June 2002
The Chosen One : An Interview with Ben Affleck

Interviewed by Wilson Morales

The Chosen One : An Interview with Ben Affleck

Itís never easy being the guy whoís taking over the role made famous by two others. After proving he can handle the pressure of being the lead in big budgeted films like Pearl Harbor, Ben Affleck has the heavy task of being the new Jack Ryan from the books written by Tom Clancy. He carries the burden of replacing the great Harrison Ford, who replaced Alec Baldwin. In an interview with blackfilm.com, Ben talked about his feelings towards The Sum of All Fears.

WM: Do you have any second thoughts with this film post 9/11?

BA: We probably wouldnít have made this movie after September 11 for the May release, but in a way, but I am glad we did make it before; and I think that because the attack (in the film) is presented in what I feel and shot in a way that is not only non exploitive, I but kind of I find the way that Phil did it to have been like eerily prescient in terms of the way that the media would cover an event like that and how we as citizens would receive the accounts of that event. And, its thereís no doubt in my mind that it changed the outlook entirely. We made an escapist kind of political thriller that we wanted to imbue with some humanity and some realism and that was meant to be, to raise some alarms a little bit as regards kind of the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Something Clancy was very concerned about in 1991 when he wrote the book. And, not only that but the degree to which those weapons from the former Soviet Union are being monitored and safeguarded and watched over. Not just the materials, but the expertise, which is in the people who have the training to build and detonate nuclear weapons. Thatís good thatís good. So, I think those concerns are still valid, if not more valid than ever and itís a hard thing because I still think the movie is entertainment. But I donít consider the entertainment has to by definition be fluffy or mindless or stupid. I think the entertainment is the essence of drama. This movie went from being a spy thriller with some kind of undertones of a warning or alarm about a situation or state of the world to being a drama. To being something that plays differently, and in fact, affects audiences differently and is a result of a seismic shift in the perspective of the entire audience in the whole country that happened on one day and itís a sort of remarkable strange thing to have the whole world changed in a day. Itís in a perspective that we are all still living with and dealing with and I certainly donít pretend to know what everybodyís ready for, whatís appropriate or what the right thing is. I know that in test screenings and showing the movie to audiences and they have screened it quite a bit, there has been less than 1% of the people who have said that they were really upset by it or really objected to it. Itís a small statistical sample, but I think significant enough to suggest that weíre not going to go out there and wholesale offends everybody. We wouldnít want to do that if that were the case.

WM: What have you heard about the reactions to the film?

BA: I think there have been screenings in the East Coast as well, but the media screenings were for magazine editors and so forth. But they did not do energy research cards on the East Coast. Look, Iím from the East Coast I was in New York. I live in New York; I live eight blocks from the World Trade Center. I donít underestimate the impact and the legacy that incident has on people. And that there may be people whom find that objectionable. If you are still really feeling raw and sore about this you shouldnít go see this movie.

WM: Do you think the East Coast, specifically New Yorkers, will be more affected than the West Coast?

BA: I donít really know. Thatís one of those unanswerable questions. Everybody has to gage their own degree of trauma and how much it bothered them. I canít say that if you are bothered by September 11 and you live in Sedona, Arizona or NewMexico or wherever that is, that you canít thatís invalid. That your trauma is like well, címon, get over it, you werenít in New York, well I was closer, Well, I lived eight blocks away, well, I lived ten blocks away. Well, my cousinís sister died there, well my father died there; I donít think itís a competition about how traumatized people were, I think people were deeply moved and affected and traumatized. Not only in this country. I think this was the single biggest terrorist attack against British citizens in history? I think a hundred and something-British people died. And I donít really, itís a minefield and itís a game I really donít want to get into about talking about who had more at stake or to lose or whatever. I think itís fair to say that everybody was affected by it. Some people more than others and that has to do with a lot of factors maybe geography, maybe proximity, maybe sensitivity. I donít really know. I know that itís conceivable that some people would find this disturbing. I mean everybody should find it disturbing. The fact that welive in a world now where you see something terrible happen in the movie, it should disturb you. Violence on movies and television should be disturbing. That should be the point of it. It shouldnít be done to make a big splash and have everybody oh and ah at countless thousands of deaths and that maybe one of the transitions weíve made is that we no longer look at that in such a flip way and this movie doesnít ask you to look at it in a flip way. This movie doesnít ask you to look at it asks you to look at it in a real way and to consider it and thereís a lot of issues to be considered and a lot of things some people. You know itís a divided country. Itís a big country for all people. Some people say that weíve moved on, weíve closed the door and weíre moving forward and some people really have it and theyíre still dismantling the INS and building it back up and only 2% of the ships that come into the United States are searched thereís a lot of debate whether we are adding money to the intelligence budget, to the defense budget. How are we going to do that? These debates are lively and important and substantive and ought to be had. Iím not going to pretend that we made this movie to contribute to those particulardebates after September 11, because we didnít anticipate it, nor could we have. But I can tell you that I wonít personally be sitting here or promoting the movie or being any way involved with it if I thought it was inappropriate. Or, if I thought it shouldnít be. And I absolutely respect your right to disagree with me. And thatís, if so, then you should say so.

WM: How did you get the part?

BA: Thereís a little bit of a funny way it works with agents. Is that your agent knows what goes around going and whatís going on, I didnít even know about it. But my agent knew that I loved the series and I loved the books and I think when he heard that Harrison Ford wasnít going to do it he called up and said whatís the story? Is it not going to be Harrison Ford? How is it going to work? And the first Iíve heard about it was him calling me and saying, ďtheyíre not going to do it with Harrison Ford, but theyíd be interested in talking to you about doing it. What do you think?Ē So I said boy, first of all itís very intimidating and I thought, Iím no Harrison Ford. Iím not just going to step in there and try to follow in those footsteps, thatís madness. You could only be disappointed people. Iím not that guy. Iím not the guy thatís worked in the CIA for 30 years and understands everything and got it all wired. I canít play that, but I love the books and Iíd love to do it if thereís a way that it can work. And when I sat down and talked to them they had a really interesting idea, which I immediately hooked into, which was that itís a contemporary story, but the guy is just starting off, heís just courting the woman heís going to marry heís just starting it off there, he doesnít have his just getting his feet wet. He doesnít know exactly what heís doing, He doesnít know how to dress right to come to work, heís a little over eager, he gets thrust into this situation. Youíre a young guy, why would be talking to the director, why would you be in the room with the President? What I thought was really interesting.

WM: Although you shot this film prior to 9/11, did you ever ponder the thought?

BA: Well, Iíll tell ya, this is nothing you could have predicted. But my brother was on Canal Street when September 11th happened and he was video taping outside his window. Thereís this big disaster and then you have panic and bedlam, it takes a day or two for people to erect guards and stop people and do that kind of stuff. I think initially, it just sort of panics, about people driving the wrong way up the street, some people still walking their dogs, and some people crying, itís like chaos and so. Iíve had my experience with going to the CIA and working with the CIA. We were sitting in the car at the airport and we were talking about research and stuff and a police officer came over finally told us what happened.

WM: With your buddy Matt (Damon), Gweneth Paltrow, and even Madonna in London doing stage work, is this something you might be interested in doing?

BA: Iíve did a lot of theatre before I ever got a job in acting in movies and television and then once I did I did less of that and that was to try to make a living and that was something that I was interested in. But my brother and Matt and I have done a ton of plays. Something I was definitely interested in doing. In fact I was talking to my agent about trying to do a one act a one act with Liev in NY sometime next year. Leivís one the smartest people I know.