Advertisement

Ben Affleck hangs poolside (and meets some dogs) for his EW cover shoot: See all the photos

Ben Affleck hangs poolside (and meets some dogs) for his EW cover shoot: See all the photos

On saying yes to Michael Bay's Armaggedon more than 20 years ago: "I was like, "I'll do any asteroid movie!" It was $600,000. I would've done, I don't know, Pampers commercials for $600,000, you know what I mean? My father had trouble working. My mother was a public school teacher."

At the top of his game

With two lauded performances — in the medieval Ridley Scott epic The Last Duel and George Clooney's warm family dramedy The Tender BarBen Affleck, 49, seems to be entering a sweeter, looser phase in his career. To talk about those roles and look back at a 30-year-plus career, he sat down with his longtime friend, writing partner, and sometime-costar Matt Damon for EW's latest cover story.

Coffee, tea, or me

"It's a rare thing that a finished, wonderful script shows up with a really great director," the actor tells Damon of taking on the role of the roguish, book-loving bartender Uncle Charlie in Clooney's Tender (currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video). "And all you have to do is to just basically be conscious and sentient and say yes."

Ben Affleck hangs poolside (and meets some dogs) for his EW cover shoot: See all the photos

Affleck talks it out with Moose, a friendly Samoyed, on the set of EW's cover shoot on Dec. 8, 2021, in Los Angeles.

Ben Affleck hangs poolside (and meets some dogs) for his EW cover shoot: See all the photos

"I knew that this was kind of mine to screw up," Affleck says of taking on his Tender role. "I couldn't imagine there wasn't a long line of people that wanted to take this part. I really respected [Clooney's] confidence and faith in me, and I wanted to do well for him. I wanted to do it for myself."

Ben Affleck hangs poolside (and meets some dogs) for his EW cover shoot: See all the photos

On his turn as a decadent count in The Last Duel: "I wasn't the star, I wasn't likable. I was a villain. I was all the things I thought I wasn't supposed to be when I started out, and yet it was a wonderful experience. And it was all just stuff that came along that I wasn't chasing."

Ben Affleck hangs poolside (and meets some dogs) for his EW cover shoot: See all the photos

Affleck in a Samoyed sandwich.

Ben Affleck hangs poolside (and meets some dogs) for his EW cover shoot: See all the photos

"My only thing is that now I live in fear of every time I do another movie," he says. "I'm like, 'Do I still feel that? Am I still good?' I'm afraid it's going to go away, you know? 'Cause it's elusive. But I'm happy now. I'm feeling it now. I love it and I do think I've gotten better. I think people generally get better with the age and experience."

Ben Affleck hangs poolside (and meets some dogs) for his EW cover shoot: See all the photos

"If Gigli hadn't happened," the actor says of his infamous 2003 bomb, "I probably wouldn't have ultimately decided, 'I don't really have any other avenue but to direct movies,' which has turned out to be the real love of my professional life. So in those ways, it's a gift.... And I did get to meet Jennifer [Lopez], the relationship with whom has been really meaningful to me in my life."

Ben Affleck hangs poolside (and meets some dogs) for his EW cover shoot: See all the photos

On reckoning with his celebrity in the tabloid era of the early 2000s: "I don't think you wake up and think to yourself, 'Famous today!' It just doesn't work that way. And I felt at the time that I had really missed it in both directions. I had wanted to mitigate my personal exposure and get the most opportunities I could, and the opposite was true."

Ben Affleck hangs poolside (and meets some dogs) for his EW cover shoot: See all the photos

"One of the things that time has shown me," he continues, "is that it is oftentimes those moments of crisis or pain or perspective that actually engender change — that are strong enough to make you to go, 'F--- it. Well, this doesn't work. I've got to do something different.' I've definitely learned more from failure than I have from success."

Ben Affleck hangs poolside (and meets some dogs) for his EW cover shoot: See all the photos

"At a certain point, I think I got associated with big studio movies," Affleck says. "But I started out doing Going All the Way and Chasing Amy and Mall Rats. Kevin [Smith] was the first director who really believed in me in a way. He offered me my first real lead without me having to audition, basically because we got along. I lived on his couch, and we rehearsed [Amy] like a play. I knew every single line and beat before we did it. And I loved him, I was grateful to him. I still love him."

Ben Affleck hangs poolside (and meets some dogs) for his EW cover shoot: See all the photos

"Entertainment has changed," the actor says of the cultural shift from movies to prestige TV. "Vaudeville, the silent pictures, talkies, color, television. It keeps evolving... But you can [still] tell a great story. You can. Ozark is spectacular. Succession is spectacular. And you can explore characters [on TV] in ways you just can't in two and a half hours."

Ben Affleck hangs poolside (and meets some dogs) for his EW cover shoot: See all the photos

"I don't think it's COVID. I think it's habits," he says of the box office shift of the last several years. "And just the [promotional] expense theatrically means if you spend $70 million on a movie, you've got to put another 70 into it. That is a big investment. And if you bomb, you lose a fortune. I think now people will see three dramas a year — one of them might be Paul [Thomas Anderson]'s or Quentin [Tarantino]'s, Chris Nolan. That might be it."

Ben Affleck hangs poolside (and meets some dogs) for his EW cover shoot: See all the photos

"In The Sum of All Fears or some of these commercial movies that didn't have any depth to them and I didn't do anything particularly interesting in," Affleck says, "I thought my job was to be a cipher rather than what I later learned, which is that you actually have to take those roles and imbue them with a bunch of stuff that isn't there instead of looking to the script. I look at those pictures now, and I think, 'I can see how people thought of this person as some callow frat guy who's cavalier, or has too much.'"

Ben Affleck hangs poolside (and meets some dogs) for his EW cover shoot: See all the photos

"They made me fix my teeth and work out and be sexy," he remembers of his prepping for Armageddon, "'So I was running in the gym and putting oil on my body and stuff, and it just turned out to be a long-form version of one of those male topless calendars, in a garage, carrying a tire. But it was fun.... When you're so hungry for work and you live hand to mouth and you've been auditioning for horrendous things and not getting them and trying to pay the rent, it all just seems like a no-brainer, and it happens very fast."

Ben Affleck hangs poolside (and meets some dogs) for his EW cover shoot: See all the photos

Affleck confesses to a special fondness for one of his earliest acting credits, Richard Linklater's 1993 coming-of-age cult classic Dazed and Confused. "It was just an abundance of riches, and I had so much fun. And then it bombed. It bombed! Nobody saw the movie, but it got great reviews. It's one of the movies that I'm glad to be part of. And again, I was the single unappealing character in a movie of enormously appealing people," he laughs, "So not agreat career strength."

Ben Affleck hangs poolside (and meets some dogs) for his EW cover shoot: See all the photos

"One of the nice things about getting older, if you're lucky," Affleck admits, "is you stop bulls---ting yourself as much and you start going, 'Okay. I actually know where my feelings are.' I wasn't really comfortable with what I really felt about things in the world. I was trying to figure that out. And the more I figured it out, the more accessible that was. Now I actually know where my feelings are. I know what painful is and I know what disillusioned is and I know what ambivalent is, I know what nostalgia is."

Ben Affleck hangs poolside (and meets some dogs) for his EW cover shoot: See all the photos

To read more on Ben Affleck, pick up the February issue of Entertainment Weekly, on newsstands Jan. 21 and available to order here. Don't forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

Ben Affleck sat down with his longtime friend, writing partner, and sometime-costar Matt Damon for EW's latest cover story.