Affleck is used to sniping – a mini-backlash occurred after Good Will Hunting, with gay rumors and whispers that he and Matt Damon didn't write the script (in Matt and Ben, an off-Broadway play about the pair, the script falls from the sky). Some fans have been upset with Affleck's subsequent roles in big-budget popcorn flicks such as Armageddon and Pearl Harbor, preferring that he stay on the Chasing Amy path as a John Cusack for Generation Y – a smart, sensitive everyguy.
But it was his union with Lopez that really rankled, particularly when her glittering lifestyle drew him in, and he traded his scruffy jeans and Red Sox caps for slicked-back hair and velour tracksuits (although who among you has not had a wardrobe tweaked by a new love?).
Affleck says he doesn't know why their union caused such a hostile reaction. "Hopefully I can get far enough away from it in time to be able to get a better sense of it," he says, although he suspects the hostility "had something to do with race and class. That pushed a button. This is a country that flew into a gigantic uproar about Janet Jackson's breast. There's still a heavy-duty puritan influence going on, and we still hold ourselves to a pretty chaste ideal, which includes, buried within it, the tradition of people being with people like them. We were thought of as two different kinds of people, not just racially but culturally." Perhaps that's why the tabloids have gone easier on Lopez dating singer Marc Anthony. Affleck lights another of his menthol Marlboro Lights. "Basically, it just came down to, Wow, I never thought those two would get together.' "
Affleck and Lopez met on the set of Gigli in December 2001, when she was still married to dancer Cris Judd, but it was during the filming of Jersey Girl, the following summer, that they fell in love. As did the public: This reporter was present on the last night of filming on Park Avenue in New York, when the frenzy was just cresting. On that day, the two were on the front page of both the Daily News and the New York Post, and a hundred-strong mob of rambunctious paparazzi was gathered at the edge of the set, hoping for more shots.
Suddenly the two appeared – he in sharp suit, she looking lusciously beautiful in a fur coat, towering high heels and bare, tanned legs. The crowd went berserk. They shot a scene, over and over, in which they chitchat for a moment and then he kisses her. Their make-outs continued after Smith yelled, "cut," and were so intense that it felt invasive to watch.
The day before was even more frenetic, when Smith filmed in Central Park for a scene in a horse-drawn carriage. "It was bizarre," says Smith. "These were just guys in guerrilla-warfare outfits, snapping photos like we were in the DMZ. As soon as we would yell cut, voom, they would just descend like a cloud of locusts. I was like, 'Jesus Christ, why? Like two famous people have never fucked before?' "
The film was shot mostly in Philadelphia, where the pair shared an apartment. Affleck recalls it as a "great, wonderful time."
"They'd come to the set together, they'd get made up together, they'd be in their trailer together," says Smith. "If you found one, you'd find the other. If we had any problem with the movie, it was that you'd want to go get them, but the trailer was rocking. So you'd just let them be."
The couple announced their engagement in November 2002, but signs of strain appeared by next summer. The tabloids reported that Affleck, in Vancouver to film Paycheck had frolicked with strippers at Brandi's Exotic Nightclub, although he dismisses reports of hanky-panky. "There have been plain, baldfaced lies people have told about me for money," he says.
Then Gigli was fricasseed, making just $3.8 million on its opening weekend. A few days before their scheduled September wedding in Santa Barbara, California, the pair issued a statement saying the nuptials were postponed due to media scrutiny. "That really was the truth," Affleck says. From there, the relationship seemed to limp along, finally ending in January.
"It was weird," says Smith. "In the course of time from Jersey Girl's wrap up until now, it was watching the entire life cycle of the public's fascination, then revulsion and the fallout."
Did the two fan the flames of interest? There's no need to read between the lines of Lopez's song "To Ben," for instance: "I think God made you for me/A mix of passionate fidelities/Baby, you're so complete/I write this song to let you know /That you will always be to me /My lust, my love, my man, my child, my friend and my king...."
Madonna, of all people, even weighed in. "To a certain extent, they courted the media attention," she said. "At the end of the day, there needs to be a part of the relationship that you keep private."
Affleck shakes his head. "You can probably file that quote in the dictionary of clichés under the heading of 'pot and kettle,' " he says, throwing his baseball. "I mean, I didn't do a book with me naked."
He maintains that the two "lived regular lives" and that much of the overexposure happened without their participation. So why, for instance, did he phone Howard Stern last December when he knew full well Stern would ask about J. Lo's ass?
"I loved it," says Affleck. "With Howard, you know what you're getting. It's not CNN, where there's some snide prick named Anderson Cooper pretending to do real news, when there's nothing substantive about it at all."
While a dig at Cooper is always welcome, it doesn't answer the question. How about his comment, beamed all over the world, that sex with Lopez "lasts for ten minutes?" Why go there? "I'm doing foreign press for some movie," he says, "and this Australian lady says, 'How does it feel to have your sex life be so much an object of everyone's fascination?'" He sighs, exasperated. "And I said, 'What do you mean, they're fascinated? It's not like there are people outside my window, clocking it, going, "That was only ten minutes!"' It was a bit. Then it sort of turned around."
Affleck grabs his keys. He wants to go on a field trip to show just how misinformation can mutate. "Let's take a drive," he says, heading to the parking lot where his black Beemer awaits. First, he busily discards the ten empty soda bottles piled in the front seat, then he turns up a Johnny Cash CD and imitates Cash's cover of U2's "One." "One love," he sings in a deep drawl that sounds more like John Wayne than Cash. "One liiiife." He laughs. "On road trips, people say, 'Stop singing, please, you're ruining the music.' "It's a perfect California day, golden and crisp, and the air rushing by smells like gardenias. Affleck guns the engine, weaves in and out of traffic and grins. This is sort of fun, being in Lopez's stilettos for the day. Whoo!
"For fuck's sake!" Affleck says at a hesitant driver, before running a red light. "I learned to drive in Boston," he says, "and there's a certain kind of make-your-own-way thing that happens."
Affleck applied that same philosophy to his career. He grew up in Cambridgeport, an ethnically integrated part of Boston, with younger brother Casey, also an actor; mom Chris, a schoolteacher; and father Tim, variously a janitor, bartender, mechanic and bookie. "He made some book, yeah," says Affleck. "When we got a new washing machine or a VCR, my father said, 'You can thank Steve Grogan.' He was the quarterback for the Patriots, and everybody in New England bet on the Patriots, and Grogan was constantly fucking up, and he had bad knees."
Tim drifted from the family when Ben was eleven. "My mother did the lion's share of the raising of my brother and me, but she was a great mom," he says. "Unconditional love, that was her thing."He maintains close ties with Chris, who keeps her son down to earth, insisting that he stay over when he visits his childhood home. "My mother gets all mad at me if I stay in a hotel," he carps. "I'm thirty-one years old, and I don't want to sleep on a sleeping bag down in the basement. It's humiliating, you know what I mean?"
Affleck didn't have much contact with his father during his teen years, but he later reconnected with him after his dad, an alcoholic, went through recovery. Tim now lives in Indio, California. "I visited with him yesterday," says Affleck. "My dad's a good man. We have a good relationship."
Affleck himself got sober after a month long stint in rehab in 2001. "It's not something I think about all that much anymore," he says. Although after the breakup, he did get a flood of calls. "They say, 'Hey, are you OK? You need to talk?' So that's kind of a constant reminder." He laughs. "Then I'm too irritated to have a drink."
Affleck's father was also an actor, which sparked his son's interest at a young age (although Affleck Sr. cautioned him by saying it was "the stupidest fucking job in the world"). He and his best friend Matt Damon, who lived two blocks away, would conduct "business meetings" about their acting careers in the high school cafeteria. "It was just us sitting there in a nerdy way and saying, 'We should go to New York for this long a time, and then probably move to L.A.,'" he says."Meanwhile, we auditioned for all kinds of terrible things."
Young Ben would do anything: student films, corporate videos, a slew of commercials. "I did a Levi's 501s commercial when 501 Blues were the big thing," he says. He briefly attended the University of Vermont, then dropped out and moved to L.A. to live with a gang of young wanna-be actors. "I was turned down for everything," he says, waving to a carload of smiling teens who honk their horn. "Dead Poets Society. I lost License to Drive to Corey Haim." At one point he nearly wavered from his goal when he was sent to see a friend of a friend who was an older struggling actor. "He had all these birds," he recalls. "He really wanted to get stoned, and I never liked dope all that much, and it was harsh and I was really paranoid. And he told me, 'I've been an actor for thirty years, and you know how much I've made? Eight thousand dollars.'" Affleck was ill for a week. "I don't know if it was the guy's weird marijuana or his bird-flu virus, but it was an all-around horrible experience."
Meanwhile, Damon was a student at Harvard who was also being cast in one disappointing role after another. Out of frustration, in 1993 the two started writing Good Will Hunting, about a troubled math genius from the wrong side of town. "I've always been insecure because I only had a little bit of college and knew a lot of people from fancy schools," Affleck says. "All that sort of resentment in Good Will Hunting about people who went to college came from me feeling on the fringe."
Good Will Hunting earned nine Oscar nominations and made Affleck and Damon instant stars. "It was like being on a roller coaster," Affleck says. "You know, it's exciting, but what you're aware of mostly is just the sense of movement. It's hard to digest, even in retrospect."
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