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Jersey Girl - It’s really the same guy with the same voice and the same world view, just at different stages in his life



Feature by: Jack Foley

BEN Affleck has endured something of a personal nightmare over the past year or so, mostly due to his high-publicity split with girlfriend, Jennifer Lopez, but also because of some equally notorious movie flops (Gigli, anyone?).

So it is little wonder to find that a man who has mostly been forced to share everything with everyone (through no fault of his own), is more than keen to talk about the recent health problems he has endured, which subsequently forced him to cancel plans to travel to the UK to promote his latest release, Jersey Girl.

"I was hospitalised. I got sick, I had bronchitis just as a result of being too stupid to quit smoking," he explained, candidly. "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 too."

However, despite being given the all-clear for meningitis, Affleck’s problems were about to get worse.

"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."

Some might argue that the pain of the spinal problem is nothing compared to the personal torment he has been forced to endure for the past 12 months, but it remains a credit to Affleck’s attitude and outlook on life, that he doesn’t seem bitter in any way.

Indeed, talking about Jersey Girl, in which he plays a single father attempting to bring up a daughter alone, his only regret is that his relationship with Lopez, who co-stars in the film, threatened to detract from the overall impact of Smith’s most mature work to date.

"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."

And while he accepts that this is, in part, an occupational hazard, he maintains that the whole celebrity status is much more frustrating for an actor to shake, than for anyone in other areas of entertainment.

"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."

That said, Affleck has clearly relished the opportunity of reuniting with writer-director, Kevin Smith, for Jersey Girl, following their collaboration on Chasing Amy, which, he feels, contains many of the same themes - albeit, from a different time in Smith’s life.

"If you look at Kevin’s movies thematically, this [Jersey Girl] seems to sort of stand 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."

Affleck even remains unapologetic for the film’s deliberately sentimental perspective, dismissing suggestions that it made both the star and director an easy target for the critics (many of whom lamented the lack of sarcasm from Smith, when it was released in America).

"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."

For Affleck, Smith’s achievement in making Jersey Girl is far greater than those critics gave him credit for.

"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," he concluded.

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