Ben Affleck for “Bounce”

It wasn’t so long ago since Ben Affleck was just another up-and-comer. Much has changed since Paul ischer last met the Oscar winner at Sundance where he was flaunting Chasing Amy. Now, the big bucks star continues to fuel those pesky rumours about he and Gwyneth, as the pair team up in the Don Roos romantic drama Bounce. Paul Fischer talked to him in New York. Ben Affleck strides into the room with an air of boyish confidence. “I want to thank you all for coming here today”, he exclaims, arriving late but in buoyant spirits. Much can happen to an actor in so short a time. I remind Ben that the last time we met was at Sundance. There he was another face in the crowd, waiting for that big break. Little did we know — “Little did I know either, let me tell you. I’m sure if you did, you would have got a lot more incriminating pictures of me”, he adds laughingly.

Much has changed in those three years, and even the actor is surprised by it all. “I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t be surprised. I’m very fortunate and have certainly worked hard, keep on working hard and taking advantage of this. The other way is to sit back and say: FINALLY, the world recognises my genius,” he adds with a sizeable grin. But the world DID recognise his genius by bestowing on him an Oscar for writing, though as flattering as that statuette was, Affleck happily concedes that “there’s a danger in believing too much in your own PR. But I’ve had a wonderful run and am enjoying myself.”

Of late, that PR Affleck refers to is a girl called Gwyneth. The media loves a good piece of gos, but Affleck is not about to add any fuel to that particular flame. “I can tell you unequivocally that Gwyneth and I are NOT going out. We’re not a COUPLE. We’re not an ITEM.” Now, it is easy for Ben to get a tad defensive on the subject. After all, there were those recent photos of him and Gwynnie hugging in Paris, no less. ” Look I’ve said this is before: I care about her enormously, as those damn pictures will tell you,” But Affleck just loves to hug, he insists. His latest movie, Bounce, has naturally reignited those rumours. Bounce is a romantic drama, in which Paltrow plays Abby Janello, the young widow of a plane crash victim.

Living a lonely life outside L.A., Abby is swept off her feet when she meets Buddy Amaral (Affleck), a successful advertising executive. However, when Buddy reveals that he once gave up his seat on a plane that later crashed, the two realize that they have a deeper connection. “I think it’s my favourite so far”, Affleck says. “I loved its humanity and the journey my character embarks on. It was a great challenge for me.” Given the kinds of big Hollywood films Affleck has done of late (and still doing), he relished the honesty of this script, he says. “To me, the movie is about people who are flawed, which means every day, normal people, who are complicated, contradictory and unusual. That was interesting to me.” It was a character with whom the actor could identify. “I could certainly identify with a sense of not liking every part of yourself and allowing those feelings to manifest themselves in behaviour that later on you weren’t proud of and allowing that to spiral.” Affleck adds that he could “also identify with the struggle for self-improvement or to find love.” Asked to try and define his own flaws, “there just isn’t the time.” But the actor does admit to being “a bit overeager, anxious, pensive. I tend to be myopic and tend to get too wrapped up in what I’m thinking, and I sometimes want to over-explain and think things or sometimes I don’t explain things ENOUGH. Sometimes I can be too generous and too selfish.”

As an academy award winning screenwriter, there must have been some temptation for the actor to throw his own 2c worth. “I didn’t even do much adlibbing on this, actually,” the actor responds. ” Affleck’s character is something of a heavy drinker, borderline alcoholic you might say, but he didn’t need to very far for research, the actor admits. “I found it valuable to talk to Don [Roos] about his personal experiences as a recovering alcoholic and his life. I think that’s where he was writing from and I realised very quickly that was a much more direct route, than going to AA meetings.”

Affleck not only loved the part, and could relate to the movie’s broad themes, but working with writer/director Don Roos was a great experience, in that co-star Paltrow often complained at getting the short stick in THIS shoot. “Let me tell you, as a male actor, the secret to life is working with a gay director,” he says emphatically. “I just can’t stress it enough. I’m never going back.” No wonder Paltrow complained that from her perspective, it was like being invisible. “Now you know how I feel,” he adds dryly. “The character was so well drawn that it wasn’t necessary to add anything, and that was good for me, I think.”

The actor has gone from Bounce to the mega-budgeted Pearl Harbor, rumoured as being the most expensive film of all time. “But because we came in under budget, it worked out to be a less expensive film than Titanic.” Affleck, who can command around $15m a film, did Pearl Harbor for nothing. “We all did, because it was not only a great script, but we had a responsibility to tell the stories of these men and women who died for freedom. We all wanted to do it right. I’ll only make money if the film makes money.”

Affleck is also busy preparing to step into the shoes of Jack Ryan, and is providing the voice of Joseph in the straight-to-video flick, Joseph King of Dreams. In between all of that, Affleck still has to fight those tabloid rumours. If it’s not Gwyneth, it’s Carrie Fisher?

“I fell in love with her when I first saw her in the first Star Wars”, he recalls. No wonder he is thrilled with reports of a romance. “They used this word ‘canoodling’ on a TV show where this whole thing started from. I don’t know what it means exactly, but it’s great. Carrie is very nice and I’ll gladly canoodle with her. But the truth is she was trying to fix me up with her daughter who’s about eight.” Affleck admits he has to laugh at his reported romances – otherwise he’d be crazy thinking about the press’ perception of him. He adds, “I’ve been linked with Britney Spears and now Carrie – I can’t tell if I’ve got a Lolita complex or an Oedipus complex.”