Like I said yesterday, all of the attention that was paid to the Ben Affleck controversy over what he did or didn’t mean about his divorce overshadowed the real tea that he spilled with Howard Stern. And it’s not necessarily the kind of gossip that you can sum up in a soundbite or a headline – and that’s often the best gossip. Because that’s the real insight. These are the stories that really tell you about a person and his environment. In this case, it’s a first-person testimony about how Hollywood works, from one of Hollywood biggest stars. Like in celebrity years, two plus hours of an interview is basically a week on the witness stand, there is so much to study and nerd out over.
Here’s an actor, a really, really high profile one, talking to Howard about how painfully, almost devastatingly insecure they all are. That was one of the highlights for me about the interview. And it happens when Ben and Howard are talking about Good Will Hunting and Robin Williams and it’s Howard that brings up something that he’d heard about Robin. It was that Robin, considered one of the all-time greats, was deeply insecure, for a while there during Jim Carrey’s rise, felt threatened by Jim which led Ben to remember a time when Entertainment Weekly put out an issue listing the greatest comics of all time, and Robin was #1, but they put Jim on the cover of the magazine, which Robin took exception to. This isn’t breaking news – Jim Carrey himself has addressed this in the past, after it was touched on in a Robin Williams biography. But these are the kinds of stories that add colour to a situation and fill it out, and told not in a disparaging way but as part of a larger conversation about how insecure so many performers are, and that’s how Ben and Howard’s conversation unfolded. Ben talked about all the rejection that actors have to eat, all the competition that happens on the way up, and all the hits you take even when you get to the top. “That insecurity?” Ben tells Howards, “It kinda never leaves people.”
I mean it doesn’t leave him. He talks about how it was so low for him at one point that he had signed onto a movie and they didn’t actually fire him from it, they went so far as to PAY HIM to not do it. He’s still holding on that grudge, and he admits it. “I’ll never forgive the person who did it,” he says. And when Howard asks him to name names, he declines, because “I don’t want them to know that they affected me so profoundly”.
Look, if this is the kind of you thing you have the privilege of listening to all the time during celebrity interviews, congratulations, you’re in some rooms most of us don’t get into. From where I sit, this doesn’t happen. And it definitely isn’t just him. He’s not that special. They’re all walking around with these kinds of scars. We’ve always known this about the profession, but it’s seldom discussed in this much detail and with so many examples, some intentional and others unintentional.
Like when Ben starts talking about the Argo Oscar run. I could listen to this part over and over – and it should be mandatory listening in every celebrity studies course. Howard asks him about The Snub, not being nominated for Best Director. And this is probably the most extensively Ben has ever spoken about the situation. He says, “I did everything they asked me to do”, kissing babies, visiting with old people, like he went out there and campaigned, he thirsted openly. “Part of [why you do it] is because you’re the director and you gotta do it but the truth is… part of it was because… I WANTED IT.”
And then he goes on, talking about how everyone told him he was going to win. Not just nominated but win. So he gets up that morning, he admits to getting up, unlike most of them who claim to be sleeping, he’s up at 5am to hear the announcements, “I did assume I was gonna get nominated”, and of course, he doesn’t make the directors’ cut. His next thought: “It’s never gonna happen. I’m never gonna get it. No one’s ever going to be willing to just say, yeah, it was good.”
So then he calls the studio, he’s having a suck attack now, “Guys, I think you know I’m done. I’m never gonna do it again. No ass kissing, no hand shaking, I don’t give a f-ck”. He took his toys and went home.
Not a great look. But he’s not lying. And it still sounds… fresh? Like I’m not sure he’s over it. He needed that validation badly from the directors’ branch of the Oscar Academy. Still needs that validation? Perhaps. This is a person who has been or still is clearly so affected by what people say and think about him, on the outside and on the inside. Just before this part of the discussion, he talks about what it felt like back in the OG Bennifer days to be so despised, to be half a couple that everyone hated. And during the Oscar part of the discussion he’s talking about being rejected by the directors in the Academy, since that’s the voting branch that determines Best Director nominees. Some of whom might be listening to Howard’s show and hearing him say these things. Which is interesting on another level because Ben actually does have an outside shot at a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his performance in The Tender Bar, the film he was promoting by even being on Howard’s show in the first place.
How will the industry, directors and actors alike, respond to Ben’s two hours of raw confession? I’m not talking about all the f-cking noise that came out of that one comment about his marriage that dominated the headlines. I’m talking about him putting words to emotions that are secretly familiar to them. As established, this is an industry full of deeply insecure and fragile people, always looking around comparing themselves to one another, seeking validation and, ultimately…
Desperate to be liked.
There are two ways to react when you see your realness in the mirror – you either keep looking or you turn away. F-ck if we could only hear those conversations, the ones that actors are having among themselves, whether or not they recognise the themselves in Ben, or if they’re willing themselves to believe that he’s the exception. Sure. If you want to assign him that kind of specialness. And will they want to vote for him now…or not?