Compiled by: Jack Foley
AS BEN Affleck's latest, Jersey Girl, hits UK cinemas, the star
talks about life post Jennifer Lopez, reuniting with Kevin Smith
and fighting off bronchitis.
Q: There have been reports of you being quite ill lately.
How are you now?
A: I was hospitalised. I got sick, I had bronchitis just
as a result of being too stupid to quit smoking. I get this sort
of bronchitis, lung infection thing every 18 months or so, and
I felt it coming on.
I went to get some antibiotics, but I was on holiday up in New
Hampshire and, by the time I came back, my lungs were feeling
really bad and I was running a fever and I had some muscle aches
in my back, so they said maybe they should check for meningitis
They had to give me a spinal tap, so I did that, and they told
me that five per cent of people have this reaction, where the
spinal tap leaks a little bit and you leak your cerebral spinal
fluid and get these terrible headaches.
I found out I didn’t have meningitis, thank God, and I actually
recovered from the bronchitis and the flu, but then I did have
this side effect with the fluid leaking out.
I had these terrible headaches, so I had to go back into the hospital
and have this thing called a blood patch. Pregnant women know
about it, because they sometimes have it after they give you an
epidural. It means injecting blood into the same area so that
it will clot, so I had to go back in and have it done, and it
didn’t work, and I had to have it done again. So I recovered
from bronchitis, but it left me racked with pain in my spine.
Q. The other headlines have concerned you and co-star,
and former girlfriend, Jennifer Lopez.
A: It’s a strange thing, and it really is a shame
in some ways that my relationship with Jennifer really overshadowed
a movie that I’m really proud of. There’s a prurient
interest that undermines your telling a story because that depends
on asking an audience to suspend their disbelief. That’s
made harder if you’re bombarded with images of people in
the movie as other people than who you’re trying to convince
them you are.
Q: Do you think this is an occupational hazard, in this
A: I guess so. It’s certainly a problem if your
job is to convince people that you’re somebody else, it
really gets in the way. If you’re a sports star, like David
Beckham, it might be distracting and make it harder for him to
play soccer, but it doesn’t fundamentally change your ability
to appreciate the thing that he became famous for in the first
place. But with acting it does, which is really the frustrating
nature of that particular vicious circle.
Q: How did you approach playing a dad in Jersey Girl?
A: I had to do a lot of imagining, and talked to friends
who had kids. What I discovered when I talked to them is the openness
with which they expressed how parenthood had changed them.
It surprised me, because they would be these tough guys I grew
up with. As far as the dynamic with [my screen daughter] Raquel
Castro, I kind of relied on her. She has a father, I don’t
have a daughter. So I took the cues from her about how that relationship
might be, and she was great about it, really helpful.
Q: Have you witnessed the change a child makes in your
director, Kevin Smith?
A: I think the story came out of his own ruminations
on what it would be like if he had to raise a daughter by himself.
Would he be up to it? What would he do?
For career-driven people, that’s the central preoccupation
of your life. You’re trying to make money, or achieve some
goals that you have set out for yourself, and then all of a sudden
you’re sideswiped by this whole other aspect of life –
What my character realises is that your family, as well as what
sort of person you actually want to be, are the things that are
really important. It’s about trying to become a man, I guess.
Q: Would you say these themes
make the film an easy target for cynics?
A: By time you do something that has some sentiment,
when you lay yourself bare and say ‘I care about this, this
is important to me, this means something to me’, that’s
what cynics obviously feed off. It becomes very easy to criticise.
But if you’re cynical, and you only want to see movies that
are very sarcastic, or very dark, or cynical about life and the
human condition, there are those movies as well. But I don’t
think we need to be limited to those movies alone.
Q: Do you think it’s instructive that Kevin Smith
has made his share of smart, snappy, sarcastic movies in the past?
A: To me, it’s interesting, because if you look
at Kevin’s movies thematically, this sort of stands apart
from those in some surface way. But, to me, it’s very similar
to Chasing Amy.
That was sort of irreverent and controversial, and it has this
story about a lesbian who has an affair with a man.
It’s about sexuality existing on a spectrum, more loosely
defined than we give it credit for – all stuff that makes
for great magazine copy. But, in fact, what that movie was about
was this guy getting his heart broken.
It’s about the things that Kevin was really concerned about
in his life at that time, this enduring mystery of women and their
sexuality, and how they can make you feel so wonderful and so
agonisingly bad, and how serious and hard that is to try to figure
out for a young man.
Jersey Girl is about where his life is right now and is more interested
in the next step in adult growth.
What kind of role you are going to play in the world, how you
are going to bring up your own children, what kind of man you
are going to be. It’s really the same guy with the same
voice and the same world view, just at different stages in his
life. So, to me, it’s very much in step with his other stuff.
Q: Would you say it takes a certain confidence to tackle
a more poignant film though?
A: I think it’s actually a much more mature film
for a filmmaker to make, it’s a bigger step. These are harder
feelings to evoke in an audience. Kevin has been able to use a
certain kind of image, having come into the film world as this
sort of foul mouthed indie guy, who makes fun of himself and everybody
else. To take this step, I think is brave and demonstrative of
real growth as a filmmaker and as a man.
Q: Your screen daughter, Raquel Castro, seems frighteningly
self-possessed in interviews. What is it they say about working
with children and animals?
A: I’ve worked with quite a few actresses, and
she ranks right up there with ones I’ve been intimidated
by! It was kind of scary. First of all, she’s so precocious
and confident, and seems so together that you think, ‘good
God, I’m 31-years-old and I’m not half as together
as you are at eight’.
She was brought in because of her striking resemblance to Jennifer,
and it was such a stroke of luck that she also turned out to be
a really good actress. We got really lucky in that regard.
Sometimes movies are about that, getting lucky in the right place,
at the right time, God is smiling on you. He really did with Raquel.
She can hold her own.
Q: And she gets to do a big musical number at the climax
of the film. How was it for you?
A: That was what she was looking forward to the whole
time, whereas it was the one thing I was dreading. I’m a
musical disaster, I’m tone deaf, so it was excruciating
for me to try to sing.
And then to be up there singing and dancing – I think Kevin
wrote it in specifically to humiliate me. And, to make matters
worse, Raquel was so adept at it. She was a great little singer
We had to take these little music rehearsals and I was miserably
floundering around while she was chirping along hitting all the
right notes at the right tempo. So I was there being upstaged
and humiliated by an eight-year-old girl.