What was your tipping point when it came to Ben Affleck, the moment you threw your hands up and said, "Enough"? Was it when he and Jennifer Lopez canceled their wedding? When he bought her a Bentley? When she fried up chicken cutlets for him on TV? When his career became secondary to their celebrity? Maybe it was the precise moment that he put his hand on her bikini-ed butt in the "Jenny From the Block" video.
Until that point, the nation feasted on the details – his strip-club visit, the six-carat rock that he gave her. The Latina bombshell – with her fur coats and high heels, her ex-husbands and her appetites – and the handsome, square-jawed movie star! She's Bronx, he's Boston!
Then indigestion set in.
"Our relationship was written about so much that it just alienated people," says Affleck, who claims that he is as sick of the spectacle as you are. "I feel like a guy who is almost at the finish line. Then I'll sort of disappear for a good long time, and not be ... this person."
The pair's year-and-a-half romance ebbed in January, and now Affleck is in the awkward position of having to talk about Jersey Girl, a film that actually documents their falling in love. Affleck plays a music publicist whose wife, Lopez, dies in childbirth soon after the film begins.
Jersey Girl is no Gigli fiasco – it focuses much more on his relationship with his young daughter and his later love interest, played by Liv Tyler, than it does on Lopez, whose face has been banished from the ads and posters. "This is my favorite thing that I've done," says Affleck, lounging in his office at his L.A. production company, which is staffed with swinging young employees who sift through tapes for the Project Greenlight cable series that he co-produces for Bravo. Affleck recently asked Jersey Girl director Kevin Smith, his longtime pal, if he was angry at him for suggesting that Smith cast Lopez as his wife. "It was more a way of saying, 'Hey, I'm sorry. I didn't mean for this to happen.' I felt badly that the tabloid craziness would overshadow what is a really personal work."
Affleck, unlike most other actors, is tall in person (six feet three). He wears jeans, work boots and a gas-station jacket. Usually gregarious, he is incredibly closed off on this particular day. He won't make eye contact, and there are uncharacteristically long silences before he speaks.
"You caught me at the tail end of a life spent entertaining the press, and I'm a little bit weary of it, having been betrayed hundreds of times," he says. "But don't worry. I'll warm up." He looks at the floor.
OK, then. Who gets the ring? "That's a ballsy way to start," Affleck says with a brittle laugh. "There was no ring. It was a fraud perpetrated on the American public." He won't reveal the reason why the two split. "I haven't had conversations with my close friends about this relationship."
Smith has his own theory on the breakup. "I totally blame the media," he says. "It's tough to live your life under a fucking microscope, and now turn that microscope into a high-powered, shooting-into-space telescope that's constantly focused on you like a laser. I think that really played a big, big fucking part."
Affleck says that he still talks to his ex and allows that the split was mutual. "I think any relationship that ends, by definition, ends mutually," he says. He clears his throat. "Sensible people are able to recognize that. I mean, relationships are mysterious and hard to fathom, but when it doesn't work, it doesn't work, and you just have to accept it gracefully."
He tosses a baseball in the air, faster and faster. "I'm not that interested in assigning blame, because I think it's illusory, anyway," he says, although he does agree with his ex-girlfriend Gwyneth Paltrow's recent comment that he makes life hard for himself. "She's probably right about that," he says. "I trust her opinion about most things. Not all, but most. I think I probably do get in my own way."
That said, he maintains that he is an easy person to live with. "I'm a very pleasant, low-maintenance guy," he says. "I'm not picky about things, like the house has to be this way or that way. I don't have some particular way I like to eat, or 'We have to go to this restaurant.' " He lights a cigarette and takes a vigorous drag. "But really living with somebody is about more than who does the dishes and if they pick up after themselves. And in some ways I'm probably not the easiest guy in the world." He is restless, for instance. "I have lots of interests, lots of energy, but there's definitely a negative side to that as well."
He and Lopez first lived together in Philadelphia during the filming of Jersey Girl, then afterward in Los Angeles in Lopez's house. Now that he has moved out, he is staying with friends while he searches for a place to rent. He was interested in one house, but someone else had put an offer on it first. "It was Nelly," he says ruefully. "Me and Nelly, vying to rent a house. Nelly got it, by the way."
Affleck is self-effacing, without actorish false humility, and will beat you to any punch line about himself, making jokes about his save-the-world film roles and calling Gigli a "bomberoonie, the Ishtar of our time." The phone rings in his office.
"I can't pick up," he bellows at his assistant. "The light isn't flashing."
"It is, too," she hollers back.
"Quit talking about the light flashing," yells another employee.
"You see the respect I get around here?" he says, punching the phone buttons.
In person, Affleck is deeply likable. Quick-witted, with a ribald sense of humor, he's an excellent mimic, endlessly entertaining with a stream of constant "bits." An equal-opportunity flirt who loves bantering back and forth, he's the sort of guy who leaves a party and everyone else trails out five minutes later.
"He's not completely obsessed with himself, like other people in his profession," says his pal Chris Moore. "He can talk about who should be the next president, or why he thinks it's OK that the Red Sox didn't get A-Rod. And he's just been a real loyal friend. He's always found time to be there when I needed to talk to him."
Affleck is fully aware of the schadenfreude directed toward him and studiously avoids reading magazines or watching any TV shows in which he might be featured. "Otherwise I'll just get bent out of shape," he says. "I'm not even going to jump up and down and send letters to the lawyers anymore. I tried suing. It doesn't work."
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