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TalkTalk have created this exclusive biography of Ben Affleck - we believe it to be the most comprehensive on the web
Ben Affleck's story is, without doubt, one of the great rags-to-riches tales in recent cinema history. Along with his childhood buddy, Matt Damon, he was a struggling actor, in the final stages of being consigned to Hollywood's dustpile. But together they fought back. Bucking the system, they wrote their own screenplay, attracted their own finance, and produced and starred in their own movie. Within a year, Good Will Hunting had taken off, in 1998 earning them both an Oscar and propelling them into major roles in such mega-blockbusters as Armageddon and Saving Private Ryan. Or so the story went. In fact, the saga stretched back a good twenty years. What really made Affleck's tale fascinating came later when, having squired pop star actress Jennifer Lopez and hit the absolute heights of tabloid fame, his offscreen life took centre stage, his career collapsed in ruins, and a second struggle for success was necessary. And this time he was on his own. This was why the awards and critical plaudits drawn by his performance in 2006's Hollywoodland were so very satisfying. He'd made it to the top twice.
Benjamin Geza Affleck was born on the 15th of August, 1972, in Berkeley, California, the family very soon moving to Cambridge, Massachusetts, a rich area of Boston, near the prestigious Harvard college. He has one brother, Casey, also an actor. His father, Tim, was an actor and director who'd worked and partied with such luminaries as Dustin Hoffman, and joined the Theatre Company Of Boston. His mother, Chris, was a schoolteacher, and would be the dominant parental figure in his life (she was his guest when he picked up his Oscar). But it was his dad's influence and connections that got him started in TV, VERY early in his life. He appeared in ads for Burger King before hitting double-figures and, by 12, had appeared as CT Granville in the cute and educative mini-series The Voyage Of The Mimi. At the age of 12 though, he suffered an emotional setback with the divorce of his parents. Tim had "a severe, chronic problem with alcoholism" which eventually broke the couple up. He left for the Recovery Centre in Palm Springs, got back on his feet, and now works counselling others in Rehab.
Young Ben's dreams of an acting career did not depart with his father, for he had begun a far more crucial and inspiring relationship some years before. At age 8, he'd met and befriended one Matt Damon, a boy two years older than himself. Together they attended Little League, played Dungeons & Dragons and video baseball, and on Saturdays watched Godzilla and kung-fu double-bills. And they acted. While at the Rindge And Latin High School, they were members of a group who won a drama award from the Boston Globe, but their ambitions stretched far further than this. They even started a joint account for when they'd have to travel to auditions.
It must be assumed that much of the ambition, drive and organisation stemmed from Damon. Affleck already had his foot in the Hollywood door - he'd appeared in Wanted: The Perfect Guy alongside Madeline Kahn, and Hands Of A Stranger with Armand Assante, both TV movies, as well as The Second Voyage Of The Mimi - but it was Damon who possessed the work-ethic. Once he won entry to Harvard, Affleck's school career began to slide. His high B average did not gain him a place at Harvard with his buddy, and instead he enrolled at the University of Vermont. He lasted one semester, deciding to eschew his studies in favour a more practical approach to job-winning. He wanted to take off for Hollywood and his mother OKed this - as long as he stayed with friends of hers in Echo Park, and continued his studies at the Occidental College at nearby Eagle Rock. He submitted to her demands and took up Middle Eastern Studies (for a year, at least).
Throughout the early Nineties, it really didn't go that well for Affleck. He appeared in Danielle Steele's Daddy, starring Patrick Duffy, and scored an uncredited role as Basketball Player #13 in the film version of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Then there was a TV series, Against The Grain, and A Body To Die For: The Aaron Henry Story where he played the title role of a football star engaging in steroid abuse. It appeared that he had the looks for decent leading roles, but just couldn't break out of the dodgy TV ghetto. So, instead of endlessly cold-calling Steven Spielberg's office, hungry for glamour parts, he slipped into the world of independent cinema.
First, in 1992, there had been School Ties. By now, Damon had left Harvard and joined his friend Affleck in LA and, despite debuting alongside Julia Roberts in Mystic Pizza, he too was finding the going tough. Having both appeared as extras in Field Of Dreams, they here featured with Brendan Fraser and Chris O'Donnell in a tale of campus anti-semitism in Fifties America. They'd all become stars eventually - but not yet. With no offers coming in, Affleck took a part in Richard Linklater's independent classic Dazed And Confused, a brilliant comic study of Seventies teens, where the debuting Matthew McConaughey stole the show as an unashamed serial seducer of schoolgirls ("I keep gettin' older, they just stay the same. Yes, they do"). Affleck also tried directing, with the sensationalist, satirical I Killed My Lesbian Wife, Hung Her On A Meat Hook And Now I Have A Three-Picture Deal With Disney. It's better than it sounds.
This step into independent film not only secured Affleck the little work he would receive in the mid-Nineties, it also made him the contact most responsible for his later success. In 1995, he appeared in Kevin Smith's Mallrats. Smith had already scored big with his seriously amusing Clerks, and this new movie took us into the dark heart of the American mall, with an array of disdainful girls, dopey boys and, of course, that now-famous dynamic duo Jay and Silent Bob. Here Affleck was excellent as the slick manager of Fashionably Male, who seduces Shannon Doherty, to the chagrin of her would-be lover. Indeed, so impressed was Smith that he set about writing his next movie around Affleck - Chasing Amy, about a charming cartoonist (Affleck) who falls for a lesbian (Joey Lauren Adams) and, well, you can guess the rest.
Before this - aside from bumming around LA with Damon and crashing on his couch FOR YEARS - Affleck would nab a big part in Glory Daze, a kind of Gen X frat-pack party, and in Phantoms, a miserable plague-zombie-type thing from the pen of Dean R. Koontz. His scenes were cut entirely from Office Killer. It really seemed his only hope was to star in a Kevin Smith film every couple of years and be spotted by someone important - hopefully someone who hadn't seen Glory Daze or Phantoms.
But Affleck did have something else going on. Back at Harvard, Damon had started writing a story during one of his English classes, but had shelved the idea for a year or so. Picking it up again, he'd decided to turn it into a screenplay and enlisted Affleck's help. Between them they'd thrown dialogue around until the play was complete. Called Good Will Hunting, it involved a super-bright denizen of proud but poverty-stricken South Boston who, via his job as janitor at the extremely prestigious MIT (a job, not-so-coincidentally, once held at Harvard by Affleck's father), wins a passage into the upper echelons of academia. The pair had been hawking the script around since 1992 but, though Castle Rock had sort-of gone for it, they wanted artistic control over the project - which meant Damon and Affleck would not be the stars.
This is where Affleck's connections came in. Kevin Smith loved the script and, being hip and important enough to do so, took it to Harvey Weinstein at Miramax. Suddenly, it was on. Robin Williams came onboard, as did director Gus Van Sant (Drugstore Cowboy, To Die For), and Damon and Affleck found themselves not only starring in their own film, but also $600,000 richer. The film would gross over $130 million and win them that coveted Oscar, but Damon and Affleck were hot property even before it opened. Damon became Private Ryan, while Affleck starred in the Bruce Willis comeback vehicle Armageddon, which itself grossed over $200 million.
Now the parts came flooding in, and Affleck rapidly improved as an actor. He joshed about as an angel (once more with Damon) in Smith's Dogma, played a slick and ruthless dealer menacing Giovanni Ribisi in The Boiler Room, and starred as an ex-con forced by psycho Gary Sinise to arrange a Christmas heist on a casino in Reindeer Games (on-set he was accidentally knocked unconscious by football star Dana Stubblefield). Then there was Bounce where Affleck swaps his plane ticket, sees the plane crash and falls in love with the swapee's widow (Gwyneth Paltrow, Affleck's real-life long-time on-off girlfriend). There was Billy Bob Thornton's Daddy And Them, and then Affleck's first major action epic since Armageddon - Pearl Harbour, where he played the romantic lead, opposite Kate Beckinsale.
Pearl Harbour, riding a wave of American nationalism, was a big earner, but savage reviews meant that Affleck, for a while, was seen as finished. Nothing could have been further from the truth. With his very next picture, Changing Lanes, where a slight traffic accident with Samuel L. Jackson grows into a full-blooded feud, he was a surprise chart-topper once more. Those who'd counted him out called it a fluke, said that his arrogant decision to take over from Harrison Ford in Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan series would see the end of him. Wrong again. The Sum Of All Fears, though its plotline (Ryan trying to stop terrorists from blowing up the Superbowl) caused it to be delayed in the wake of September 11th, was another massive hit, and meant that both Affleck and Matt Damon had topped the charts playing characters called Ryan.
After this came a low-budget comedy, The Third Wheel, which Affleck co-produced with Damon, both having cameo roles. He co-wrote a TV series, called Push Nevada. Then came Daredevil, latest in a string of super-hero movies, where Affleck starred as Matt Murdock, a man blinded by radioactive waste but still able, due to his other now-enhanced senses, to foil villains with his acrobatic stunts and ninja-type abilities. Co-incidentally, Kevin Smith had earlier written some of the Daredevil comics, and would appear in the movie as a laboratory assistant.
Following Daredevil was Gigli, another starring role, this time alongside such heavyweights as Al Pacino and Christopher Walken. Here Ben played a thuggish low-life who's paid to kidnap the psychologically challenged son of a prosecutor about to try a Mob boss. Not thinking he's up to the job, the Mob send in lesbian assassin Jennifer Lopez to help out - with inevitable results. Well, inevitable if you believe that lesbians are really just straight girls who haven't met the right guy.
Affleck would get on well with Lopez. Very well, indeed, being as she'd just ended her 10-month marriage to dancer Cris Judd. For the tabloids, the combination of Hollywood hunk and curvy Latino superstar was just too much. They came down on the couple like characters created by Ray Harryhausen. First it was good, just unbridled excitement at this ridiculously glamorous love-match. But then reviewers began to lay into Gigli, calling it one of the worst films of all time, and the film bombed in spectacular style. In the US, it created a new record when its takings dropped 81.9% on its second weekend. On a budget of $54 million, it took just $6 million at the box office. In the UK it was removed from every cinema in the country after one solitary week. And this a film not just starring a proven action hero and a pop princess with major movie hits of her own - it was furthermore directed by Martin Brest, renowned helmsman of Beverly Hills Cop, Midnight Run and the Oscar-winning Scent Of A Woman. What could possibly have gone so wrong?
Now different questions were asked. Was the relationship destroying Ben's career? Was Lopez dragging him too far too quickly from his previous laddish existence? Had Jennifer persuaded him to make the L'Oreal shampoo advert that had so damaged his tough-guy image? Was a lap dancer who accused Affleck of performing a sex act upon her at a party at Christian Slater's house just trying to make a quick buck? The press furore grew to extreme heights when it was announced that Affleck and Lopez were to marry, and grew further when, in September 2003 the ceremony was called off. Affleck would now publicly describe his life as being like "a car wreck".
The press-fest must have made it hard to concentrate on his work, of which there was still plenty. Next he appeared in John Woo's hi-octane thriller Paycheck, based on a Philip K. Dick story. Here he played a computer engineer who's hired to spend three years on an invention that can see into the future then, for security reasons, he has his memory of the work erased. Unfortunately, as well as his memory of this, his multi-million dollar payment goes missing and, possibly even worse, all thought of a relationship he's enjoyed with Uma Thurman - not something a chap would want to forget. All he has are 19 objects left to him by the pre-wipe Ben. Can he work out what's happened while Woo's usual pyrotechnics explode around him?
In its theme, Paycheck was close to Matt Damon's recent The Bourne Identity, but Affleck's effort was not so well received. He moved on to reunite with Kevin Smith for Jersey Girl, based on Smith's own experience of fatherhood. Here Affleck was a workaholic music promoter who fathers a child during a whirlwind romance then, after disaster strikes, is left as a single dad, living with his father back in New Jersey. Would his young daughter and video shop girl Liv Tyler help him find himself? You betcha.
Jersey Girl should have been an easy ride but it wasn't, for the woman with whom he enjoys a lusty and productive affair at the beginning was none other than Jennifer Lopez. Again the press built up to go bananas. The public was wound up, too. During filming thousands would line the streets, drowning the news vans, antennae and paparazzi, itching for a glimpse of the illustrious duo. The producers, fearing what had become known as "the Gigli effect", decided to play down Lopez's involvement in the movie. After all, Affleck said, she was only in it for 15 minutes. It was all a major pain for Smith, this being his most autobiographical effort to date.
By the time Jersey Girl was released, the phenomenon known in the tabloids as "Bennifer" was no more. But, though Affleck and Lopez split in January, 2004, their relationship (and its ruinous consequences) was kept alive in the press for some time yet. Due to their outrageously high profiles it was very different to his earlier low-key split from Famke Janssen. Lopez's track "Dear Ben" was still on rotation, and the hype surrounding Jersey Girl didn't serve to separate them in the public's mind. Affleck had escaped from the J-Lo circus, but he was not free.
Being Affleck, he simply let the furore burn itself out and got on with life outside of film. He briefly dated Boston TV sales executive Enza Sambataro and involved himself in New England Democrat John Kerry's campaign for the presidency (he'd earlier helped out Al Gore). He also revealed a true talent for poker, a game enjoying a sudden and vast surge in popularity, winning $356,000 for top spot at the California State Poker Championship. On TV, he'd return to host Saturday Night Live twice, both times showing a winning willingness to mock his own painful professional status. On the big screen, Jersey Girl aside, the year would see him only in Surviving Christmas. Here he'd play a lonely record executive dumped by his girlfriend at Yuletide. Advised by a therapist to seek solace by visiting his former family home, he asks to join in the celebrations of the current residents, including parents James Gandolfini and Catherine O'Hara and smart scientist daughter Christina Applegate. Yes, it was another wacky comedy with a warm heart.
Many believed Affleck to now be finished. Unlike Matt Damon, who appeared to be working hard and choosing his roles with foresight and artistic consistency, Affleck seemed too casual, too careless, too caught up with glamour and the fast life. It looked like he'd frittered his big opportunity away. Throughout 2005, he was still a major story in the press, but only due to his relationship with actress Jennifer Garner, who'd earlier played Elektra to his Daredevil (she'd actually also played a nurse in Pearl Harbour). With Garner hot after Elektra and the TV show Alias, he found himself once more as one half of an absurdly tabloid-friendly couple. But this time Affleck would shy away from the publicity. The couple's marriage, in June, would not be a roaring showbiz affair. The birth of their daughter, Violet Anne, in December, would be announced quietly and with dignity. Having hit personal low points when, in 2001, he had to book himself into the Promises Rehab Centre in Malibu for over-enthusiastic imbibing, Charlie Sheen kindly driving him over there, and then the Lopez fiasco, he seemed now to have at least found some personal stability.
2006 would see his attempt at a comeback. Having earned some extra filmic kudos with Project Greenlight, a multiple Emmy-nominated reality TV show that saw youngsters trying to get their films into production, he'd now step back into the ring with Man About Town, a Mike Binder comedy mixing pathos and farce. Here Affleck would play an agent for TV talent who must deal with his dead marriage to Rebecca Romijn and his agency's imminent collapse, all the while trying to stop a vengeful and thieving scriptwriter from handing his over-candid journals to the press. Those keen to see golden boy Affleck fall yet further would have been delighted to see the movie fail to earn a cinema release, and more delighted still when his next appearance saw him back with Kevin Smith, making a very brief cameo in Clerks II. He was, it seemed, very much a friend in need.
But things were about to change. In Hollywoodland, Affleck would play George Reeves, a failed screen actor who found belated fame as Superman on TV but was simultaneously destroyed by the character. No one could accept him in any other role, and encroaching age and poverty woukd see him take his own life. The movie would have private dick Adrien Brody investigating the case and finding much in Affleck's life to suggest foul play by mistress and benefactor Diane Lane or her MGM executive husband Bob Hoskins. Affleck himself, after Daredevil understanding the problems of an actor playing a superhero and, beyond that, being only too familiar with Reeves' disastrous fall from grace, turned in an excellent performance that surprised many when it won him the Volpi Cup as Best Actor at Venice, and then garnered a Golden Globe nomination. Suddenly, unexpectedly, he was back.
Affleck's next movie appearance would be in Smokin' Aces, a fast-paced, multi-storied crime caper where Vegas entertainer Jeremy Piven tries to grass on the mafia and a series of would-be assassins attempt to break into a hotel to silence him. Affleck would pop up briefly as a bail bondsman organising the hit and explaining the backstory in a couple of tough-talking tirades. But he wouldn't last long, quickly being dispatched by the hilarious Tremor Brothers, who then do unspeakable things to his corpse. It was quite evident that, allowing himself to be maltreated in this manner, Affleck was serving the script, not protecting his own image - a hugely promising sign.
In fact, Affleck had undertaken a jolting lesson in the importance of script when working as director on Dennis Lehane's Gone, Baby, Gone. Affleck had bought the rights to this back in 2002 when it was thought he'd star in it alongside Jennifer Lopez. Since then, of course, he'd split from Lopez and Lehane had found fame with Mystic River. It was now a very different proposition and Affleck, seeking to add another dimension of artistic seriousness to his career, had chosen to take the helm, wisely entrusting the acting duties to the reliably brilliant Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman, the latter having starred alongside Affleck in The Sum Of All Fears. Taking Affleck back to Boston, the film would see two cops investigating the kidnapping of a little girl and having their own lives unravel in the process.
With his wages having risen from $20,000 for Danielle Steele's Daddy into the tens of millions, Ben Affleck need never work again. However, having enjoyed such a joyous rise and tumultuous fall, he's learned to take film-making seriously and is clearly intent upon doing so. It's worth betting that his best work is yet to come.