Ben Affleck likes popcorn movies. Maybe that explains his choices to play “the hero” in recent films, such as Armageddon and Pearl Harbor. While his next movie, Daredevil, actually puts him in tights and bestows the “superhero” title on the Oscar winning writer-actor, Affleck maintains his current role in The Sum of All Fears is different.
“It’s not escapist fare,” Affleck said during a Paramount Pictures-sponsored conference phone interview in April. “It’s become much more realistic and it hits closer to home. It’s not the kind of thing where you can be whisked away to a galaxy far, far away. You are in a world that is believable.”
Affleck is referring to a harrowing scene in The Sum of All Fears, in which a nuclear bomb is detonated on U.S. soil. Although the film was shot before Sept. 11, and Tom Clancy’s novel, upon which the film is based, was written in 1991, Affleck said there was a question if audiences would be able to handle such a scene.
“It changed the tone from being an escapism movie into a political drama,” Affleck said. “It makes the movie harder to watch, but it also makes it better because this isn’t necessarily pure fantasy. But we didn’t exploit it in any way, so nobody felt like we needed to go back and change anything.”
However, the casting of Affleck was quite a change in itself. The fourth Clancy novel adapted to film, The Sum of All Fears depicts its protagonist, Jack Ryan, as a 29-year-old historian for the CIA.
In The Hunt for Red October, Alec Baldwin played the part and Harrison Ford filled Ryan’s shoes for Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger.
“I knew there was a lot of risk,” Affleck said. “People may say, ‘He’s not as good as Ford.’ I knew I would expose myself to comparisons. But I didn’t try to be better than them or try to play younger versions of different actors. You just have to make it your own.”
However, he did talk with his predecessors.
“Basically, I wanted to get a blessing, or approval,” Affleck said. “I was hoping they wouldn’t say, ‘You’re crazy. You can’t do this.’ But, the most important audience for me was Clancy. I absolutely wouldn’t have done it if he didn’t want me to, but he made it pleasant.”
Affleck said he agreed to the role, despite the continuity discrepancy with his character’s storyline because he liked the other movies.
“It was both kind of challenging and appealing and because I was making the kind of movie that I liked,” he said. “I liked the notion of a low-level guy who gets thrust into conversations he’s never been a part of, into situations he’s not prepared for.”
He said he also liked the opportunity to work with co-star Morgan Freeman, a man Affleck considers “one of, if not, the greatest film actors working today.”
“It was intimidating,” Affleck said. “It was overwhelming and amazing. I was honored and humbled to work with a guy like Morgan. It kept me on my toes and made me aware how lucky I was.”
In his young career, luck has been on Affleck’s side. An Oscar winner for his Good Will Hunting screenplay at age 26, a bonafide movie star after 1998’s Armageddon and starring in next year’s Daredevil, the young thespian realizes his good fortune. He even stays close to childhood friend Matt Damon, despite the competitive nature of show business.
“This business is hard enough without feeling like you have to compete with your friends,” Affleck said. “We actually root for one another. I’m pulling for Mattie. We both saw early cuts of each other’s movies, and we would kind of give each other ideas about how we can make them better.”
While lately he has been having fun as an action hero, especially in next year’s Daredevil, Affleck said he isn’t as tough as the characters he plays.
“God, no, I’m not doing my own stunts,” he said. “I would be the least capable superhero there is. People would say, ‘I thought this guy was supposed to be tough.'”
While The Sum of All Fears and last month’s Changing Lanes have been serious films, Affleck said Daredevil is of the lighter fare.
“It’s a movie that is fun to be a part of,” he said. “We’re not trying to generate Oscar buzz. Basically, you just have to have as much fun as possible.”
When it comes down to it, Affleck said he just wants to make good movies. He said he wants to entertain audiences but can’t worry about what everyone thinks of his role choices.
“At the end of the day, if more people like you than don’t, then you’re doing OK,” Affleck said. “I want to be stimulated and challenged. I try to do movies that are different, but I want to make the kind of movies I watched growing up, the popcorn movies, but make them the best I can.”
Contact William Albritton at firstname.lastname@example.org