It was announced earlier this week that Ben Affleck’s new film, Air, about how Air Jordans became a lifestyle (this is not hyperbolic, and Jordans aren’t just a sneaker – the shoe is literally its own culture), would close out SXSW tomorrow night. The timing couldn’t be better, because we are just coming off the Oscars, where Everything Everywhere All At Once won Best Picture, and it was exactly a year ago when EEAAO debuted at SXSW and went on to generate so much positive buzz, well, you know what happened next. The Hollywood Reporter is now calling SXSW an “Oscar launchpad”.
Which is not to say that Air is going to the Oscars next year. The point is, it’s a great place to generate hype for a movie. And this is hype time for Air, which is opening on April 5 – Amazon’s first global theatrical wide release before heading to Prime Video. It’s another reason the industry will be paying close attention, because while Michael Jordan is definitely a superhero and Jordans are definitely a super-shoe, this is not a tentpole, it’s an adult drama with no explosions or special effects, and they’ll be watching to see if there’s still an audience for it that will leave their homes and head to the theatre.
So that’s why Ben is on the cover of this week’s The Hollywood Reporter for his best, if not one of his best, interviews of his entire career. Thanks to Jennifer Lopez? We’ll get to that, but first, after THR published the piece yesterday, Ben immediately started trending on social media, which is how I first heard that the article had been released. The reason he was trending? Something something Batman Justice League whatever, this is not the conversation I want to have and also… why are we still having it?! The only part of the Batman conversation that is interesting here, to me, is what Ben says about finally figuring out “how to play that character”, which works as a teaser for, ugh, The Flash. He confidently declares that he “nailed it” in that movie and “for the five minutes I’m there, it’s really great”. As you can imagine, that made all the DC fanboys horny, and then they went on social media to spread their horniness all over each other.
But the Batman thing was just one of Ben’s many shares. And that’s the overall takeaway from the interview, why it’s such a good interview. Because he just keeps talking, relatively unfiltered, and what he has to say is interesting and funny, at times very funny, covering a range of topics from the inside baseball of how a movie is financed; to the shift to streaming; to his friendship with Matt Damon; to Artists’ Equity, the company they just launched; to his relationship with the media; to how he got Michael Jordan’s blessing; to his group chats; and yes, his wife, and what really went down at the Grammys…
Ben Affleck can’t stop talking, and he’s a good talker, which is why this interview, even though it’s in print, reads so well. Because you can hear him speaking a mile a minute, eager to share his thoughts on whatever it is that’s asked of him…and in my mind, while I was reading it, I’m like – is this JLo’s life?! Is this what it’s like when they’re in the car? Radio Ben coming through the in-house speakers? Seriously, why doesn’t Ben Affleck have a podcast? The man is a perfect talk radio host, he can keep going and going.
Which is why it was a good editorial decision on the part of Rebecca Keegan, who reported the piece, and The Hollywood Reporter, to publish this interview as a straight Q&A and not in profile form. So that you can really get a sense of Ben’s flow, so that all his asides are included. It’s the asides that really fill in the colour with his comments. My favourite aside, selfishly, happens when he talks about getting Michael Jordan’s signoff to do the movie. So he reaches out and asks Michael for a meeting and MJ is like, sure, meet me at the golf course. And we could have just skipped right to the part where they meet, but here’s Ben with the aside:
“I said, “Please, can I come out?” And he was great. “Yeah, no problem. Come to the golf course.” Went out, met with him. I waited for him to finish playing. I don’t golf myself. Because I just feel like it eats people’s lives up. I look at golf like meth. They have better teeth, but it doesn’t seem like people ever come out of that. Once they start golfing, you just don’t ever see them again.”
OK please don’t cancel me, I’m not trying to laugh at meth addiction. Meth is not funny. Meth is, obviously, a problem. The reason I’m laughing is because I play golf, and he has a point here about people who start golfing and “you just don’t ever see them again” – because in my experience, it’s true. I am so obsessed with golf that when it’s golf season, you won’t see me unless you’re playing golf with me. If it’s sunny out on a Saturday or Sunday, don’t bother contacting me unless it’s for a tee time. If I can get out of work by 2pm between June to August, don’t bother asking if I want to meet up for a drink, unless it’s on 18 after the round. And Ben Affleck just describes it so perfectly. Golf is like the Chinese government: it can disappear people without warning. You ever listen to the SmartLess podcast? When Jason Bateman and Will Arnett start talking about golf, it’s over. They’re instantly derailed.
So anyway, to go back to Ben, this interview is full of these asides, where he just adds context to a situation, often in the most entertaining way, that makes it such a fun read. And that’s the energy here – he’s having fun doing this interview. Sad Affleck is not the one who shows up for The Hollywood Reporter. We’re getting Fun Affleck instead, courtesy of JLo, as he says that she’s the one who told him to be himself when he does the interview instead of being afraid of saying the wrong thing. That’s when the whole mess from his Howard Stern interview comes up and how this comments about his divorce from Jennifer Garner and drinking and feeling “trapped” were taken out of context. According to Ben, JLo thinks that that experience, which he calls “really painful”, and others like it, have made it so that he’s too much in his own head when he’s doing media. So before he left to meet with THR, she encouraged him to stop worrying:
“It’s hard. But anyway, so [Jennifer Lopez] tells me today, “Relax, be yourself. Have fun. You’re actually a fun guy who is real and genuine and you just seem so serious.” Do I seem serious? But as in many things, she’s really right. And she loves me. She’s looking out for me. She’s trying to help me. So it’s like, maybe I ought to f-cking listen to her.”
He did listen to her and the result is an interview that’s full of insightful gems. Like the reveal that he’s part of a word game celebrity group chat with Matt Damon, Jason Bateman, Bradley Cooper, and some other famous people. Again, this comes out of an aside when he’s answering a question about his recent bout with COVID and he says he was so sick he could barely play Octordle.
“Octordle. It’s just Wordle with more words. Don’t be impressed, it’s not harder. I was invited to join a cool little red velvet rope celebrity Wordle group. Matt [Damon]’s one of them. Jason Bateman and Bradley [Cooper], and … Actually, the first rule of Wordle is don’t talk about Wordle. Unless you get it in three guesses. I used to do the crossword compulsively in the mornings and think I was good at word games. And let’s face it, going up against actors, it’s not a high bar. I expected to do fairly well, so I was seriously humbled. You have to do the Wordle, the Quordle and the Octordle, and add up your score, and then whoever gets the lowest score wins for the day. It’s fiercely competitive, and there’s a lot of mockery and derision. So I’m in training.”
Now I want to see this group chat scoreboard. Ben obviously isn’t the leader if he says he’s in training so who is the leader? Also, I wish I could get in on this because that’s what I do too – Wordle, Quordle, and Octordle, only I start with Spelling Bee because those other three are over too quickly. So at some point they should introduce Spelling Bee into the equation because it’s way harder. Duana and I often text back and forth about Spelling Bee, but we’re not sharing scores like these bros. So these are the kind of revelations that add more depth to the celebrity ecosystem – knowing that these people are nerds for word games like the rest of us and have found a way to make it into a dick swing… which is the kind of dick swing I don’t mind because they’re bench-pressing here with their brains and not the brawn.
To go back to JLo though, because we’re all here for the gossip, I know, Ben is asked about the Grammys appearance and whether or not it was true, the internet’s assumption that he didn’t want to be there and was having a sh-tty time, and the interaction between them that was interpreted to be a fight. My take on it at the time was that this was “middle-aged marriage dynamics”. Takes one to know one – and it turns out, per Ben, that’s exactly what it was. But also, he turns it into a lesson about how we gossip, which is something we’ve all been reckoning with over the last few years:
“I had a good time at the Grammys. My wife was going, and I thought, “Well, there’ll be good music. It might be fun.” At movie award shows, it’s speeches and, like, sound-mixing webinars. But I thought this would be fun. I saw [Grammy host Trevor Noah approach] and I was like, “Oh, God.” They were framing us in this shot, but I didn’t know they were rolling. I leaned into her and I was like, “As soon they start rolling, I’m going to slide away from you and leave you sitting next to Trevor.” She goes, “You better fucking not leave.” That’s a husband-and-wife thing. I mean, some of it is, I’m like, “All right, who is this act?” Like, I don’t keep up. My wife does, obviously. And yeah, it is your wife’s work event. And I’ve gone to events and been pissed off. I’ve gone and been bored. I’ve gone to award shows and been drunk, a bunch. Nobody ever once said I’m drunk. [But at the Grammys] they were like, “He’s drunk.” And I thought, that’s interesting. That raises a whole other thing about whether or not it’s wise to acknowledge addiction because there’s a lot of compassion, but there is still a tremendous stigma, which is often quite inhibiting. I do think it disincentivizes people from making their lives better.”
It is interesting, because here’s a guy who has been through it, very publicly. And he has been trying to make his life better. But will the culture let him? Speaking of better – the JLo makeover in this photo shoot is in full effect.