September 26, 2016

Ben Affleck talks “Argo,” Kevin Smith fans, and more Lehane stories – OSCARS


By Sean O’Connell
Hollywoodnews.com: Some of us are still getting used to talking about Ben Affleck, The Director.

Most of us grew up watching Ben Affleck, The Marquee Star. Ever since the fresh-faced Bostonian shocked the world (or, at the very least, the film industry) by winning an Oscar for his first screenplay of “Good Will Hunting,” Affleck has been an integral part of the Hollywood scene. Mostly, he was carrying popcorn blockbusters such as Daredevil or Armageddon. He earned indie cred collaborating with Kevin Smith on Chasing Amy, then fell victim to a string of poor acting choices that resulted in “Gigli,” “Paycheck” and “Surviving Christmas.”

In 2007, Affleck reinvented himself. He cast a fantastic ensemble for his adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s moody detective thriller “Gone Baby Gone.” Critics and audiences raved. Affleck followed that with “The Town,” an equally tough-talking Boston gang drama. It was as good, if not better, then his debut film.

The streak continues as Affleck directs “Argo,” a true-life hostage thriller centered on an unusual plan to abstract U.S. embassy workers from a hostile situation in Iran. Once again, Affleck assembles a top-notch ensemble that includes himself, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan and the great Bryan Cranston (who we spoke with here).

If you need any more indication as to the power of Affleck’s cast, “Argo” is receiving this year’s “Hollywood Ensemble Acting Award” at the Hollywood Film Awards.

Affleck recently sat down with us to discuss his short but impressive directing career, the elements that drew him to “Argo,” and the possibility of him returning to Lehane’s franchise.

I was in the balcony of the Roy Thompson Hall for the film’s premiere. You were introduced, and a guy sitting near me shouts, “Affleck, you da bomb in Phantoms, yo!” And I thought, “Even here.”

[Laughs] Kevin Smith fans are everywhere.

But at least they are following you, right?

Yes, that’s right! You know, that line, which I actually I gave it to Jason Mewes and he then said … I always know the guy in the room who is the Kevin Smith fan.

Tell me something you learned on their previous films that really came in handy on “Argo,” where you thought, “Thank goodness I’ve seen that already.”

I think, on some level, the basic thing I learned on the previous two films is just that everything is going to be OK. We’re going to get through it. Sometimes you get this nervous anxiety. I mean, I’m looking at this movie, and it’s a thriller, a nail-biter, an action movie, a comedy and a spy story. How am I ever going to get this stuff to integrate. And I learned how to have the confidence to put one foot in front of the other and follow through.

Were you studying various heist films? “Argo” seems to mirror some of those storytelling techniques.

There’s definitely that aspect of tension, and building tension throughout the movie. And it does come from the heist genre, because you continue to tighten the vice around the protagonist as they are getting closer and closer to whatever their goal is.

Now when you hear a story that’s pitched to you, how soon in the process do you begin to visualize certain scenes and think, “This is how I’d love to do this.”

Well, if a story is pitched to me, I either wait to be interested in it or I’m not. And I’m usually not, for whatever reason. But when I do hear something that’s exciting, yeah, right away, I start thinking, “This will look good. That might be cool. We could do a shot from over here.” And that’s when I know it’s something that might mesh up with my interests.

What scene in “Argo” were you most excited to capture?

I wanted to do the takeover of the embassy, the exteriors in the streets with thousands of people. I wanted to create that environment of chaos and fear, the and the feeling of being trapped inside some building with, like, a thousand people outside who you think want to kill you.

You also have this incredible gift for casting. It started with Amy Ryan for “Gone Baby Gone,” which also had Ed Harris, Morgan Freeman, Michelle Monaghan and your brother, Casey. It continued with “The Town,” and now with “Argo.” What do you look for in a collaborator when you are casting?

The advantage of being an actor is that you appreciate other actors. I’ve always focused on actors. I’ve always loved actors. I’ve always watched movies with an eye to even the littlest of moments to an actor’s performance. And so it has become the one thing I feel most confident about, because I just know how much I like other actors and acting. And you know, if you are a carpenter, you’re probably able to recognize better carpentry. The other stuff can be a little bit harder. It usually takes more work.

I was a fan of Lehane’s novels before you tackled “Gone Baby Gone.” Do you think you might ever go back to those characters of Patrick and Angie. There’s a franchise there.

You know, it’s quite possible. You know he has a new book coming out?

Yes, and he actually wrote a sequel to “Gone Baby Gone.”

That’s right. “Moonlight Mile.”

And with that mysterious confession, Affleck was gone. But his movie opens everywhere on Friday, Oct. 12.

Read more of our exclusive Awards coverage:
Our “Silver Linings Playbook” review
Ben Affleck tells us about his ensembles
Bryan Cranston calls “Argo” his “proudest moment in motion pictures.”
Amy Adams lends strength to “The Master”
Producer Harvey Weinstein

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About Sean O'Connell

Sean O'Connell is a nationally recognized film critic. His reviews have been published in print ('The Washington Post,' 'USA Today') and online (AMC FilmCritic.com, MSN's Citysearch) since 1996. He's a weekly contributor to several national radio programs. He is a longstanding member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Southeastern Film Critics View all articles by Sean O'Connell Association (SEFCA).

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