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March 2004
Jersey Girl: An Interview with Ben Affleck

Jersey Girl: An Interview with Ben Affleck

Ben Affleck has had his share of ups and downs in the film industry. He's had some financial successes with "Armageddon" and "The Sum of All Fears", but his good luck hit a snag last year with "Gigli" and "Paycheck". In "Gigli", he was paired with his then fiancée Jennifer Lopez and when that film tanked at the box office, it left a tough task for the marketing department of Miramax, who will be releasing his latest film, Jersey Girl, in which Jennifer briefly appears. Now that a lengthy amount of time has gone between the two films as well as the breakup, Ben is ready to capture the attention of everyone as he goes back to playing the type of character that got him noticed in the first place. In "Jersey Girl", Ben plays a music publicist who loses his wife and has to raise a daughter alone while struggling to reclaim the glory of working in a high profiled industry. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Ben talks about working with Will Smith, becoming a father one day, and the crazy year he's had so far, especially with the breakup with you know who.

How do you really feel about publicists?

BA: I actually have a great publicist. But people can sense that there is a certain type of hyperbole and double talk and spin going on in Hollywood and entertainment, as well as politics. It might merit punching that balloon with a pin a little bit. People are aware of the fact that they are sort of being lied to half the time. My publicist is a great guy and is not of the type that I play in this movie.

Were we being lied to by publicists half the time concerning you and Jennifer?

BA: I don't know about half the time. It's more complicated than lies. It's like an angle. An angle implies subjectivity, something that's equal to a number of different interpretations and trying to get the press to adopt the interpretation that you want them to adopt. I think you can look at it the same way in politics. President Bush is not very bright or is he a folksy just like you and me down home guy. Those are sort of two different interpretations of the same thing and each side will try to get you to embrace whatever way they want you to see it. I think it's rare that you're just stone cold lied to.

What was the biggest lie spun about you and Jennifer?

BA: I don't know there was any giant lie to it. There were many lies that were printed by the press that weren't spun by the publicist. There were things that I would read constantly, weekly that weren't true to the point where I had to stop because it was frustrating and there was nothing I could do about it. I think that's also part of this game that publicists play is that the press will pick up on whatever and run with the story. A lot of times the publicist will be the one telling the truth but it's a great story and the press will run with it. In terms of me and Jennifer the lies that I experienced were the ones printed in the tabloids.

In Jersey Girl you play a single father. What did you take from your own working father's way of raising you to play this character?

BA: Kevin (Smith, the director) has never met my Dad, I don't think, but whatever my Dad is, he's in many ways very similar to the character in this movie which is really weird. Mostly I was raised by my Mom, my Dad left when I was young. I was raised mostly in a single parent family. My relationship with my father is very similar to this relationship in the movie with my Dad (George Carlin) and he almost looks like George which is sort of weird. My relationship with him is quite good.

What about your feelings about becoming a father?

BA: For me fatherhood is a little bit more distant on the horizon but I have a lot of friends who are fathers and I think the thing I'd be most afraid of is repeating mistakes. I wouldn't want him to turn out like me. I don't know why it is but it's scary. My friends who have kids say it's scary and then you just kind of do it and do the best you can. It's definitely the step toward manhood and growing up.

What about becoming an uncle?

BA: Now I'm completely forgotten by my Mother and upstaged because she's having a grandchild. My brother (Casey) is going to have a baby (with his girlfriend Summer Phoenix) and it's great. I'm so off the hook. I'm off the hook like you read about. My brother is doing Oceans 12 with Matt (Damon) in Europe and so my nephew I guess is going to be like a dual citizen of Amsterdam and the United States which is scary.

Growing up in Massachusetts, do you get the whole New Jersey thing?

BA: I can identify with it in a weird way. I grew up in a more urban environment than the character in the movie. I can identify with this guy coming from a middle working class family. My Dad was a janitor and a bartender. He wasn't a sanitation worker like my father in the movie but probably the same pay scale. My mom was a teacher. Jersey represents a regular life whatever that may be (it could be in Queens) -- but it's not Manhattan where everyone's going and where it's all happening. In my real life Manhattan is sort of represented by Hollywood-- this fast lane. What I can identify with is trying to reconcile with "who am I?" "Am I this guy who is changed now because I went somewhere else from my neighborhood, (Cambridge, Massachusetts) and trying to find my own identity in the midst of those two different places?" I can also identify with trying to grab onto the golden ring, getting it, and then saying, "Well is this all there is to it?" There's a lot that I identify with. I really dig the message of the movie which is why I did it.

How do you decipher between the glamour of Hollywood and reality?

BA: It's a question that I face a lot and think about a lot particularly this last year. One of the things that's been nice in all this craziness that I've been through and this rollercoaster that has gone down for me, is that I can put things in perspective a little bit more. My career and that success or the approbation of a certain set of people is not the most important thing to me. I don't hinge the wagon of my identity to that particular horse so much. It is important to have a balance and to have a real actual substantive life that matters outside of those other things. It's just something to deal with and we'll see.

Did you have compassion for the seven-year-old girl who plays your daughter having acted as a child yourself?

BA: My memories are mixed. I'm ambivalent about child acting. I think it can be really destructive and it can be really bad for you. One of the things I see Raquel's (my daughter in the movie) mother doing and I think it's really encouraging, is maintaining a normal life as well. I wasn't on "Full House" or something so I didn't have to face some of these additional challenges but it ended up putting me in a position where my personality got sort of bifurcated into this overly precocious kid who tried to be adult and tried to take on more responsibility than he was capable of taking on. On the other hand was the part of my personality that was still a kid and rebelled against that and wanted to do immature things. One of the problems is I still feel that way! It wasn't necessarily totally helpful for me. I think if you can maintain a normal life its better. My mom made sure I went to school and I didn't have any more money to spend than anyone else (I wasn't making very much money as a child actor). I think I got over-worked sometimes, I got exploited sometimes but by the same token it provided with some opportunities that I hadn't had so it was complicated.

You have a very pivotal scene with Will Smith. What was it like working with him?

BA: I know Will. I've known him for awhile and I really like him. Will is one of those guys like Tom Hanks in that part of the reasons why he's so successful is he's just likeable. He is kind of who he is and he's so out there and funny. Will is kind of my boy so I called him up and asked me to do it. He showed up, he's totally good-natured, no pretense, no bullshit, and did the scene. He said to Kevin "well I actually know Will Smith and he wouldn't say that", so he got to add stuff that was really authentic. It was a joy for me and I definitely owe Will one in a big way. I told him if you want me to cut your lawn, whatever you need, wash the cars, give me a call.

Congratulations on your Razzie award.

BA: Did we sweep? I'm proud to tell you that this isn't the first time we swept. Pearl Harbor was heralded by the Razzies as well and they never sent me anything. I thought they'd send me a trophy or something. It's like the one award show and we didn't a little golden sack of grapes or whatever it's supposed to be so I feel stiffed and I think they've diminished their integrity.

What is it like to do just go through a crazy year and come out of it in one piece? What have you learned?

BA: First of all I was trying to be successful and everybody said "acting is so hard and you won't be able to make a living," "your father tried and it didn't work out for him," so I had to prove everybody wrong. I was going to be an actor, not an actor, personal trainer, nutritionist, masseur so I hustled so much to do that. That was my only goal was to be able to make a living so I could say to my mom and God, "see I did it" Then all this other stuff kind of happened with it and it becomes this momentum where a fear starts to seep in like, "what if something bad happens," "what if somebody hates my movie," "what if I have some public embarrassment to my personal life." Then all that happens in a month and it turns out that it's not the end of the world. It's just what it is. There was a time where in September there was a backlash against me and Jennifer with too much publicity and then Gigli and then we didn't get married. I went on Leno and I felt like Robert DeNiro in Raging Bull when he fights Sugar Ray and at the end he's destroyed and screams, "You knocked me down Ray!"" There's some kind of perverse pleasure in that but also there's a freedom. I don't have to be on the top of everybody's list career-wise, every movie doesn't have to work. I'm still fundamentally going to be who I am and that's really what determines my happiness with my friends and my family and the people I love and how I feel about myself. The rest of it is dressing and it's good and it's healthy to want to do well in your job, but it's not this incredibly important thing.

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