For Ben Affleck, “Gone Baby Gone” is a return to his hometown of Boston, and to a behind-the-scenes role for the superstar actor, known mostly for his romances and box office flops. Since he won the Oscar in 1997 for co-writing “Good Will Hunting” with Matt Damon, Affleck has stayed in front of the camera, with mixed success. But now, in his latest role – that of director – Affleck is again generating Oscar buzz.
For his directorial debut, Affleck resisted the urge to star in the film, instead casting his younger brother Casey in the breakout role of Boston detective Patrick Kenzie. While adapting the Dennis Lehane novel for the screen, Affleck has said he decided to shave a decade off the lead character’s age to heighten the emotional impact of the situation, and found his brother, 32, fit the part.
Though Affleck’s only previous directorial experience was the short film he made in college, “I Killed My Lesbian Wife, Hung Her on a Meat Hook and Now I Have a Three-Picture Deal at Disney,” he drew upon his on-set experience to helm a celebrity-studded cast of veterans: Ed Harris, Morgan Freeman and Michelle Monaghan.
But for the new father, dealing with the story of a kidnapped girl was at times the biggest challenge. “Being a father, and understanding what it truly feels like to have a person in the world that you would die for, really made me look at this story differently,” said Affleck in a statement. “It took an even deeper resonance for me, which I think greatly influenced the point of view of the screenplay.”
UPS AND DOWNS
A native of Cambridge, Mass., Affleck first got work as a child actor, and a teenaged version of him can be spotted in a scene shot in Fenway Park in “Field of Dreams” next to childhood friend and fellow Red Sox fanatic Matt Damon. His first serious exposure is owing to director Kevin Smith, who cast him in “Mallrats” and then as the cerebral leading man in the bittersweet love story “Chasing Amy.”
Affleck became a household name at age 25 when “Good Will Hunting” was released and earned him and Damon Oscars for Best Original Screenplay in 1997. Basking in critical praise, he followed up his breakthrough with a well-regarded supporting turn in “Shakespeare in Love” alongside then-girlfriend Gwyneth Paltrow.
Starring roles in box-office hits like “Armageddon” and “Pearl Harbor” solidified his leading-man credentials, but Affleck became better known for his overexposure in supermarket tabloids than for his acting chops when he began dating Jennifer Lopez in 2002. His career notoriously reached its nadir with the 2003 release of “Gigli,” a collaboration with Lopez that left critics foaming at the mouth to unleash their most scathing invective.
After breaking up with Lopez and scuttling his affiliation with “Bennifer,” Affleck rebounded by marrying Jennifer Garner, his co-star in the modest 2003 hit “Daredevil.” His clout as an actor seems to ebb and flow in inverse proportion to the amount of coverage he gets from paparazzi; as he and Garner appear to have settled into a quiet domestic routine with their toddler, Violet, Affleck seems poised to win over critics again. He closed out 2006 with a supporting role in “Hollywoodland,” a ’50s-era thriller co-starring pros like Adrien Brody and Diane Lane, before setting his sights on the director’s chair. - Heather Corcoran and Cotton Delo