After a relatively quiet last few years, Ben Affleck comes back in a big way in the noir mystery drama “Hollywoodland”. The film follows the real life scandal in 1959 when TV’s Superman, actor George Reeves, apparently committed suicide.
The Oscar-winning writer has been criticised for many years as being a pretty boy actor, one who is more notable for his looks than his talent. Now at last it looks like he has proven them wrong with a performance that is receiving acclaim for all sectors. He recently sat down with us to talk about his work on the film:
Question: Kevin Smith told us that you were keeping a low profile. What will getting back in the spotlight entail?
Affleck: You see how successful I am. It’s just more about [that] I didn’t do some movies for a while. I wanted to sort of take a break and keep things quiet and I kind of made the decision to just do the kind of movies that I really like to be in and that I can be proud of being in and not work for money or work to be famous or any of that stuff. I got really lucky that the first movie I did in that period was this one, which turned out really well, actually. I mean, I’m really proud of it anyway. I really like it. To work on this script and work with these extraordinary actors and work with this wonderful director and it feels great. It’s great to be up here talking about a movie that I’m really proud of. It’s a really nice feeling.
Question: Ben, you’re playing a real person. Can you talk about that and how you see George Reeves and why you wanted to play him?
Affleck: Obviously, yeah, George Reeves was an iconic guy because of who he played and that was, in some ways, tragic for him. And that very tragedy and kind of paradox – in the sense that he got the thing that he wished for and ultimately it was very destructive – is part of what makes the story so good and part of what makes the character so good. The onus was on me and on Allen [Coulter, the director] and on the writers to be consistent with who the guy really is, because there is a kind of a burden and a responsibility and I think even moreso because I think of George as a guy who never really got a fair shake. And so I thought it would be the least we could do here to give him his fair shake, finally, that he kind of didn’t get in his career or following his death. So I researched it pretty meticulously and there was a tremendous amount of research that had been done before I came on that I was a beneficiary of in terms of the screenplay and Allen and the producers and what they’d done. So I was keyed in to where to look and who to talk to and I wanted to play his as authentically as possible. And fortunately he left behind a body of work that I could look at and watch. I saw all 104 episodes of the television show – 52 in color, 52 in black-and-white. And then So Proudly We Hail!, this movie he did with Claudette Colbert. He had other work. Obviously he was in the beginning of Gone With the Wind. There’s stuff available so that was a great help to me. But to not belabor the point, yes, I really wanted to try to treat him fairly and you benefit from a whole wealth of information to draw upon. If I screw that up, I really have no excuse.
Question: Were you attracted to Hollywoodland because there was the ability to tell the true story about somebody in Hollywood who was misunderstood?
Affleck: I was attracted to the project because of Allen and because of the screenplay and because of the actors I was going to get a chance to work with and because the story itself was pretty great. The way that I got into looking at the character, I think that I identify with him for, among other things, this idea of feeling like you were someone other than who the outside world saw you as, the injuries that he sustained, in some ways, from that. There’s a lot just about him that he went through and dealt with as a person that I think a lot of people could identify with. I think he was an interesting guy who thoroughly lived his life and that offered a lot of entrees to understanding him and it was a pretty rich character.
Question: This movie is about your life in Hollywood not really going the way you planned. Could you talk about having those moments in your own Hollywood life?
Affleck: There’s a line where he says like, ‘Should have been enough for a life,’ what George Reeves had. For me, it’s about the condition of humanity, whereby it’s never really enough, that feeling, that ambition that drives you to achieve and people to invent rockets and to build machines and the industrial age and also keeps us perpetually kind of dissatisfied. That sort of grass-is-greener thing and that those two things that at once propel, at the same time frustrate and stifle us and trying to live and manage those two things. It’s really that contradiction, contrary impulses, that are universally human and that I think everyone can understand and that are really painfully. I’m like, ‘How is my life not living up to my dreams? If I just had this then I’d be happy.’ Getting that and finding out that’s not the thing. And I think that’s really at the root of the thing, for me. I think it really kind of transcends Hollywood, although it’s a really good example of that kind of thing, because it’s to the extreme.
Question: Is Hollywood a little bit more forgiving today for a bad role and that kind of thing than it was back then? And secondly, do you think that this film will be impacted one way or the other by the release of Superman Returns earlier in the summer?
Affleck: I think Hollywood is really different now than it used to be. There were three networks, one kind of studio-approved magazine and some whistle-stop tours for stuff back then. It was a much more different thing. It had not become – for better or worse – the kind of cult of personality, culture of celebrity, kind of continual carnivorous, voracious machine of 15 outlets – How many of you guys are writing for the Internet? – the Internet, bloggers, gossip, every kind of… there’s just additional layer and layer and layers just because there’s people out there who are demanding that. So that is a really different facet – almost an immediate news cycle now and there’s more mouths to feed, so to speak. And also, there was a kind of, ironically, there was a certain polite distance then. You know what I mean? You’d be Rock Hudson, everybody knew you were gay, but it just didn’t get written about. That wouldn’t be how it would be now. It would be really different. I’m not sure exactly how it’d be if you were Rock Hudson … But even then, we interestingly highlighted the kind of beginning of that period, like he got in his car accident and none of the articles mentioned him by actual name. ‘Superman Crashes Car, Faints at Sight of Own Blood.’ ‘Man of Steel Blah Blah Blah.’ A kind of wry, sort of schadenfreude, slightly smug, detached putting down of people who are supposed to be elevated and that that practice of journalism – which none of you practice, I’m sure – has grown over the years, but I think that was the very first beginning of having idols who seemed bigger than everything and then the treat of it, the perverse thrill of it, was finding out that they weren’t really Supermen, that in fact they were human, and then seeing them be destroyed to prove it and then lamenting them and looking back on the good things they did.
Question: How has being a dad changed your life, and can you tell a little about the film you’re directing [Gone, Baby, Gone]?
Affleck: Sure, without going on for too long so as not to bore my fellow members of this panel. I love being a father, it’s wonderful. It’s changed my life. It all sounds like platitudes and clichés because they’re true. It fast became the most important thing in my life and I reorganized my priorities instantly in a way that feels really good. I love that. My wife is spectacular, a spectacular mother, spectacular everything, so that’s really nice.
Question: Can you give any advice to new parents?
Affleck: I am not the person to come to for advice. … I’ll tell you a quick anecdote. Two days ago my wife had to go to work. I was there. I was taking care of the baby. I was trying to make sure everything was going to be okay. She said, ‘Okay, I’m running out,’ she gave me the baby. She said, ‘Okay, you know how to feed her with the solid food?’ I said, ‘Yes, I know how to feed her.’ She said, ‘You take the peaches, you stir that up and you put that in with a little oatmeal and then put that in with a little bit of the crushed pears, and you mix that up,’ and then she looked at me and said, in all seriousness, ‘Is this too complicated?’ This is [what] my wife thinks of my parenting abilities. Clearly, I should not be offering advice to anyone else.
Question: Was it too complicated?
Affleck: Actually, it wasn’t too complicated, but the fact that she thought it might be speaks to something. What was the second part of your question? Directing. I was just telling Allen before this started that I had a wonderful time doing this movie, and I had the sense, there I was, and I thought really that the whole movie was about me and how I played George Reeves, and my work I was doing and the research that I was doing, my lines, and sometimes I would look at other actors … and basically that would be the movie. And then I directed my own movie, and then I didn’t know whether to thank Allen or apologize to him, because I realized the whole movie is actually about Allen, and what he’s done. And this is in my opinion a fine movie, it’s beautiful and it’s about something really real to me, and I think it’s evocative of something that’s resonant and that you can’t quite put your finger on. And I think that’s a testament to – I got to work with spectacular actors who are all sitting next to me, but Allen did a fabulous job, and I just now learned how exquisitely difficult that is, and I’ve just learned to appreciate it. He is spectacular as a director.
Question: What was it like directing your brother in Gone, Baby, Gone?
Affleck: Horrible. No, he’s great, he’s a good actor. I’ll be back I’m sure at some point [to talk about that film].
Question: Hollywoodland, as far as that period went, the audience was primarily interested in characters and not so much the actors’ personal lives, whereas today it seems the opposite. Has that made your job harder?
Affleck: That effort creates a genuineness that then seems like you’re invested in the genuineness of that trauma, of the character of Louis Simo, so then it stands to reason that whatever I read about Adrien [Brody, who plays Simo in Hollywoodland] additionally in his personal life I would also be interested in, because it’s sort of the same human drama, in fact it’s the same character, it’s the same face. You become kind of like an actor on a soap opera that you have no control over the script or the direction, you just look at the paper every day and you find out what you did on this week’s episode. Adrien’s also right in that the actual art of what he does, the actual beauty and the grace and what it take to do that, people kind of aren’t as interested in really. It is really interesting, but actually what happens is what everyone wants to know about is the other side. You know what I mean? You don’t want to see the sausage getting made, but you like to eat it. That’s sort of what’s interesting. And it’s a shame because I think actually the other stuff is much more interesting.