• Golden Globe Awards

Ben Affleck, 2007-2010: For the Love of Boston

Ben Affleck set the story of Good Will Hunting (1997) in Boston, when he wrote the script with his childhood friend Matt Damon, which earned them a Golden Globe for Best Screenplay. When the actor made his directorial debut in 2007, he chose to adapt the 1998 novel by Dennis Lehane Gone Baby Gone, set in his hometown of Boston.  His second film as a director, The Town (2010) from the 2004 novel Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan, was also set in Boston. Affleck received a Golden Globe as Best Director for Argo (2012) that was set in Teheran, then directed another novel by Dennis Lehane, Live by Night (2016) set in Boston. He spoke with the journalists of the Hollywood Foreign Press about directing and Boston.
Gone Baby Gone is a detective story about two private investigators (Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan) searching for a kidnapped 4-year-old girl. Affleck explained how he decided to start directing after ten years as an actor:
“I had been acting for a while, and when I got really excited by this book, initially I thought I would develop it to act in myself, then I got interested in the idea of becoming a director for a number of different reasons. It was something I always wanted to do, but never quite felt ready, so maybe I had matured to the point where I was ready to overcome my fear and do this. All those things came together at one time, so I took the plunge and went out and tried to see if anyone would give me the opportunity to do so, and I was lucky enough that they did.”
This is the reason why he set the film in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston:
“I chose that area in Boston, because it was a place that I felt comfortable in and I understood, so I thought I had a better chance of being successful directorially and I felt more confident there, because I knew I had a deeper understanding of it and that made me feel at ease. That was very helpful both in terms of confidence and in terms of giving me a breadth and scope of understanding. If I had gone to tell the story about corn farmers in Kansas, I would have had to move there for a year-and-a-half and learn about that, while I didn’t have to do that here.”
The director hired real people and not professional actors to convey a feeling of authenticity:
“To me the most important aspect in terms of creating a feeling was to make the movie feel real and honest, as though I’m taking an audience and showing you something that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to see or access, which was this neighborhood, if you could walk into a bar. And in order to do that, it had to be in the real places, and you had to feel as though the people were authentic. So, I didn’t use any SAG background folks for all my smaller parts and for as many big parts as I could, I wanted to use non-professional actors, which meant auditioning people endlessly who were out at street corners, bars, boxing clubs and gyms, reading them and hiring them in an unconventional way. The other actors, like my younger brother Casey, and even Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris who are giant legendary screen stars of the world, were really smart about understanding that and helping create the environment, so that there was an element of unselfconsciousness in the people who weren’t professionals.”
While researching the film, Affleck learned that child kidnappers are not usually strangers, but often family members:
“I worked pretty extensively with the National Center for Missing Exploited Children and they were extremely helpful and supportive of us. It was really important for me to be in lockstep with this organization that works with this issue exhaustively, and not out of political correctness, but because I didn’t want to do anything irresponsible that wasn’t in keeping with what was real and true. And when I looked at their statistics about what really happens and listened to their stories, it was horrifying to me the degree to which the prevalence of sexual abuses and child abductions in this country are familial, how common it is for people to take children from one another because they disagree with the way a child is being raised or cared for. That was really traumatic for me, and when I talked to Lehane, I came to understand that his central motivation for writing this book was as a call to protect children, that was his real impetus for telling this story.”
The Town (2010) is a heist thriller about four lifelong friends from the Boston neighborhood of Charlestown who plan a robbery of Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox baseball team. The setting of this movie gave Affleck another opportunity to showcase the unique qualities of his hometown:
“It’s been rewarding for me to work in Boston because I grew up there, it’s a place with a lot of memories that are very special to me from my childhood and my developmental years, so it would give me a chance to showcase some of that to the world. Also, on a really simple nuts and bolts level, to bring back 350 jobs, put some money in the community, is a great feeling and it’s helping people see how many incredibly talented technicians and actors there are in Boston. For me the city is an extraordinary and unique place, so it works really well for storytelling, because in the United States now you’re buying the same sandwich and sweater in Arizona as you are in Maine. We’ve become homogenized in a way that we’re sadly losing the old days. Boston is still unique, a little parochial, a little salty, a little special, and that accounts for why you’re seeing a number of movies made there these days.”
These are the director’s favorite heist movies that served as inspiration for The Town:
“The ultimate heist movie in this genre is Heat (1995 by Michael Mann), for sure, that’s the gold standard. I like Rififi (1955 by Jules Dassin), The Bank Robbery (2008 by Roger Donaldson), The Killing (1956 by Stanley Kubrick), The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973 by Peter Yates). Those movies illustrate that there are millions of movies like this, so we can feel that we’ve seen them before. But when someone comes along and does it in a way that’s a little bit different, a little bit off and usual, or executes it well, all of a sudden it can feel new again; and that’s what I was hoping I could do with this movie.”
Affleck replies to a question as to why so many actors started directing movies:
“I can’t speak for any other actors who have turned to directors, all I can do is admire their work. When you see Warren Beatty or Kevin Costner or Clint Eastwood or Sean Penn doing it, you’re looking at giants of talent, and I couldn’t say what was their impetus to change or augment their careers. I can tell you that my impetus was that this was always something I wanted to do, that I fooled around with, that my friends and I had discussed. And it’s not so radical a shift as you imagine. I got the same questions posed to Matt Damon and myself about Good Will Hunting, ‘Why do you guys want to become writers?’ Writing didn’t seem all that different from acting to me and neither does directing, they’re all part of the same soup. When you’re creating a movie, you’re crossing these lines; it’s like when you build a car, one guy puts on the wheels, another guy the engine, one person puts on the fenders, but they’re all making a Volkswagen.  This is all part of the larger goal; when you make a movie, you participate as an actor, as a writer, as a photographer, as an editor, and you’re hoping that when the movie comes out, you’ll see something that resonates with you, that you’ll be proud of.  That’s what everybody is feeling, so ultimately we’re all invested in that direction.”