Affleck has no fears about `Fears'

May 21, 2002|By Ron Dicker | Ron Dicker,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - Ben Affleck, a recent graduate of rehab, doesn't care what you think anymore.

"Mostly I feel pretty happy with the road I'm on now," he said in an interview to promote The Sum of All Fears, opening May 31. "I don't worry so much about the things that don't matter, about making everybody happy and hoping everybody will love everything I do. It doesn't work that way."

Funny how self-acceptance can parallel a recent critical success. The reviled, revenue-gushing Pearl Harbor made him an easier target than a tin can on a fence. But his performance in Changing Lanes, as a hot-shot lawyer who gets in a war of malicious deeds with Samuel L. Jackson, has generated a heap of praise.

"If you paid attention to the reviews all the time, it would kill you," he said. "I just try to maintain my own standard about it. I think, more often than not, a combination of good writing, good directing and being in a good movie tends to mean that people like your performances better."

Affleck, 29, said he has done big-budget thrillers to get a chance at riskier ventures such as Changing Lanes. Which brings us to The Sum of All Fears, the latest of Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan novels to be adapted for the screen. Only this time Ryan is younger, given that the previous Ryans, Harrison Ford and Alec Baldwin, are no longer in the picture.

Producer Mace Neufeld said he was left holding the Jack Ryan bag after Ford turned down the role and the shooting date approached. Enter Affleck, like a fearless operative right out of one of Clancy's books. He was available. He was interested.

"He's a deceptively good actor," Neufeld said. "You don't become a movie star by accident."

It was after working on the nuclear-disaster flick that Affleck's own life reached critical mass. He had developed an alcohol problem, which seemed to kick in the drive to over-tip. Affleck won $500,000 in a drunken blackjack binge in Las Vegas and tipped $100,000. He then checked himself into Promises, a $33,850 a month clinic in Malibu, Calif.

Affleck, who bared his soul about the experience in a national magazine, agreed to discuss his post-recovery over the objections of a publicist. One of the biggest lessons he learned was that he could not live and die with every hit, every flop.

"I've got more perspective on it," he said. "It means that it's not the be-all and end-all, and I think it's dangerous to get really obsessed with your career."

He's working it out on his own, though the man who once squired around Gwyneth Paltrow would like to settle down some day. "I'm not dating anybody, so I guess it means I'm far away from marriage," he said.

Perhaps the true test of his resilience will come with The Sum of All Fears. Affleck knows he is bound to draw comparisons to Ford and Baldwin. He expects some movie goers to reject him in the role.

Like a theater actor who follows the longtime lead, he said, he's created his own nuances for the character, who is far greener.

Affleck boned up for the role at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va. He also had phone briefings with Ford and Baldwin.

"It wasn't an issue of `tell me how to do this' with either of those guys," Affleck said, "as it was about paying respect to actors I really looked up to and running it past them and hoping I'd get their blessing to go ahead and do it."

Affleck is up for a sequel if the movie connects. If not, he'll live. He stars with Jennifer Lopez in Gigli, a comedy about contract killers due out next year.

And at the time of this interview he was finishing a stint in red tights as the comic-book hero Daredevil, a blind attorney who develops superhuman powers. Perhaps that was why Affleck had red-tinted hair, which he tended to rub as he spoke.

He swigged from a bottle, too. It was water.

"I've been disillusioned at times along the way, but I have nothing to complain about," he said. "I'm very lucky. I have a really good life."

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