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Paycheck - I might be depriving myself of something valuable by erasing those films



Feature by: Jack Foley

IT CAN’T be easy being Ben Affleck. Having won an Oscar for his joint screenplay for Good Will Hunting, in 1997 (alongside friend, Matt Damon), the star quickly found himself on the Hollywood A-list and appearing in blockbuster after blockbuster.

But a couple of flops, coupled with his high-profile relationship and on-off marriage to Jennifer Lopez, have turned him into the US equivalent of ‘Posh and Becks’, meaning that he is seldom out of the tabloids and very often a figure of fun.

Last year, in particular, was one to forget, given that the much-hyped marriage to ‘J-Lo’ never took place, while films such as Daredevil and Paycheck became only moderate hits, which failed to ignite with the critics. And then there was Gigli

In London to promote the UK release of Paycheck, however, Affleck bravely came face to face with many of his tormentors at the Dorchester Hotel and, to be fair, coped extremely well with the loaded questions and mischief-makers.

Paycheck, itself, is a futuristic thriller in which Affleck plays a genius who is paid to erase his memory after performing high-tec tasks for multi-million corporations. But when one of his ‘cheques’ fails to materialise, he must find out why he holds the key to the future, before those on his trail succeed in killing him.

Needless to say, journalists couldn’t resist the temptation of asking him whether, given the choice, he would like to erase certain films from his memory - or the memory of disillusioned film fans.

The actor could see the funny side, as he laughed and replied: "You know, that's interesting. It's funny because, often times, the experience of making a movie, and the things that you learn, are not necessarily mirrored in the final product, you know?

"I've had some really interesting and valuable experiences, when the movies didn't work out that well. And yet, in some ways, I think you learn more from failure, than you do from things that work, because they're just much more pointedly instructive, in that way.

"I might be depriving myself of something valuable by erasing those films," he added.

Affleck, of course, is infamous for the critical derision which greeted last year’s Gigli, his ill-fated on-screen partnership with Lopez, but chose to tackle the reaction head on, even going so far as to appear on The David Letterman Show with a greatest hits compilation of the best of the bad notices.

Asked whether this was merely an exercise in damage limitation, and whether he read many of his notices, he replied: "In general, I don't read them, because I find often that, for one thing, film critics these days are sort of writing for telling people whether or not to go see a movie, and not really approaching film criticism from the point of view which is the kind of criticism that would be helpful to you as an artist.

"Like what were you trying to do? Did you accomplish this? You know, sometimes it's just about being clever, or whatever, and that's ok, but it's not particularly helpful in the sense that it's not really about what you're doing."

The same can be applied to much of what has been written about him in the tabloids, he claims, which bears little resemblance to the person Affleck actually is.

"But I think it's a natural thing that happens, you know, you can become a projected image, in a way, whether it's the iconic one, or some image of an actor who develops some point of view, or another," he explains candidly.

"Inevitably, it's a kind of reductive simplification of who you are, and really, often times, much more about other people's ideas, and their projections; what they're thinking about, and what they're responding to. So there's not much point in spending a lot of time going over it."

To his credit, Affleck does not appear bitter, or antagonistic towards the press, rather accepting it as part of the learning curve of his celebrity. Indeed, he was quick to retort that ‘the accelerated pace of success is something to adjust to, but probably a lot easier to adjust to than the accelerated pace of failure’, when asked how he was coping with things.

And he insisted that ‘it's far more important for someone in my position to focus more on the fact of how grateful I am, and how fortunate, and really very blessed, than dwell on what particular difficulties it brings with it’.

Needless to say, the opportunity of working with one of his childhood heroes - Hong Kong action director, John Woo - was another piece of good fortune, which he quickly embraced.

The role had originally been offered to Matt Damon, who turned it down because he had just completed his own amnesia-based action role, in The Bourne Identity.

"Obviously, he didn't want to do the same thing again," he observed, ‘but he told me the script was really good, that I should work with John, and talk to him about it, which I did…

"And without embarrassing John, this represented a brilliant opportunity for me to get to work with somebody who I had admired for many, many years, and who I think has been responsible, in a lot of ways, for kind of elevating the way that a particular genre of movies were made."

The script, too, was something which struck a chord with him, particularly the theme of being able to change one’s destiny, although he declined another opportunity to change his own future, had he been able to see ahead.

Laughing again, he said: "I think it's probably suggested in the movie that it's an unhealthy desire, you know, I think it's a good thing that we don't see the future, or perhaps we'd dwell on maybe the negative things that are going to happen.

"It's also important to remember the good and the bad that happens in our lives. It builds character, and if you don't remember the past, then you'd just keep making the same mistakes over and over again."

It is a statement which Affleck intends to put to good use, insisting that, while he still likes to write, the aspect of film-making he is most interested in, for the moment, is ‘learning from the great directors’, of which he counts Woo as one.

And then, with a final nod of appreciation to the press, and a heartfelt ‘thank you, guys’, Affleck disappeared from our room to greet his next batch of interviewers, before descending on Leicester Square to spend time with the people that really count to him - his fans.

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