There are few bombs more infamous than Gigli.
"If the reaction to Gigli hadn't happened, I probably wouldn't have ultimately decided, 'I don't really have any other avenue but to direct movies,' which has turned out to be the real love of my professional life," Ben Affleck tells Matt Damon in EW's current cover story. "So in those ways, it's a gift. And I did get to meet Jennifer [Lopez], the relationship with whom has been really meaningful to me in my life."
Affleck, who is heavily tipped for awards thanks to his performances this past year in The Tender Bar and The Last Duel, made the mid-career swerve to directing over a decade ago with films like Gone Baby Gone and The Town, even taking home Best Picture for 2012's Argo. But almost 20 years ago, the actor was just happy to get the chance to be on set with famed director Martin Brest.
"It was a really easy choice," Affleck says of signing on to Gigli at the time. "I loved Midnight Run. I loved Beverly Hills Cop. I loved Scent of a Woman. Marty's obviously enormously gifted. There was no question in my mind that this was a guy I wanted to work with... But really what it taught me was how much everything around a movie dictates the way people see it. For being such a famous bomb and a disaster, very few people actually saw the movie."
Phillip Caruso/Columbia Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez in 'Gigli'
"Those who did, it doesn't work, by the way," he readily admits. "It's a sort of horse's head in a cow's body.... The studio at the time was intoxicated with the idea, because I had begun having this relationship with Jennifer Lopez, which was selling a lot of magazines and appeared to generate a lot of enthusiasm — they just predictably latched onto, 'The [public] want a romantic comedy, they want the two of them together. They want to see that. More of it!' And it was just, it was like that SNL sketch. Bad idea."
Still, Affleck says, "I didn't go into it blindly. I knew that Sean Penn and Madonna were a tabloid story when I was young. I knew that could happen. Jennifer and I happened to be together at a time where the whole industry of celebrity journalism, if you want to call it that, sort of exploded. But I thought, 'S---, this is really not how I had hoped to go, where I'm going to be, what? Famous for being an a--hole or a failure and not able to work?'
"I can't think of a worse outcome," he goes on. "Because I've never found any virtue in fame at all, short of like, I've probably gotten out of a couple of [traffic] tickets. I've gotten reservations at restaurants. But the whole point was to be able to do this job. That was it. Otherwise, what is it worth? It's corrosive. It changes the relationships you have with other people. But one of the things that time has shown me is that it is oftentimes those moments of crisis or pain or perspective that actually engender change. That are strong enough to make you to go, 'F--- it. Well, this doesn't work. I got to do something different.' I've definitely learned more from failure than I have from success."
Additional reporting by Leah Greenblatt.
A version of this story appears in the February issue of Entertainment Weekly, on newsstands Jan. 21 and available to order here. Don't forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.