s ‘Matt and Ben, Ben and Matt.” It was like walking through the fourth wall of your television into a weird dream, one where I’m at the Oscars and Billy Crystal is singing to me and … never mind … I remember turning to James Cameron. I had never seen him before and don’t think I’ve spoken to him before and don’t think I’ve spoken to him since, but I’m overly relaxed and caught up. I go, ‘Hey, how’s it going, Jim?’ I remember he kind of looked at me. I say, ‘Don’t you think it would be cool if you knew how many votes each movie got?’ He looks at me like: ‘What the fuck is this kid talking about? Why is this kid talking to me? And why is he talking about the vote? I sat down. I’m thinking, ‘Shit, I just made an idiot out of myself with James Cameron. I’ll never be in one of his movies.’ … They read off our names. I’ll never forget the first thought I had — that I hadn’t given one second of thought to what I might say. You are an idiot. You come to the Academy Awards and didn’t prepare anything, not even secretly in your mind.”
Apparently, he wasn’t alone, and Damon here showed the benefit of that time he spent in Harvard. “Matt said, ‘Go ahead, talk first.’ Only later did I realize his show of graciousness was designed to give him a minute to prepare what he was going to say. I mumbled a bunch of stupid things. I thanked Boston twice. Probably once would have been enough. We’d won the Golden Globe, but I think the only other thing I’d ever won was some Little League trophies when I was 12. I look back on the whole thing ruefully. I had no perspective. I thanked Cuba Gooding Jr. — by now I was just saying stuff. We high-fived everybody. I hugged Denzel Washington as we were coming offstage and he was going on. Why did I hug Denzel Washington? Maybe he didn’t want to be hugged by me, a stranger. I felt like such an idiot afterward, but I have to say, we had a lot of fun that night.”
Here’s the link to our interview, and here’s the reality of Ben and Matt’s Oscar speech: