Ben Affleck. Unfortunately, backward reels the mind. Capt. Rafe in "Pearl Harbor. " A role which will live in infamy. Then "Gigli. " Ouch Ouch. Then...
LOS ANGELES — Ben Affleck. Unfortunately, backward reels the mind. Capt. Rafe in “Pearl Harbor.” A role which will live in infamy. Then “Gigli.” Ouch. Then “Surviving Christmas.” One of his last movies, “Man About Town,” wasn’t even released in theaters.
So it is with genuine feeling, and relief, that we can announce that Ben Affleck has successfully directed his first movie, starring his brother, and … people are respecting it.
“A thoughtful, deeply poignant, splendidly executed film,” says the Hollywood Reporter.
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Here comes director Ben Affleck now, ambling down the hallway of the hotel with his brother, the actor Casey Affleck, by his side. Casey works hard — beside Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris — in the gritty Boston detective thriller about a missing child, “Gone Baby Gone,” which opened Friday. (Casey also appears opposite Brad Pitt in “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.”)
The brothers take up their positions on a couch. Ben is dressed in a fantastically starched shirt. With his studio-white teeth and the manicured blue shadow of beard, he appears almost airbrushed. He looks adult, alert, suspicious. As opposed to Casey, who is a furniture sprawler. He’s married to Joaquin Phoenix’s sister Summer. He’s a PETA vegan. He looks as if he had just tumbled out of a laundry basket, canvas blazer over rumpled white shirt, which is how successful young Hollywood actors look.
The brothers on the couch are three years apart — Ben 35 and Casey 32 — so Casey was a freshman when Ben was a senior at Cambridge Rindge & Latin School, the school for smart kids in Boston.
“Tag, football in the street, Little League, basketball,” Ben says. Message: normalcy. “We ran around and we rode our bikes. Our mom was a teacher, teaches fifth grade, still teaches; she’s retiring next year. Same school. Our dad moved out. So we were a single-parent situation, single income, whatever you call it, and we went to public school and we had a fairly typical Boston kid life.”
They lived in Central Square, which is just one stop on the T but a world away from Harvard, where their father worked as a janitor for a while. He had a drinking problem. All these threads of the Affleck family biography were widely disseminated 10 years ago during the successful Oscar campaign for “Good Will Hunting,” which won the Academy Award for screenwriting for Ben and Matt Damon. Casey also appeared in the film, as Morgan O’Mally, the foul-mouthed little mook.
“Our mother’s best friend in town was a local casting director,” Casey says. That would be Patty Collins. “We would get brought in to be extras or go on local commercials. That was my introduction to it. That’s how I first remember knowing what an actor was. I played baseball until I was 15, but I wasn’t good enough, really, so it was more appealing to go do summer musical that year, which was me and 19 girls. That was the first time I did theater. We had this amazing theater teacher who inspired everyone, and people fell in love with him, and anybody who had him wanted to be an actor. I dunno. Maybe it was the same for Ben and Matt, too.”
The drama teacher was Gerry Speca. Ben thanked him from the stage on Oscar night in 1998. He also put him in a scene at the end of “Gone Baby Gone,” which is based on a novel by Dennis Lehane, the same guy who wrote “Mystic River,” which also became a movie, directed by Clint Eastwood, which won Academy Awards for Sean Penn and Tim Robbins.
Ben remembers he read “Gone Baby Gone” in 2002 or 2003. That would be back in the Jennifer Lopez time, when things got a little weird. Ben thought the book might be adapted into a movie for him to act in. He began to very slowly write the screenplay with Aaron Stockard.
“Then I thought I might direct it, and if I directed it, I definitely didn’t want to be in it,” says Ben. “I was looking at the story and something was bothering me.” The private eye in Dorchester, the tough-guy character Patrick Kenzie, was 40 years old in the script. “I didn’t like the age he was. I couldn’t find anybody to do the movie. What if he was younger? It made the movie better because it gave the guy some stakes.”
Meaning stakes how?
“When something bad happens to you when you’re 40, you get scarred,” says Ben. “When something bad happens to you when you’re 30, it changes your life. And as soon as I made the guy 30, I knew, like, this amazing actor who knew Boston, who I could get to, get a script to, who I could reach, and all of a sudden, things came into view. This is it. It’s got to be Casey. This is the best person to play this part. By far. And I just happen to be lucky enough to know that because other people didn’t understand that, because other people weren’t exposed to him and his work the way I was.”
Because people might forget that Casey and Ben have appeared together in not only “Good Will Hunting” but “Chasing Amy” and “200 Cigarettes,” and that Casey and Damon have been together in the “Ocean’s” franchise, Nos. 11 through 13.
Did the studio, did the money people ever say, umm, we don’t think it’s such a genius idea to cast your brother, who’s never been a leading man, in your first movie? Casey is sitting there, politely, listening to this. Ben is nodding. “Yeah,” he says, “I figured … there would be eye-rolling. Because I know Casey is so talented, but he’s been having that Catch-22 problem. That he’s not a star because he can’t be a star if he can’t get the job to be a star. I know he’s had that struggle. But they trusted me, so I didn’t even have to give my speech.”
And what was it like to work with your brother as the director? “One of the things Ben does as a director is listen to other people’s ideas and take the best and leave the rest. He’s not territorial, a mistake I’ve seen other directors make, I guess, because they feel insecure about their position. … “
Ben interrupts. “In terms of directing Casey, it was just providing him with the best opportunity he could to succeed.”
Casey says this directing gig is harder than it looks. “It seems like a job of corralling,” he says. “Where you have all these stubborn dumb cows, whatever, and you got to get them all in the same place.” He moos. The Affleck brothers laugh. “But he’s managed to corral some pretty big cows.”