Point taken. You, Ben Affleck, despite all your millions, your Oscar and the whole Gwyneth thing ("a very dear friend of mine, so beautiful and smart"), are still a middle-class moke from Cambridge, Massachusetts, who doesn't sweat the details and chuckles at his own good luck. You're not the flavor of the month, you're a runaway Good Humor truck. "If it bombs and everybody hates it," you tell Us weekly at Pearl Harbor's premiere, "that about finishes me off, don't you think?"
Not likely. Pearl Harbor signals that Affleck, 28, has hit Hollywood's big leagues. "Ben Affleck is a star," says the film's director, Michael Bay. "He has the good looks, the charisma, the comic timing, the grin that lures the girls in and that the guys relate to."
Off-camera, Affleck also has a reputation for being a charmer. During downtime on Pearl Harbor's Hawaii set, he organized barbecues on the beach - and his love of blackjack and a good party is legendary. "He'll make a good dad when he's ready," says his Harbor costar Kate Beckinsale. "Right now I think he still wants to play around with the guys."
Although he says he has curtailed his wild living since Hunting made him and Damon media sensations ("[Living] like a rock star, it's really just kind of living like a drunk," he said last October), Affleck isn't ready to settle down. His best pals are his posse from the old neighborhood and kid brother, actor Casey Affleck - who routinely crash at Ben's messy Hollywood home. Like any good frat house, the place comes with a pool table and a keg of Guinness. His collection of vintage arcade games includes Ms. Pac Man and Millipede; when Sony introduced the PlayStation 2 last year, the company sent Affleck and Damon complimentary game sets.
Since ending a yearlong relationship with Paltrow in 1999, Affleck has steered clear of commitment. But he and Paltrow remain cozy - the pair costarred in the romantic comedy Bounce last November. "We're close," Paltrow told reporters. "But it's not what people think it is. We are not together."
Rumors of other romantic entanglements abound. "Sometimes it's Britney Spears, and sometimes it's Carrie Fisher," Affleck jokes of tabloid reports of his affairs. "I can't tell if I have a Lolita complex or an Oedipus complex." He denies the reports of an involvement with Janssen or Lonstein. And last December, the actor - who supported Hillary Clinton during her successful Senate run - was amused to find himself in a "secret romance" with her daughter, Chelsea, according to the Star. The two are just friends.
The only steady woman in Affleck's life is his mother, Chris Affleck, an inner-city elementary schoolteacher who still lives in the modest home where Ben and Casey grew up. (Affleck's parents divorced when he was 11.) Chris Affleck frequently accompanies her eldest child to Hollywood premieres, and he has purchased a Volvo and a house on Cape Cod for her.
Affleck's father, Tim Affleck, an Indio, California, substance-abuse counselor, battled alcoholism and was estranged from his children until recently. But it was his job as a stagehand at a Boston theater company that sparked an interest in drama in his sons. At 7, Ben landed a small role in the film The Dark End of the Street. Next came a part in the PBS series The Voyage of the Mimi and appearances in Burger King ads. An indifferent student at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School, he starred in plays with Damon. After a semester at the University of Vermont, he threw himself into acting full-time. Roles in films such as School Ties (1992), Dazed and Confused (1993), Mallrats (1995) and Chasing Amy (1997) followed, as well as his collaboration with Damon on the Hunting script. For better or worse, the movie's success gave Affleck a new life: "Everybody knows who you are, and you don't know any of them, and you can't go into a gas station and act weird because it will end up in the tabloids."
Affleck's next hit film, Armageddon (1998), introduced him to the producing and directing team of Jerry Bruckheimer and Bay, who cast him in Harbor. But unlike Armageddon, which Affleck dismisses as "popcorn," the World War II epic is seen by all three as an action movie with a soul. "I hope this movie is an antiwar war movie," says Affleck. "One of the things I really loved about it was the visceral sense of just how awful it was to be at Pearl Harbor." To get into character, Affleck participated in an army boot camp in Hawaii. "We learned to respect what men and women in the military go through - the hard way," says Affleck of the experience.
After Harbor, Affleck will get more exposure as an action hero in The Sum of All Fears, starring as the Tom Clancy hero Jack Ryan - a role previously played by Harrison Ford and Harbor costar Alec Baldwin. Then there's Changing Lanes, opposite Samuel L. Jackson. Affleck has also been busy offscreen. With Damon, he has founded LivePlanet, an "Internet/entertainment" company. Last year, LivePlanet launched Project Greenlight, an online screenwriting contest in which the winner was awarded $1 million to make a Miramax film. Another LivePlanet idea, the reality TV series The Runner - in which a contestant journeys across the country while viewers try to catch him for money - will air on ABC next year.
Affleck has even entertained thoughts of a political career - though not too seriously. "I would like to see music teachers, archaeologists, sailors, educators and movie stars in government," says the actor. "But I have too many skeletons accrued already to survive that grueling, invasive process." Here is one such skeleton: Last April, the Web site TheSmokingGun.com reported that Affleck has never actually voted.
Maybe it's because he's too focused on having a good time. If Affleck had one complaint about his time filming in Hawaii, it was the nightlife: "I was surprised at how dead it was. I thought it would be wild, like Daytona Beach during spring break."
No doubt Affleck's life isn't as carefree as it seems, but one thing he isn't worried about is being typecast. "He has never been just a pretty face or all muscles," says Harbor producer Bruckheimer. "I think his Oscar and non-action movies proved that. His role as producer of Project Greenlight proves that. But there is also room in his career to flex his muscles, smile, get the girl and fend off the bad guy, too. That doesn't make him a less serious actor. That makes him versatile."
(Us Weekly 330-31, June 15, 2001)