Garner and Affleck on their son Samuel’s birthday last week
Ben Affleck is currently sober and promoting his new movie The Way Back, which is also serving as an art-imitates-life way for him to talk about his personal struggles and sobriety. It dovetails nicely with his redemption narrative, and it turns out it almost didn’t happen. Gavin O’Connor, the director of Ben’s film, talked to the official magazine of his alma mater, UPenn. He said that Ben approached him about directing the film after reading the script, that they had a heart to heart and Ben promised he could play the role. Then Ben went to rehab and the studio thought the movie wasn’t going to happen. Except Jennifer Garner, who was already in the process of divorcing Ben at that point, called him on Ben’s behalf and asked him not to scrap the movie.
As you’re alluding to, Ben Affleck has a history of alcoholism, recovery, and then relapse. I was wondering if you were at all concerned, going into this, of triggering a relapse?
GO: So what happened was, just as we started prepping the movie, Ben fell off the wagon. So he ended up going to rehab, and I didn’t know if the movie was over. The studio certainly thought the movie was over. His ex–wife Jennifer Garner called me up, and told me that when he went to rehab, he took a basketball with him. She said, “Gavin, he’s asking you, please don’t pull the plug on the movie, he really wants to do this.”
So, he had about a week of detoxing, because he really went off the deep end, and after a week, I was able to go see him. We spent half a day together and figured out a way to do this that will work for him, because most importantly he needed to recover and needed to get his sobriety on track. That overtook everything. And then he got out the day before we started shooting. So we had a very raw, vulnerable guy showing up for our first day of shooting.
It’s almost a counter–intuitive thing with acting, because he’s doing scenes that were obviously painful. Really intense and dark and bleak and suffering. And capturing that, to watch him do that was hard at times, but it also was euphoric, because that’s your job as an actor, is to access these emotions and to go to places that are honest and deep and truthful. So, it always felt really good, even though it was painful, because he was doing his job really well.
Do you remember how Garner went out and talked to the paparazzi before driving Ben Affleck to rehab? It was like she was negotiating with them to take photos but keep their distance. It sounds like Ben asked her to do him this favor to call the director and she obliged. This latest news makes me wonder how many other messes she’s cleaned up for him behind the scenes. I appreciate that, at some point, she was sort of done with being the together one and taking care of Ben’s life for him, but it still seems like that’s their dynamic.
O’Connor also talked about Ben’s relationship with the young men who played the high school basketball players his character coaches. At first the teens were starstruck but they quickly got used to him. This film has an 82% on Rotten Tomatoes and while I probably won’t see it in the theater I will definitely rent it. It sounds decent and all this promotion is working on me.
photos credit: Backgrid and Avalon.red