What can we expect Ben Affleck to say when he ascends the podium late on Sunday night to pick up his Best Picture Oscar? The “Argo” director, producer and star has been building toward this moment since his first acceptance speech and, while occasionally he stumbles into the pit of extreme humility where Anne Hathaway wallows, Affleck generally sets the right tone between aw-shucks and boo-rah.
The key to Affleck’s unflagging performance on the podium is that, as in “Argo,” he knows his audience and how to balance serious material and laughs rooted in human frailty. It doesn’t hurt that when he takes the stage on Oscar night, he is connected to almost every audience he stands before: actor, director, producer – and family man, too.
The Critics’ Choice Awards: Snarky is welcome
Ben seized the day at the Critics’ Choice Awards way back on January 10th to snipe at the Academy that overlooked him for best director kudos. He accepted the Critics’ Choice statuette with the good-natured quip “I’d like to thank the Academy…I’m kidding, I’m kidding. This is the one that counts”:
The Golden Globes Awards: It’s a popularity contest and Ben’s prom king
Three days after the Critics’ Choice at the Golden Globes, Affleck didn’t have to mention “Gigli” or J. Lo or “Daredevil” for us to understand his reference: “I’m still trying to blow it. Believe me.”
At the Globes, he not only generously acknowledged his fellow nominees – cue Steven Spielberg looking like he’s just eaten bad shellfish – he also compared “The Master”’s Paul Thomas Anderson (who wasn’t even nominated) to Orson Welles. Sure he was talking fast, and hitting the necessary points, but his tone was grateful and self-effacing, as if he were aware that in an alternative reality, he could have been a contestant on “The Apprentice” alongside Dennis Rodman and Stephen Baldwin.
The Screen Actors Guild Awards: He’s peerless among his peers
Affleck approached the stage on January 27th, buttoning his tux, looking serious, surprised and seriously surprised. Then, with the award in hand, he said to an audience on their feet, smiling and clapping: “I can’t believe I’m standing in the place where Daniel Day Lewis just was.” Flanked by the “Argo” cast that had just won the night’s top prize, Best Ensemble, Ben continued: “I feel like I may become a better actor just for the radiation.”
Check out the video here.
What I learned from watching Affleck’s SAG speech in which he does humility and family thanks and studio thanks, too, is that he always gets his audience. That’s the beauty of “Argo” and Affleck. When addressing a room full of actors (“our brothers”) and surrounded by his winning ensemble, his most impassioned moment came when he said, “This has nothing to do with me, it has to do with the incredible people who are in this movie, the people you see on stage. We had more than 150 actors. The one thing they had in common… they came to work every single day….and they wanted to kill it to make the movie better because that’s what actors do all over the world every day.”
The Oscar Speech, here comes Affleck with George Clooney as his wingman
This Sunday, when Ben Affleck steps onstage to receive his inevitable best picture win with producers George Clooney and Grant Heslov at his side, the “Argo” dynamo will have gone from amazed and humble – the actor auditioning for the industry – to the captain of the team. It’s an industry Bar Mitzvah moment: today he will become a man.
When I asked Affleck what advice Ben the director had for Ben the star early in the awards season, the director paused and then confided: ”Do what I tell you to do and everything will be fine.” Ben continued: “I am in great sync with myself. But the actor in me wants the next part, and first we have to promote this film."
Ever since then, as Affleck has swept the Guild Awards, he’s proved to be the model actor in the hands of a gifted director. It’s Affleck’s ability as an actor, director and producer that has brought him to this triumphant moment. Yes, Affleck will pause to accept the rapturous applause of his peers, speedily dispense his necessary thanks, probably gazing at notes on his hand written by his daughters, looking out to his deeply dimpled wife Jennifer Garner. He will make a self-deprecating joke, while generously congratulating the best director winner who he would have beaten had he been nominated.
And Affleck will also have delivered to Clooney what that actor-writer-director-producer had expected but abandoned in 2012 with “The Descendants” and “The Ides of March” – a hefty golden statuette. Like Clooney, Affleck has learned that the road to Oscar is unpredictable, but savored most sweetly when handled with grace surrounded by good friends and family.