Gone Baby Gone - Ben Affleck interview
Compiled by Jack Foley
BEN Affleck talks about the challenge of directing Gone Baby Gone, ensuring that the city of Boston was portrayed as authentically as possible, getting into a few scrapes with the local police, and why he decided to cast Casey Affleck, his younger brother, in the lead role.
Based on the best-selling novel by Dennis Lehane – the author of Mystic River – Gone Baby Gone is the taught and uncompromising story of two private detectives who reluctantly agree to take part in the search for a missing child who has been abducted from her home in one of the toughest neighbourhoods in Boston.
Q. How did you approach directing your first film, and taking on such difficult subject matter?
Ben Affleck: I was terrified, it was really very scary because there is a lot of responsibility. I think I was terrified because I wanted it to work so much. A lot of actors direct movies but I thought the stakes were kind of higher for me because I really, really cared. And I had decided that if it wasn’t going to work it wasn’t going to be for lack of effort. So I just worked as hard as I possibly could on every single thing, every single day. I said that if this failed it would not be because I didn’t work as hard as I possibly could…every day.
Q. When were you first aware of Dennis Lehane’s novel?
Ben Affleck: Somebody sent me the book and I’m embarrassed because I don’t know who it was. Maybe it was more than one person who sent it to me. But as soon as I read it, I thought this might be an interesting movie. It was so complex, plot-wise and structurally – it was not a conventional screenplay structure. So, I had some challenges.
Q. Was it easy to get the rights?
Ben Affleck: Well, I simply asked if I could have a go at adapting a screenplay. But I did not want any money, in case I failed because I did not want a script out there with my name on it that might be completely dysfunctional. They were pleased by that offer so they accepted. I then teamed up with Aaron Stockard and began writing.
Q. Was it easy to adapt?
Ben Affleck: It was harder than I thought. I thought I could rely on the plot in the novel and fill in the colour between the lines, but I made a mistake with that assumption. It was really, really hard because you pull a few things apart and then you realise how everything relies on everything else and it can all fall apart. So, it was a really tough thing to do, to try and distil it all and have it still make sense.
Q. The last time you co-wrote a screenplay, for Good Will Hunting, you won an Oscar. Did that add any pressure?
Ben Affleck: Yes, there was an added pressure. But the screenplay aspect of it ultimately would be upstaged by the movie itself. Nobody goes to a movie and watches the script. There is a lot of other stuff going on. So, I hoped to camouflage the script and wrap a movie around it.
In his handling of the film, Ben Affleck does not try to sanitise the dark and grotesque side of humanity that is at the core of Gone Baby Gone. But he agrees that becoming a father – he and his actress wife Jennifer Garner have a daughter named Violet – has heightened the emotional involvement he has with a story like this which delves into the nightmarish world of violent crime and child abuse.
Q. Did you identify with the themes more as a father yourself?
Ben Affleck: This is a big transition for me in my life because I feel things more deeply… anything to do with kids. It just makes a big difference in my life… Having a child is like taking the deepest core vulnerable aspect of myself, reaching in and taking it outside of my body.
Q. So were certain scenes – such as the discovery of the paedophile’s lair – upsetting to shoot?
Ben Affleck: That always stayed upsetting and it was upsetting for a lot of the crew. But if that’s not going to upset you at a certain point, then you are pretty cold.
Q. As a Boston native yourself, how important was it to capture the true essence of the city in the film? It plays such an important part and is as much a character as anyone else…
Ben Affleck: It was really important for me to have it feel authentic. We wanted to show people what it was like in one of those neighbourhoods that they would never have access to, in bars that they would be too scared to go into, and a world that they would never get to see. All of that is something really unusual and rare and kind of fascinating. And the only way to do that and to make it really worthwhile was that it had to be authentic. We dedicated a lot of time and energy to making that right and real. So we found basically the worst locations that we could.
We would go in to the bars at 8am, the bars would be full and we say: “Ok, you guys are in the movie” And we would buy them beers. We would use the real people. We would go into the bars in the morning and say: “Ok, whoever is here, stay here. Stay at the bar and we are going to film you..”
Q. Were people always welcoming when you did that?
Ben Affleck: There were a couple of places where people were really drunk. We would go in and people were hostile towards us and kind of threatening. We went into a few neighbourhoods where there was a lot of drug dealing going on and a couple of times the cops swooped in on us and almost arrested us because they thought we were trying to buy drugs and then they saw me and asked what we were doing. That happened twice with the police – the other time they swooped in on us because there was a human trafficking ring in a house. It was wild! We would end up in the worst parts of the area and we really came across some wild stuff…mostly a lot of drugs, drugs sales. People can be pretty ugly to each other and we saw some pretty terrible stuff.
Q. What made you decide to cast your brother, Casey?
Ben Affleck: I showed the studio his screen test from Jesse James, so they knew he was good. And I said he was going to blow up from that and that he was going to be great in this. I think they believed me… more or less. There were some people who thought Casey was in the movie because he was my brother. But there is nobody who sees the movie and thinks that any more!