It was only two or three years ago that Ben Affleck was everywhere, a state of ubiquity that bred an avalanche of contempt.
The star of "Gigli" and "Jersey Girl" was constantly out-and-about with girlfriend Jennifer Lopez and his every move was tabloid fodder. The worst part was that Affleck looked to be embracing the attention to his personal life, seemingly unaware that audiences were rapidly forgetting why they'd liked him in the first place.
Then, the "Good Will Hunting" Oscar winner took a step back. He traded Jennifers, parting ways with Lopez and eventually marrying Garner. He became a father. The paparazzi may still have been hovering to capture his every move, but he seemed less eager for the press. And, with the exception of "Surviving Christmas," a dud so massive it hit DVD shelves within weeks of its theatrical release, he stopped appearing in movies.
"I wanted to sort of take a break and keep things quiet, and I kind of made the decision to just do the kind of movies that I really like to be in and that I can be proud of being in and not work for money or work to be famous or any of that stuff," Affleck says.
Ben Affleck, the actor, (as opposed to Ben Affleck, the movie star) returns to screens this week in "Hollywoodland," a fact-based examination of the death of "Superman" star George Reeves. The film, directed by Allen Coulter, depicts Reeves as a man who became the victim of his own fame. Let's just say that Affleck relates.
"It's just like, in doing this movie, I sort of lived my own research a little bit which was nice, playing this part, because I didn't have to then go around and ask a lot of people what this is like, what this feels like," he explains. "It's like the guy from 'Good Will Hunting,' playing a guy from Boston. I kind of had a head start on that."
Of course, Affleck isn't just playing himself and he admits proudly that he watched every available hour -- color and black-and-white -- of Reeves' "Superman" television series, as well as attempting to catch all of the actor's undervalued film work.
"George Reeves was an iconic guy because of who he played and that was, in some ways, tragic for him," he notes. "And that very tragedy and kind of paradox -- in the sense that he got the thing that he wished for and ultimately it was very destructive -- is part of what makes the story so good and part of what makes the character so good. The onus was on me and on Allen and on the writers to be consistent with who the guy really is, because there is a kind of a burden and a responsibility and I think even moreso because I think of George as a guy who never really got a fair shake."
The recent changes in Affleck's life seem to have caused the actor to get a new perspective on stardom, one that he suspects Reeves might have shared.
"You keep on running on this treadmill and reaching for another movie or another prize or another accolade or someone else to ask for my autograph or another TV appearance. It never gets there. It's hollow," he muses. "It's like a western façade town on the Universal lot. You go, 'Oh, look. It looks like the old west. It's neat.' But if you there and actually open the doors there is nothing actually inside. It doesn't matter what's inside. It just matter what it's showing you. So that's how it kind of works and I've done that and getting to the point where -- I'm lucky. I got to kind of see that and then say, 'Okay, well, what do I really want to do?' In the course of that I got dinged up plenty and now there are things that will probably come along that I won't get the chance to do that I would like to, that being that guy would afford me the opportunity to do."
"Hollywoodland" can maybe be seen as Affleck's first step in rebuilding his image, a process that will continue in the spring with the release of "Gone, Baby, Gone," his feature directing debut.
"Ultimately, I found myself at the end of that period to have sort of a horrible feeling, to be trapped inside and part of this whole tabloid situation where my personal life is out there," he reflects. "So just being able to take a couple of years and reassess about what I want to do with my life, what do I want to be has been great. I have a family. I'm working on stuff I like. I directed this movie now which was extraordinarily terrifying and wonderful and horrible and great all at the same time. So I'm in a nice place."
"Hollywoodland" goes wide on Friday, Sept. 8.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times