Ben Affleck’s new movie The Way Back tells the story of an alcoholic high school basketball coach struggling to pull his life back together. In Affleck’s own life, he’s publicly struggled with addiction and alcoholism, most recently entering rehab in 2018. The Way Back‘s director Gavin O’Connor now says the movie almost didn’t happen when the news of Affleck’s relapse broke — but it was Affleck’s ex-wife Jennifer Garner who convinced O’Connor to fight for the film to continue.
“Just as we started prepping the movie, Ben fell off the wagon. So he ended up going to rehab, and I didn’t know if the movie was over. The studio certainly thought the movie was over,” O’Connor told 34th St. “His ex-wife, Jennifer Garner, called me up, and told me that when he went to rehab, he took a basketball with him. She said, ‘Gavin, he’s asking you, please don’t pull the plug on the movie, he really wants to do this.'”
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“So, he had about a week of detoxing, because he really went off the deep end, and after a week, I was able to go see him,” he added. “We spent half a day together and figured out a way to do this that will work for him, because most importantly he needed to recover and needed to get his sobriety on track. That overtook everything.”
O’Connor says when he and Affleck first met, they’d acknowledged the way the story of the film lined up with his personal struggles. “We met, and it was a several–pronged conversation, because, obviously the character is dealing with his disease and Ben was struggling with the same disease. This was gonna become art-imitating-life, life-imitating-art. All these blurred lines, it was very delicate, so I needed to really just trust that Ben was gonna be willing to go there. Once he was willing to assure me that he was gonna be brave enough to do that, then we decided to go on the journey together.”
Affleck wound up coming on to set fresh out of rehab, emotions right at the surface: “He got out the day before we started shooting. So we had a very raw, vulnerable guy showing up for our first day of shooting,” he explained. “It’s almost a counter–intuitive thing with acting, because he’s doing scenes that were obviously painful. Really intense and dark and bleak and suffering. And capturing that, to watch him do that was hard at times, but it also was euphoric, because that’s your job as an actor.”
The Way Back will be in theaters March 6, 2020.
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