Ben Affleck happy for brother Casey’s recent triumphs
LOS ANGELES—“It’s just marvelous,” Ben Affleck said of his younger brother Casey finally getting major recognition. Ben is happy for his brother even if Casey did not thank him when the latter won the best actor-drama prize for “Manchester by the Sea” at the recent Golden Globes.
Three years apart in age, the two siblings, who grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, have had disparate success in Hollywood. Now, thanks to his subtle yet affecting portrayal of a grieving father in Kenneth Lonergan’s “Manchester by the Sea,” Casey is having his turn in the spotlight.
But Casey failing to thank Ben in his Globes speech will not pass without the older bro teasing him. In his guest appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” Ben got his humorous “revenge.”
The two-time Academy winner for the 2013 best picture, “Argo” (which he coproduced), and best screenplay for 1998’s “Good Will Hunting” (which he shared with Matt Damon), riffed on the possibility that Casey might also win the best actor honors in the coming Oscars.
Ben told Jimmy several jokes based on the siblings’ growing up years:
“It would be historically the first time brothers would win something separately, and not just the brothers winning, but this will be the very first time someone would win an Oscar who didn’t brush his teeth from ages 10 to 14.
“It will be the very first time that someone, who wins an Oscar, pulls his pants all the way down at the urinal. Well, the first person to win who is scared of butterflies. Not only that.
“(He would be) the very first person to win an Academy Award who asked his brother if ‘Back to the Future’ is a true story.”
Ben himself continues to have a busy career as an actor, writer and director. Sometimes, he combines all three as he did in “Live by Night,” his film adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s novel of the same name.
Ben plays Joseph “Joe” Coughlin, a Prohibition-era gangster in the crime drama that also stars Elle Fanning, Zoe Saldana, Brendan Gleeson, Sienna Miller, Chris Cooper and Chris Messina.
Excerpts from our conversation with Ben:
Can you talk about Casey, who’s finally getting the recognition and opportunities after you guys took different paths? Actually, my brother and I are very much alike, although we have done different movies and have had different roads.
Casey is a phenomenal actor and even more than that, he is someone who is very deeply important to me in my life. He has two wonderful kids. He is an amazing father. He is a thoughtful and sensitive guy.
I was so happy to see “Manchester” come along and give him the room, the runway, his race car, and he finally got enough track that he could really show what he could do in all six gears.
Your friend Matt Damon produced “Manchester by the Sea.” You’re also busy acting, writing and producing. Do you still find time to hang out and ask each other for advice on projects? Matt lives down the street from me. I am very lucky. Our kids get together all the time—they have sleepovers and parties.
In terms of professional matters, Pearl Street Films is my and Matt’s company, which has a production card on “Manchester.” Matt is the producer. We try to produce movies together as much as we can. We share scripts and give each other advice. We watch football together and do things that people do.
Matt said he would love to be in your movies, but you always take the lead role. He loves that line (laughs).
Have you considered playing smaller acting roles in the film that you direct? I actually wouldn’t mind it. I look back and I would have liked to have played the Jeremy Renner part in “The Town.” But that wasn’t how it worked out at the time.
I would have also played the Bryan Cranston role in “Argo.” But in both cases, I had better options. It would be much easier to play a supporting role than a lead, where you’re just humping the movie along every single day.
What have you learned from directing the previous three films? And about directing your fellow actors? I learned a lot about the process and about who I am as a filmmaker on the three films I made coming up to this.
This movie is the sum total of my experiences. That is why I call “Live by Night” a love letter to the movie business—this inheritance that I have gotten from those great people who have come before me.
In terms of acting and actors, they say that acting is 90 percent casting. There is a lot of truth in that. We directors often get credit for performances when the truth is, the smart thing you do is that you hire great actors, and you give them the breadth, scope and the room to be natural and not feel self-conscious.
I got all my first choice actors on this movie. I was super lucky to have Sienna, Zoe, Chris Cooper and Brendan Gleeson. We have an international cast, as well, which I like.
Do you ever feel overwhelmed by multitasking challenge? I get overwhelmed a lot. The times you get overwhelmed is in the writing phase.
Writing is so challenging and complex, particularly when you are adapting something like this. There’s a calculus and math to it. You pull one thing out and the rest of it falls apart.
So, I spend most of that time just by myself, obsessed and focusing on the script. So as a director, I’m most grateful to the writer.
Do you sometimes wake up in a cold sweat thinking about all these things you have to do? It’s acting (laughs). I feel like I belong here finally after directing four movies. I feel a little more confident, mostly because I am working with people I can rely on.
If I didn’t have a script that worked, I would have been forever panicking.
Has Dennis Lehane seen the movie? Yes, he told me he liked it. I don’t know—maybe he was lying (laughs).
On a more personal note, what have you learned from that other challenge in our lives—love?
The kinds of love that I have experienced in my life… I have been very lucky and blessed.
The central relationship in my life has been with Jennifer (Garner), who is the mother of my children. She is an extraordinary and loving woman and a role model.
She’s somebody whom I continue to admire, respect enormously and I’m very grateful for.
At the end of the movie, your character says to his son, “Heaven isn’t where you go when you die. Heaven is here.” I believe there is something wonderful about that notion. While it’s not explicitly Buddhist, it calls on some Buddhist teachings.
Life is about the present as we feel about it, connect to it in the moment around the people we love and who are important to us and be connected to those people.
It’s easy to fall into the traps that my Joe character does of wanting to just get a little more ahead, get a bigger empire and knock off this rival.
Those things are illusions. Joe learns to appreciate family and love, tragically too late after the loss of his wife.
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