JERSEY GIRL - Q&A with Ben Affleck
With Ben Affleck who plays Ollie Trinke in JERSEY GIRL
There have been reports of you being quite ill lately. How are you now?
BEN AFFLECK: I was hospitalised. I got sick, I had bronchitis just as a result of being too stupid to quit smoking. 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. They had to give me a spinal tap, so I did that, and they told me that 5% 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.
The other headlines have concerned you and co-star, and former girlfriend, Jennifer Lopez.
BEN AFFLECK: 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.
Do you think this is an occupational hazard, in this celebrity-obsessed age?
BEN AFFLECK: I guess so. It's certainly a problem if your job is to convince people that you're somebody else, it really gets in the way. 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.
How did you approach playing a dad in JERSEY GIRL?
BEN AFFLECK: I had to do a lot of imagining, and talked to friends who had kids. What I discovered when I talked to them is the openness with which they expressed how parenthood had changed them. It surprised me, because they would be these tough guys I grew up with. As far as the dynamic with [my screen daughter] Raquel Castro, I kind of relied on her. She has a father, I don't have a daughter. So I took the cues from her about how that relationship might be, and she was great about it, really helpful.
Have you witnessed the change a child makes in your director, Kevin Smith?
BEN AFFLECK: I think the story came out of his own ruminations on what it would be like if he had to raise a daughter by himself. Would he be up to it? What would he do? For career driven people that's the central preoccupation of your life. You're trying to make money, or achieve some goals that you have set out for yourself and then all of a sudden you're sideswiped by this whole other aspect of life - a family. What my character realises is that your family, as well as what sort of person you actually want to be, are the things that are really important. It's about trying to become a man I guess.
Would you say these themes make the film an easy target for cynics?
BEN AFFLECK: 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.
Do you think it's instructive that Kevin Smith has made his share of smart, snappy, sarcastic movies in the past?
BEN AFFLECK: To me it's interesting, because if you look at Kevin's movies thematically this sort of stands 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.
Would you say it takes a certain confidence to tackle a more poignant film though?
BEN AFFLECK: 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.
Your screen daughter, Raquel Castro, seems frighteningly self-possessed in interviews. What is it they say about working with children and animals?
BEN AFFLECK: I've worked with quite a few actresses, and she ranks right up there with ones I've been intimidated by! It was kind of scary. First of all she's so precocious and confident, and seems so together that you think 'good God, I'm 31 years old and I'm not half as together as you are at 8'. She was brought in because of her striking resemblance to Jennifer, and it was such a stroke of luck that she also turned out to be a really good actress. We got really lucky in that regard. Sometimes movies are about that, getting lucky in the right place at the right time, God is smiling on you. He really did with Raquel. She can hold her own.
And she gets to do a big musical number at the climax of the film. How was it for you?
BEN AFFLECK: That was what she was looking forward to the whole time whereas it was the one thing I was dreading. I'm a musical disaster, I'm tone deaf, so it was excruciating for me to try to sing. And then to be up there singing and dancing - I think Kevin wrote it in specifically to humiliate me. And, to make matters worse, Raquel was so adept at it. She was a great little singer and performer. We had to take these little music rehearsals and I was miserably floundering around while she was chirping along hitting all the right notes at the right tempo. So I was there being upstaged and humiliated by an 8 year-old girl.
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