Ben Affleck: From tabloid darling to A-list triple threat
Ben Affleck on the set of 'Argo' (Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures)
"Frankly, I had something to prove when I got older. Down the road in my life. So I had something fueling that desire to work twice as hard, and I also had a little bit more maturity and perspective on it."
So said Ben Affleck in a recent interview with NPR, describing the desire and subsequent work ethic and has led to him becoming one of Hollywood's most respected auteurs -- indeed, a hot young(-ish) triple threat who can write, direct and act. He's one of the go-to top dogs at Warner Bros., a studio notorious for setting very high standards with their favorite filmmakers -- and, as of this morning, he's the Oscar-nominated co-producer of "Argo" (though he was notably not nominated for Best Director).
It wasn't always like this. In fact, all this success makes for what could be seen as a second chapter in Affleck's career, a radical reinvention instigated by an extremely talented artist rendered almost obsolete by a much-publicized (and eventually disastrous) romance and a slew of subgrade acting gigs.
Born Benjamin Geza Affleck-Boldt in Berkeley, on August 15, 1972, Affleck and his family soon after left California for Cambridge, MA. It was there that the eight-year-old Affleck first met his neighbor, the ten-year-old Matt Damon, marking the beginning of a longtime friendship (or "bromance" as it's often been called) and creative collaboration. Affleck and Damon first appeared together in "School Ties" (1992), a drama that examines racial and religious bigotry at a '50s prep school.
Affleck went on to become one of the most popular young actors of the '90s, terrorizing incoming high school freshmen to the point of psychosis in Richard Linklater's "Dazed and Confused" (1993), keeping his dignity through the cheapie adaptation of Dean Koontz's "Phantoms" (1998) and insisting he's not gay as a hapless bartender in "200 Cigarettes" (1999). Affleck first worked with geek auteur Kevin Smith on "Mallrats" (1995) and went on to become the filmmaker's unofficial muse, showing off dramatic chops in "Chasing Amy" (1997) and almost causing the apocalypse as a bitter angel (opposite Damon) in "Dogma" (1999). He also made for quite the action star, holding his own against Bruce Willis and saving the world from a runaway asteroid in Michael Bay's "Armageddon."
Affleck even won an Oscar in the '90s. He and Damon received the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for "Good Will Hunting" (1997), a Boston-set drama chronicling the volatile relationship between a temperamental math genius (Damon) and his equally troubled psychiatrist (Robin Williams), with Affleck providing the film's moral center as the unflappable best friend. Directed by Gus Van Sant, the film became a sleeper hit -- and one of the most quotable films of the '90s, thanks in part to the characters' distinct New England accents ("How about dem apples?").
Unfortunately, as the '90s came to a close, things started to fall apart for Ben Affleck. The turn of the century didn't bode well right from the start, as he began 2000 with the release of the much-maligned heist flick, "Reindeer Games" and appeared later that year opposite his ex-sweetie Gwyneth Paltrow in the completely forgettable romcom, "Bounce." His second collaboration with Michael Bay, "Pearl Harbor" (2001), didn't go over very well with either audiences or critics, and his good work opposite Samuel L. Jackson in "Changing Lanes" (2002) went almost completely unnoticed thanks to ill-advised starring turns in cheap comic book flicks ("Daredevil" in '03), would-be franchise reboots ("The Sum of All Fears" in '02) and Kevin Smith's widely reviled attempt to break away from his beloved View Askewiverse ("Jersey Girl" in '04).