Goodwill hunting

Times Staff Writer

THE Ben Affleck of the "Bennifer" headlines is long gone; the Ben Affleck who made "Gigli" and "Jersey Girl" is just a faint memory. The Ben Affleck who won an Oscar for co-writing 1997's "Good Will Hunting" is back.

Everything seems to have come together for Affleck, 34. Not only has his name been circulating as a supporting actor contender for the Oscars and Golden Globes for his haunting performance in "Hollywoodland" as the ill-fated George Reeves of TV's "Superman," but he is also happily married to his "Daredevil" costar, Jennifer Garner, and has become a doting new father.

During a recent chat at the Regent Beverly Wilshire, he grabs his BlackBerry to show off daughter Violet's first Halloween picture -- she's dressed as a little monkey -- then takes some time to talk about getting his career back on track.

Because of your run of bad luck at the box office and your highly publicized engagement to Jennifer Lopez, you became more of a media

... construct than a real person.

I read somewhere that you want Violet to be proud of you. Is that one of the reasons you did "Hollywoodland"?

I was going to be a dad; I was getting married. That was part of it. I also just wanted to change my career and the kind of life that I had as a result of that career. Sometimes that made me happy but mostly made me unsatisfied. I made the choice not to do that anymore and try to find something that was more interesting.

And were you willing to wait for the right role?

Yeah, part of that just meant being willing to not work. When I read this [script] I went after it. I made the choice to change the kind of projects I wanted to work on. Obviously, I had a total nightmare tabloid experience and this relationship with Jennifer Lopez and the degree to which it metastasized into something culturally bizarre. It kind of ushered in a very ugly era [in journalism] that we are still seeing.

Reeves is actually your first adult character role.

It is an adult step. When I think of the meaning of a character role, it is where you get to examine the character of that person more thoroughly and where the character isn't subject to the demands of being the protagonist. The protagonist has to drive the story and can never do something that is not heroic or smart. The protagonist has to be likable. And with a character part you have the freedom to be an actual person who might do things that are not appealing. You get to play someone more interesting.

My daughter is going to have my name attached to her name, and I want her to like [what I do] even if it means that I am doing theater or small character roles or directing. Maybe I am just a slow learner and I didn't completely value my own sense of myself enough to project it until somebody else or other people depended on it. I learned that later than some, but not too late.

Did you bring your experience of playing the superhero in "Daredevil" to your portrayal of Reeves?

Oh, definitely -- that kind of sense of humiliation and the absurdity of wearing red leather trousers and the top not being on and trying to pretend that you are some, like, super figure; meanwhile, the costume is so restrictive that you can barely walk across the room, much less fight crime. That is why Reeves started drinking at 9 a.m.

What type of research did you do to play Reeves?

When you are playing a guy who has left behind hours and hours and hours of film of himself -- I was able to watch all of that.

The difference between doing an imitation or an impersonation and trying to play them [as a real person] is a fine line. It involves whether you are experiencing the feelings they were feeling. I had the advantage of time and a huge volume of material, so I could thoroughly immerse myself in it, so that rather than a self-conscious imitation, I knew the guy and the way he behaved so well, it was happening without me trying to think about it. That combined with a few key things that I got from talking to people who knew him.

You must be thrilled with winning best actor at Venice and supporting actor of the year at the Hollywood Film Festival.

It's been great. I never know what to expect. But I always knew that I liked the script and I thought it was a pretty good role. I felt like I was in the company of really good actors. I wanted to make sure I held up my end of the bargain.

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