Ben Affleck Cashes In

The premise of Ben Affleck's latest film vehicle (and I don't mean the BMW motorcycle he commandeers confidently in the movie), is that his character has the unique experience of having his memory repeatedly "erased." In Paycheck, the John Woo-directed sci-fi actioner, Affleck plays an engineer who deconstructs and rebuilds proprietary technology in a fiercely competitive and malevolent industry of the future.

Indeed, the tabloid-trodden Affleck, 31, might like to erase some recent rather unbecoming behavior: alcohol rehab, grandstanding romance with Jennifer Lopez, strip club canoodling, weddings snafus and a spectacular box office bomb in Gigli. Despite all that unwieldly baggage, the Academy Award-winning screenwriter (who took home the statue with cowriter and childhood friend Matt Damon for Good Will Hunting in 1998), may just redeem himself in the public eye with Paycheck, based on a novel by acclaimed writer Philip K. Dick and costarring Uma Thurman. talked to Affleck about Paycheck, the Red Sox, his buddy Matt and the Mouseketeers, success and singing in the shower... plus a whole lot more. Read on for news from the humbler, happier boy from Beantown.

Michael Jennings, your character in the film, was always perfectly coiffed, immaculate. Was there a lot of extra pampering?
Well, John, one of his big things when I first talked to him was like North by Northwest, Hitchcock. You can see if you look at the movie; there are some other Hitchcock shots in there. There's a little Rear Window shot -- you know, over the shoulder. There's a Vertigo kind of shot. So that set kind of a high bar. And then he kind of felt like, even the future, people will do what we've continued to do, which is sort of look to the past for style influence. You know, the '70s come back and the '90s kind of a thing. So I thought it was kind of an interesting idea. And it also sort of played into kind of antiseptic, futuristic notions. So, yeah, you have a hair pop up, cowlicks and stuff that would go like "wing!" You could go from Carey Grant to Alfalfa in a hurry.

Jennings is a Boston Red Sox fan... ... did you have anything to do with that?
I would rather say the lines "I worship you, Satan," than say "My favorite baseball team is the Yankees." But in fact, the team was the Mets in the script, which is another objectionable ball club, frankly. I mean, you know, I've got family in Boston. They don't take this stuff lightly. So I had to try to pass it off on John. That was my one contribution in terms of thematics.

Obviously you know Matt Damon was offered the role first. Did you discuss it?
I was most assuredly aware. And John really dug The Bourne Identity, naturally, and wanted Matty for this thing. Matt was pleased and honored, of course, to talk to John Woo. But he read the script, and he said, "Look, I can't just be Amnesia Movie Guy, otherwise that's all I'll do." But he called me right after his meeting with John and said, "You've got to get on this script. This is really, really good." And as luck would have it for me, John flew back from the meeting in New York on the plane to L.A., and they were showing Changing Lanes in the plane. And when he got here, I got the part. So it was great. It was serendipitous for me. And I feel it was Changing Lanes and not Matt that did it, and therefore I'm not giving him a cut.

Matt Damon has said you were a mentor to him when you were growing up. He's very successful in his own right, so what do you think about that?
Who knows what foolishness came out of my mouth when we were kids. Matt's also being humble. Matt is and has always been an obviously gifted actor. And when we were kids, I just happened to have gotten a couple roles as a child actor and had an agent in New York. So I asked him to come down and meet my agent -- and then they set us up to audition for the Mouseketeers. And what's worse is that we didn't get it!

Is there any comparison to be made between the craft of acting and the idea of "erasing" the memory, which is such a major part of this film?
You have to block stuff out; there's a lot of blocking out. But rather than erasing things it's more concentrating for me. I don't know what other people do, exactly. But it's more about focus and concentration and paying attention to a certain set of things that you've sort of put together ahead of time. And then just really focusing on the imagined reality of what's happening with you and the other actors. It is sort of blocking things out, because I think if you're actively thinking about how you're playing it in the scene it's no good. So it's a similar type exercise, but fortunately you don't have to have everything erased.

Considering the year you've had, is there anything you'd like to erase from your memory?
I think people in general have a tendency to remember the good times and maybe embellish the good times and try not dwell on what happened bad. Damon's like that. When Matt tells a story, all of a sudden there were like 10 guys and he fought 'em off, then there were 15 guys... Come on, a dog barked at you.

But if you mean in my personal life, that sort of thing, it's craziness. So the best thing I can do is not look at it; I don't read it. Because, inevitably some of it would probably hurt my feelings or upset me or whatever. And also because I think it makes you crazy. I've known actors who get so obsessively into "What are they saying about me?" You just become like a snake eating its tail until you're sort of gone. And I don't want to end up crazy and bitter. It's a dangerous line, though. You can't approach life by walking away from things that are difficult. There is this aspect of it where it's healthy to pay attention and go through and endure and face or make mistakes and realize that you can not do it again.

How was working with Uma Thurman?
She's fabulous, she does an incredible job. And she's really a remarkable actress and a remarkable woman.

What did you do to prepare for the intense action sequences in the film?
I just really tried to do as much training -- flexibility training, weight training -- 'cause I was really intimidated to work with John. And I was kind of afraid that he would ask me to do something and I wouldn't be able to do it -- and that would be really embarrassing. So I just tried to be ready for anything. I was never the worst guy on the field, but I was never so physically gifted that everything came naturally to me. I had to work at it. So my whole thing is that I can have enough time to practice like a bastard, so that's what I did. I just didn't want to let John down -- he's like the benevolent father that you want to please.

How have you changed since your sleeper success with Good Will Hunting?
I've been figuring out things that I wasn't happy with. It's an ongoing process. It's a cliche, but that stuff doesn't make happiness. And then there's disillusionment. The nice thing is it directs you to those things that you think are important. And I think it's the quality of the life you live. I used to think it was the way that things happened to you, how people treated me, what befell me and what didn't. And now I think it's the things I do -- because that's what I can control. I can be kind, I can be pleasant, I can be fair, I can be empathetic, I can be honest. Those are choices I can make.

How has living in a musical household affected your taste in music?
[Jen's] tastes are more sophisticated than mine. She'll be like, "You like that song?" And I'll be, "Yeah, I kind of do. And I also like 'Cry Me a River' -- and that doesn't make me gay.'" Jen actually exposes me to a lot of talented people; she's really given me an education because she understands it from a production standpoint, a songwriting standpoint. And that's really fascinating for me.

Do you dare sing in the shower?
I do, because I embrace my bad singing. Jen's just like, "Oh, Lord, save me." That's just me. I've never been afraid. But I can't sing.

Overall, how was 2003 for you?
On balance, it's a pretty good year. I had Daredevil, which worked. I had an Ishtar for this generation, a modern-day Show Girls -- that's how we should have sold Gigli... from the people who brought you Glitter comes a film that no one will see... So that was like a big bombarooni.

But now I have this movie, which I'm very confident about. I like it a lot. With Project Greenlight we're close to a deal with Bravo [HBO dropped the reality series]. I've got Jersey Girl coming up, and it's probably my favorite film I've ever done. It's an exquisite, beautiful movie. [Director and friend] Kevin [Smith] just really killed. He really took a risk, and he really went out there. Unlike movies where you take a risk and it doesn't work, like Gigli -- where you end up taking a big swing and a miss, this is one that I think is a long drive to centerfield. And I'm really proud of Kevin for making it.

Personally, I've learned to really separate myself from the press, in the sense that I don't really take anything personally. I think people basically understand that the tabloids are fiction. But at the same time it has helped me to not make my self-esteem ride directly on top of my career.

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