When Ben Affleck broke onto the scene in 1997's "Good Will Hunting," fans couldn't get enough of his success story, lapping up all the details of his friendship with Matt Damon and how the two childhood friends from Cambridge, Massachusetts, went on to become the young toasts of Hollywood. But just a few years later, Affleck made a string of really bad movies ("Gigli," anyone?) and on top of that he started dating Jennifer Lopez in 2002. The celebrity coupling was greatly disdained and widely criticized, which is something that still bothers Affleck a decade later. In fact, in the latest issue of GQ, he says the treatment he received from the press at the time was worse than what was being said about convicted murderer Scott Peterson.
"At the time, I knew on some level, 'This is insane,'" shares the 40-year-old, who felt like he had become the press' personal whipping boy. "What was that guy's name who killed his wife and dumped her off the side of a boat? Peterson. I remember thinking he actually gets slightly better treatment than I do in the press. At least they had to say 'alleged killer.' Unfortunately, there's an aspect of that that's like one of those fights you see on YouTube where one of them falls down and then a bunch of people who were standing around come over and kick the person," he continues. "They don't know them, they have no involvement in the fight, but they recognize a moment that they can get a free shot in, and for some people it's just too much to resist. And that was definitely me at that point. I was the guy. I was the designated person to loathe."
Affleck, who is now happily married to Jennifer Garner, still can't understand where all the hate came from. "The amount of venom — I must have touched some specific little place in the consciousness," he tells the magazine. "I don't believe I didn't deserve any negative judgment for anything, but it was just way out of whack. … People decided that I was the frat guy, even though I've never been inside a fraternity, or the guy who beat them up at school, even though that wasn't me at all."
At the time, the couple — dubbed "Bennifer" — was everywhere ... and that wasn't a good thing. They co-starred together in "Gigli," which was called a cinematic disaster — and that was before it even hit theaters. And, of course, Affleck made a cameo in Lopez's "Jenny From the Block" video, in which he rubbed her famous backside while they cruised on a boat. Then there was the massive pink engagement ring, the grating joint interview on "Dateline," reports that they had purchased "his and hers" Rolls-Royces, and the list went on. "The most pernicious illusion, myth, was that this is something that this guy wants," Affleck says of the attention he received during that time. "'He's wanting this much coverage.' That's the most unappealing thing that you can say about somebody. And I knew how disastrous it was. It was the last thing I wanted, and I could tell it was damaging me, and I tried to get away from it, but there was still this idea: This is what this guy wants, he's a shallow guy, a camera whore or whatever. And there was no convincing people that that wasn't the case."
Though he does admit that he made mistakes during the Bennifer era. "There were ways I did contribute to it, still kind of naively," he says. "Like these car dealerships would often say, 'Hey, do you want to drive around a car? Go take it as long as you like. You can drive this Rolls-Royce for nothing, for free.' The Boston kid in me thought, 'This is great! What a deal! I can just drive this car around. Let my friends drive it.' But then this image of a young guy in a Rolls-Royce was very off-putting to people. Probably be off-putting to me now if I saw it. And I didn't quite have the wherewithal to be smart about that at the time."
Affleck says that after Lopez — with whom he is still friendly — called off their engagement in 2004, he hid out for a while to regroup. "I think I just ran away," he says. "You can only handle so much. I moved for a while to this place in Georgia that I have, was able to get away, by and large, from stuff. Come up with a plan for how to do something with my life that doesn't put me in the crosshairs of this sort of thing."
On the other side of it, Affleck came out a winner. Not only did his career rebound — in fact, GQ named him their 2012 filmmaker of the year — but he also fell in love with and married Garner in 2005. "It was a really, really good thing that happened to me around the time that it was nice to have something good happen," he notes. "And she's just a great woman and a great friend." And an even better mother to their three children. "She has such wise and certain stewardship over these three characters that I love so much."
[Related: Ben Affleck's family hated his 'Argo' hair]
For more of Affleck's interview, pick up the December issue of GQ, on newsstands November 20.
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