Ben Affleck covers the latest issue of the Hollywood Reporter. This interview is SO LONG. Ben excels at these kinds of long-form interviews though – if anything, he’s better when he has unlimited space to expound, catch himself, backtrack, and smother you with his wit and humor. It’s when he’s trying to be pithy that he gets in trouble. Affleck is currently promoting Air, which he produced, directed and stars in. The film is all about Nike creating the Air Jordans, an entire shoe line based around Michael Jordan. He talks about the film at length as well as Artists Equity, the production firm he set up with Matt Damon and other artists. He talks about everything else too – his wife Jennifer Lopez, his kids, the DC franchises, Batman, Instagram, his grim appearance at the Grammys, the pandemic, the business of streaming, everything. It’s an excellent read, honestly. Go here for the full piece. Some highlights (there are too many, honestly, so I really had to trim this down):
He’s getting over Covid: “I’d had it a couple of times and been asymptomatic, and so I got kind of cavalier and a little bit like, “Wow, COVID doesn’t really actually affect me. I’m one of those people.” And then I just got annihilated. I had the no-energy COVID, where it was too much work to pick up the phone to play Octordle…It’s just Wordle with more words. Don’t be impressed, it’s not harder. I was invited to join a cool little red velvet rope celebrity Wordle group. Matt [Damon]’s one of them. Jason Bateman and Bradley [Cooper], and … Actually, the first rule of Wordle is don’t talk about Wordle.”
Why he started Artists Equity: “One of the reasons I did it was, I’m divorced. I share custody. I don’t want to go to Austin and New Orleans and Georgia anymore and not see my kids. It just doesn’t work. These years are too important. If I miss them, I’ll regret it for the rest of my life. And then I thought, “OK, well, if I’m in Los Angeles and I’m in an office and I’m doing this work, I can step out for the basketball game or the jazz performance.” So I protect those things.
The movie business is changing: “Succession is on. Ozark. Narcos. Game of Thrones. You’re not competing with [1980s crime drama] Simon & Simon on an 11-inch black-and-white TV. There’s really beautiful stuff being made. My daughter is 17. She lives her life largely in opposition to the work her parents have spent their lives dedicated to, where she’ll say things like, “I’m not sure film is really … Do you think it’s a genuine art form?” I like the fact that she has this silver rapier tongue.”
He wasn’t fulfilled on the Justice League crap: “The Justice League experience, the fact that those stories became somewhat repetitive to me and less interesting….You could teach a seminar on all the reasons why this is how not to do it. Ranging from production to bad decisions to horrible personal tragedy, and just ending with the most monstrous taste in my mouth. The genius, and the silver lining, is that Zack Snyder eventually went to AT&T and was like, “Look, I can get you four hours of content.” And it’s principally just all the slow motion that he shot in black-and-white. And one day of shooting with me and him. He was like, “Do you want to come shoot in my backyard?” I was like, “I think there are unions, Zack. I think we have to make a deal.” But I went and did it. And now [Zack Snyder’s Justice League] is my highest-rated movie on IMDb.
The mess with Joss Whedon: “I was going to direct a Batman, and [Justice League] made me go, “I’m out. I never want to do any of this again. I’m not suited.” That was the worst experience I’ve ever seen in a business which is full of some sh-tty experiences. It broke my heart. There was an idea of someone [Joss Whedon] coming in, like, “I’ll rescue you and we’ll do 60 days of shooting and I’ll write a whole thing around what you have. I’ve got the secret.” And it wasn’t the secret. That was hard. And I started to drink too much. I was back at the hotel in London, it was either that or jump out the window. And I just thought, “This isn’t the life I want. My kids aren’t here. I’m miserable.”
How he knows Michael Jordan: “I periodically play cards sometimes with Michael, and we’ve got mutual friends, and … None of it sounds good, OK? And it’s not like he’d be like, “Oh yeah, Ben’s my boy.” (Imitating Jordan’s voice.) He’d be like, “Yeah, I know him.” Jordan is — he’s a hero to me. And I know how important and meaningful a figure he is, in particular in the African American community. If you’re going to f-ck around with talking about Michael Jordan, do it respectfully. Nobody’s asking you to do a hagiography, but get it f–king right. I’ve never known anybody with that kind of charisma and power who walks into a room and it just reverberates.
He hates golf: “I don’t golf myself. Because I just feel like it eats people’s lives up. I look at golf like meth. They have better teeth, but it doesn’t seem like people ever come out of that. Once they start golfing, you just don’t ever see them again.
How he got Viola Davis to play MJ’s mom: “Begging. I’m sure it was because I said, “Michael Jordan wants you to play his mom.” It certainly wasn’t “Ben Affleck wants you to be in his movie.” She’s not comfortable with sycophancy or obsequiousness. You can tell it chafes her. I just treated her with respect, which is to say, “When you’re ready, let me know. We’ll be here.”
J.Lo’s contributions to ‘Air’: “Oh my God, she’s brilliant. She is incredibly knowledgeable about the way fashion evolves through the culture as a confluence of music, sports, entertainment and dance. She helped me in talking about the way in which a part of the reason why Jordans [the shoes] were so meaningful is because culture and style in America is 90 percent driven by Black culture. Black culture has historically pioneered music, dance, fashion, and it’s then been stolen, appropriated, remarketed as Elvis or whatever. And in this case, [Nike], a white-run corporate entity, was starting to do business with African American athletes in an identity affiliation sales thing. They were really taking value from what Michael Jordan represents and who he is. I don’t think the meaning can be overstated. They’re going to switch from “Hey, guys, we are a nice shoe,” to “If Mike has it, you want it.”
On Instagram: “My wife’s a genius at that. I don’t know if there’s anybody who understands Instagram better than her. In fact, she gave me a talk this morning before this interview. She thinks that because of experiences that I’ve had, I’ve become very guarded. And she’s right. I view these things as land mines, where if you say one wrong thing, your career might be over. I had a really painful experience where I did an interview where I was really vulnerable, and the entire pickup was something that was not only not right, it was actually the opposite of what I meant.
The Howard Stern interview where he talked about drinking & Jennifer Garner: “The idea that I was blaming my wife for my drinking. To be clear, my behavior is my responsibility entirely. The point that I was trying to make was a sad one. Anyone who’s been through divorce makes that calculus of, How much do we try? We loved each other. We care about each other. We have respect for each other. I was trying to say, “Hey, look, I was drinking too much, and the less happy you become, whether it’s your job, your marriage, it’s just that as your life becomes more difficult, if you’re doing things to fill a hole that aren’t healthy, you’re going to start doing more of those things.” I think I was pretty articulate about that. It was the New York Post who deliberately mischaracterized it in order to make it clickbait, and everyone else then picked it up, and it didn’t matter how many times I said, “I do not feel this way. I’m telling you, I don’t blame my ex-wife for my alcoholism.”
J.Lo helps him: “But anyway, so [Jennifer Lopez] tells me today, “Relax, be yourself. Have fun. You’re actually a fun guy who is real and genuine and you just seem so serious.” Do I seem serious? But as in many things, she’s really right. And she loves me. She’s looking out for me. She’s trying to help me. So it’s like, maybe I ought to f–king listen to her.
His big night at the Grammys: “I had a good time at the Grammys. My wife was going, and I thought, “Well, there’ll be good music. It might be fun.” At movie award shows, it’s speeches and, like, sound-mixing webinars. But I thought this would be fun. I saw [Grammy host Trevor Noah approach] and I was like, “Oh, God.” They were framing us in this shot, but I didn’t know they were rolling. I leaned into her and I was like, “As soon they start rolling, I’m going to slide away from you and leave you sitting next to Trevor.” She goes, “You better f–king not leave.” That’s a husband-and-wife thing. I mean, some of it is, I’m like, “All right, who is this act?” Like, I don’t keep up. My wife does, obviously. And yeah, it is your wife’s work event. And I’ve gone to events and been pissed off. I’ve gone and been bored. I’ve gone to award shows and been drunk, a bunch. Nobody ever once said I’m drunk. [But at the Grammys] they were like, “He’s drunk.” And I thought, that’s interesting. That raises a whole other thing about whether or not it’s wise to acknowledge addiction because there’s a lot of compassion, but there is still a tremendous stigma, which is often quite inhibiting. I do think it disincentivizes people from making their lives better.
I believe him about the Jen Garner stuff, that the context was that he was miserable for many reasons and his drinking was getting worse and his marriage situation wasn’t making it any easier. I believe him that he doesn’t “blame” Garner for his alcoholism, and I think his point is that the failure of his first marriage (generally speaking) contributed to his drinking. I also believe him about the Grammys – he went because he thought it would be a fun night out with his wife and he became a misery meme. Anyway, I love that Violet is always on his ass about his movies and I love how much he respects J.Lo. That’s all.
Cover & IG courtesy of THR.