Behind the mask, Ben Affleck talks 'Daredevil,' Part 1

Thu, February 13th, 2003 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Jonah Weiland, Executive Producer/Publisher

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Continuing with the CBR News/Comics2Films coverage of Twentieth Century Fox's "Daredevil" press junket we present the latest transcript of the round-table interviews.

In this segment, Ben Affleck talks about bringing Marvel's man without fear to life.

This interview does contain spoilers, so read it at your own risk.

[Daredevil]Q: How does it feel to be part of what Hollywood is calling the world's most celebrated love affair?

Ben Affleck: That's you that's calling it that. That's not Hollywood.

It's a little weird. That's a little strange, so it's new for me. I've been in public relationships before, you know, with Gwyneth [Paltrow] and it wasn't quite the same type of thing. I don't know what's different about it. I didn't anticipate that it would be different. I thought, "OK, there's a degree of publicity that kind of goes along with this," but I was a little bit shocked.

I feel like I take a lot of comfort in the fact that there's only so much you can say about that stuff and then there's somebody else, then Colin Farrell's dating Britney Spears and you're off the hook entirely.

Q: Do you want to clear up whatever the rumor of the week is about the wedding?

BA: I'm not even abreast of all the rumors in the ways that you guys probably are. I can tell you that nothing's changed as far as I know. I'm not up to date with the papers.

I'm not getting married any time in the near future, so don't worry.

Q: Was it difficult playing a blind person. Did having to pretend to have a handicap hinder you or help you as an actor?

BA: OK, I'm glad to get to some of the questions that won't make any of the copy, but yes, you can all take a little break now.

Yeah, it was interesting playing a blind man. What's interesting about it, as opposed to, you look at like "Red Dragon" where Emily Watson, I thought, did a great job. I watched that, playing a blind character. Pacino did it famously and won the Oscar in "Scent of a Woman." So there was a high bar for playing blind people that's out there.

The interesting thing about this was that, while he's blind with his eyes, because of this sort of superpower that he has, with this advanced hearing that allows him to create this sort of three dimensional map, using sonar, of his surroundings, that he's not, in the way that we think of people who are blind, technically blind.

A lot of times, as Matt Murdock, it's kind of an act that he's having to play at being more helpless than he really is. What I did is I worked with a guy by the name of Tom Sullivan, who's blind. He's one of these guys who like, jumps out of airplanes and is a really good skier and makes you feel really inadequate. He helped me in terms of talking about how one, who is blind, who can't use their eyes, uses their other senses to navigate their surroundings, and so on.

The big cheat for me was that I was able to use these contact lenses, which were completely opaque, which I couldn't see out of at all, which meant that I didn't have to consciously act blind. It just sort of took that away. So then the challenge was just not walking into furniture.

Q: What is your brother's, Casey Affleck, reaction to you being a superhero? How about Kevin Smith?

[Ben Affleck as blind attorney Matt Murdoch]BA: My brother, I feel is a superhero.

Incidentally, my brother has a movie opening this weekend as well, which I think is one of the great, American art movies ever made. It's a staggering movie. Worth checking out. Really, really brilliant. Matt [Damon] is in it. Gus Van Sant directed it. It's called "Gerry." It's like playing art houses and stuff, but really worth seeing.

I think Kevin's Internet Boy. That would be his superhero. Talkback man! Kevin manages to keep up with every single person who posts on the Internet in the world, about movies, Kevin writes a reply.

Q: "Daredevil" departs from the comics in that the hero lets the guy die near the beginning. How did you feel about that?

BA: That was a real controversial issue. I know that the really hard-core fans, myself included and I think probably even Marvel felt that that was stepping over a line, in a way. We went back and forth on that many, many times.

Ultimately what we decided, and that's the one way that it kind of deviates from the heart of the book. Where Daredevil never killed anybody. He does let Bullseye drop in the comic book and in this one we throw him out the window, and that's very consistent with the comic.

He was not as vengeful as we portrayed him in the beginning, but for the sake of giving the character an arc from letting him go from a guy who's seeking, ultimately, vengeance to a guy who understands the difference between that and justice, and who understands about mercy and compassion, largely through the love of this woman. We kept it in there.

You know, there's part of me that's ambivalent about it, because it is the most significant departure from the tenor and tone of the comic book itself, which is the thing that I wanted to be the most faithful to, but I do think it works in the context of the movie and I think, ultimately, he's not The Punisher. He's not a guy who would just a guy who's a vigilante who shoots bad guys and kills them in the comics. And ultimately that's not where Daredevil ends up. Where Daredevil ends up at the end of this movie is very, very consistent with who he is in the comic.

Q: Another departure that will upset fans is the use of prescription drugs.

BA: I thought that was emblematic of a way in which this has its own tone.

It's a little grittier, a little bit more realistic and it represents the fact that, in this comic book superhero universe when a guy gets hit, or stabbed, he bleeds and there're consequences to it. Still, as a comic book movie, you have to suspend your disbelief if you were to add up all the injuries the guy takes over course of the movie it's...borderline, right, that you could really kind of keep going.

I think that speaks to the violence issue that there are consequences to violence, that this is not wonton, graphic, random violence without consequence, that it hurts. People suffer. So I supported that and I like that part of the movie.

Q: If you had to give one of your senses, which would it be?

BA: Probably smell.

I have a friend of mine, a guy named Chris Andrian, who I knew when I was a kid, who, in fact, introduced me to "Daredevil" when I was nine years old. I just ran into him again. He e-mailed me, I hadn't seen him in years, "I can't believe this. You're doing 'Daredevil.' It's amazing."

He sort of couldn't fathom it, so he came down and visited me on the set and when he came down and visited me it turned out that he had this very rare, little known condition. I was like, "What's the story with this condition? What do you mean?"

And he said, "Well one of the things is I can't smell anything."

I said, "You have no sense of smell?"

And he was like, "No."

I said, "I never knew that."

He said, "Yeah, when people would say, 'Oh, that stinks,' I would just kind of go along with it, you know?"

But like Chris never seemed to be lacking anything of any kind so I have to say, and I never noticed it, so that has to be the most disposable of all senses. Although if you have it, I think you'd miss it.

But half the things you smell though you wish you hadn't so that's like, you know...

Q: You've said you're a big fan of Daredevil. Why is that?

BA: It's hard to say, probably. I suppose it reveals something. This is probably a conversation better suited to my shrink, but then, why not? Every other issue in my life I seem to be capable of bearing with the world.

I don't really know. I know that when I was a kid, I think there was a contrast between the heroes in the spectrum of this comic book universe, many of whom were very chaste, boy-scout, black and white, golden age, fifties comic book heroes that were predictable. You always knew they'd always do the right thing. They were fighting intergalactic foes.

It was fun in a kind of little kid way, but it was nothing that I could ever kind of identify with and as I got into pre-adolescence and into adolescence, this guy represented something to me that I guess I thought was more realistic. That sounds funny to say about a guy who puts on a red suit and fights crime at night, but it was like he was a flawed hero. He had his own struggles. He was openly religious. He had these tragic love affairs. He struggled with himself as much as he struggled with the rest of it. He didn't always win. He didn't always do the right thing. I guess that resonated with me a little bit more.

It was also more, kind of like, ground-level guy. He wasn't fighting various other intergalactic empires or traveling to alternate universes. There was never a ring that shot green rays. He was just a guy who would evolve. Also, I think in particular, he had this handicap. He had this peculiar vulnerability that I thought was really interesting.

And I also just have to credit the writers and artists who worked on that comic then and now and made it, in my opinion, a really significant work. One that I was really drawn to.

It's hard to say what makes a story good and another story bad. It's relative. It's subjective. If I polled all of you in the room you'd probably all have different opinions about various movies and novels. It's just something that I thought was good.

Q:What do you think accounts for the surge of interest is heroes? Will this help or hurt "Daredevil?"

BA: It's interesting. There's been a kind of seismic shift about how the CIA is really represented in a way that's different. If you look back at...what was the Redford movie..."Condor." Where he says, "You people. You think that not getting caught in a lie is the same as telling the truth."

There was a time when the anti-authoritarianism and the government scandals and the Vietnam war had made a generation of people very skeptical of authority and wanted to pull back and reign in secret government programs and the like.

Now, with Colin's movie ["The Recruit"] that's out now, I haven't seen that actually, but they were citing lines in the movie where guys were saying like, "Do I get to kill people," and Pacino says, "Do you want to kill people?"

And it's very much like the Bill Casey mentality of like, "Give us free reign and we'll be able to fix the problems and don't ask questions."

I think it's a question of, like, as people feel more and more in jeopardy they want these kinds of guardians, the watchmen, the policemen, even the vigilantes...there's more sympathy for them. The NYPD went from dealing with the Amadou Diallo case and all these scandals and segued right into: people recognize now, by and large, that these people are heroes. They're here to protect us.

I think probably, that that trend means that people are more interested in stories about heroes and the conflict of people being out there, trying to protect us at large.

I don't know how that'll help us or hurt us with the movie, or if it's really relevant, but I do think that it's interesting to note that, societally we're more willing, all of a sudden, to be less restrictive of the people who are protecting us and maybe less judgmental of them.

Q:What influence has Kevin Smith had on your career and on this movie?

[Ben Affleck, Mark Steven Johnson and Jon Favreau]BA: Kevin is the reason "Good Will Hunting" got made. Kevin is the reason I have a career, playing leading roles and not being stuck playing obnoxious, bad-guy bullies. Kevin believed in me after "Mallrats," cast me as his lead in "Chasing Amy."

We were doing "Chasing Amy" and he told Miramax who had already passed on "Good Will Hunting" initially, that they should read the script when it was in turnaround from Castle Rock, and that's the reason we got it made there.

Kevin has always been a big believer in me. I really owe the guy a big part of my career. If not the whole thing. Don't tell him that because he'll ask for money.

He's also seen, kind of coincidentally...I guess he's sort of the Godfather, in some circles, of the comic book movie connection. Here he is, the guy is such a comic book enthusiast, he owns a comic book story, he worked for Avi, writing "Daredevil," and he's a filmmaker. I think it was a natural connection for Mark to go to this guy.

In some ways, when you do something like this, take a character that's already been built, you kind of seek peoples' blessings, who are people who have already worked on it. Kevin did a great run of "Daredevil." Like the people like Frank Miller, Kevin Smith are the people that Mark and I kind of wanted to please with this because they represent the hard-core fans, the base support group.

Kevin was very enthusiastic. Brokered my connection with Mark and has been a champion of me doing this. Very encouraging. Came in and watched early cuts of the movie. Gave feedback.

He's in the movie and actually isn't nearly as bad an actor in this movie as he is in his own movies, which is curious. It kind of seems like he should get a guest director to come in and direct him. Tell him like not to bug his eyes out so much. Kevin does like a weird, Al Jolson performance thing in his own movies.

But he's kind of grounded and down-to-earth.

Q: Is it true that you originally went after the part of Bullseye rather than Daredevil?

BA: What it was, was, they wanted to go really early. I was shooting "Gigli" and by the time I heard about this "Daredevil" thing, that they were doing it and Kevin brought it up to me. I was already doing this other movie and they wanted to go in that slot, which broke my heart because I so wanted to be involved with this.

They had a release date issue that they wanted to meet. Movies have another whole side to them that has to do with what quarter they come out and where they fit. Movies, particularly with large, multi-national corporations, they're basically these huge pipes. The pipes cost a lot of money just to maintain and the pipes need to be filled with product at specific intervals, so there was that issue.

So I said, "Well, Jesus. I guess I can't play Daredevil because I'm not available but maybe this Bullseye..." I'd always loved Bullseye. In the forward I wrote to Kevin's graphic novel, the run of "Daredevil" that he did, I talked about sympathizing with Bullseye. I thought he was one of the great villains. You kind of love him. Colin was the perfect choice for that because he is literally the lovable rogue, you know.

So I went in and sat down with them just to say, "Well maybe I'll be able to do this just for a few weeks." They could compress the days and so on and so forth and Mark was like, "I think maybe we could work with you as Daredevil with that. What do you think?"

I said, "That would be a dream come true for me."

So that's how it evolved from Bullseye to Daredevil. I would have been happy to play Bullseye. That's a great part.

Q: But then they started the movie later than planned anyway. Why did Fox change their mind about the scheduling?

BA: What happened was, I guess they just decided...a lot of times you'll hear, "We really need to go. We really need to go because the studio wants to go."

And then, as it turns out they're kind of like, "Well, actually we won't really be ready until a couple of months after that and we would really rather have this much time to prep and we could go that soon, but it'll cost more money," and the urgency fades.

I'm sure what happened was that Fox rearranged some movies. You'd have to go ask Sam Rothman or Rupert Murdoch. I don't really know the answer to that.

They slid the movie, functionally is what happened. They compressed back-to-back. They started shooting two weeks of the origin stuff with the little kid, while I was still shooting "Gigli," so technically I had two movies shooting at the same time. I just wasn't in that two-week section of filming and then as soon as I wrapped "Gigli" I went right into the next day they were doing "Daredevil," which meant that a lot of the physical training that I had to do for this movie was that after work on "Gigli" I would wrap and then go train for three or four hours at night. That was sort of exhausting.

Q: In "Daredevil" you play a man without fear. In real life, is Ben Affleck a man without fear?

BA: I have so many fears that it would be hard to itemize them all. My real superhero would be like Anxiety Guy, I think.

What was that movie with Ben Stiller? Where they all --? You know what I mean? They all had funny --

Q: What's your worst fear?

BA: I used to be really scared of flying until I took…actually from "Pearl Harbor," in fact. One of the good things to come out of my doing that movie. I took flying lessons and that really got me past that fear.

It's like a control thing with me. I don't know why I think I'd do any better flying the plane. Clearly I'm much worse, but it's just that thing of you don't have control over it. "Are you guys alright up there? Is everything good?"

So that was a fear of mine. I don't know, as you get older you get much more...you know...I put my seat belt on now. Stuff like that. I am just much more conscious and fearful. I think everybody kind of is, especially in the last year or two. Even look at yesterday's news [of the Space Shuttle tragedy]. There's that kind of fear of turning on the TV and some horrible thing has happened.

So living with that kind of awareness, that's a lot of anxiety.

Q: Do you think "Daredevil" will do well with your personal life so much in the spotlight?

BA: I'm hopeful that it'll all go all right.

Yeah. Ultimately I'd like to be able to work in this business and make movies and quite be so, as somebody astutely put it, in the middle of the tornado of it all. Basically the trade-off is money. I just mean you don't make as much money, but you still can based on the merit of your work...like right now, the big part of why I get cast in things, I suppose, I like to think it's because I'm a great towering talent of an actor. But no, some of it has to do with marketability, visibility, name on a poster, and sitting down talking with you folks.

That's the trade off. You make a bunch of money because you kind of sell your life along with the movie. The story of yourself, that sort of thing. So there's a part of me that wants to segue from doing that kind of acting and work with movies to a kind where you get to take more of a back seat and somebody else is up here talking about their love life and all their personal details. You can do acting in the way that I did with "Shakespeare In Love," or "Boiler Room," and come in and out and do stuff.

Or maybe direct and write stuff where it's not so much about...the work speaks for itself. And you know, nobody even wants to talk to directors all that much.

Q: "Daredevil" aims to be a more gritty and realistic superhero movie, yet it still has costumes and an element of fantasy. Is that difficult to balance?

BA: Well I will say...you do movies like this and they take place in this alternate universe. This one is unique in the comic book movie adaptation pantheon in that, while it has this tonal thing of people dressing up in costumes and fighting crime and super villains and stuff, there is a dual tone. There's also an element of realism in it. That's not tongue in cheek.

It dares to ask the audience to take the characters seriously and to really get invested in their emotional journey, which could be absurd. So you have to sort of invest yourself in it, be convicted of it.

In order to do that, that was hard for me because it's a little far a field from my everyday life; putting on a costume, doing flips, fighting crime, people getting stabbed and just operatic, melodramatic-scale good versus evil.

One of the things I could identify with this movie was, what's at the center of it really, which is this love story. The transforming power of love and the redemptive qualities that falling in love has.

Without going into too much detail I can tell you that that's the thing that I could identify with and I used that, as an actor, as a kind of center piece to hold onto when sometimes it felt like, "Boy, I'm trying to think what this is like in my life and I can't think of anything."

Q: What does Matt [Damon] think about you being a superhero?

BA: He's threatened.

He feels he's intimidated and wishes he'd made that choice. A little jealous. He likes the tights.

What does Matt think? He's kind of like, "Hey, man! So, you're doing the superhero thing."

Matt's a hale fellow, a pretty genial guy, but I think he's a little bit intimidated. I know he feels a little bit comforted because on those lonely nights, when he hears a noise in the room he can say, "Honey, get up. Will you go look downstairs," and you know, I'll go down and look downstairs.

Q: What does Jennifer Lopez think of all that?

BA: Jennifer always is the one who goes downstairs. I'm like, "Honey, get up! Go look downstairs."

Look for part two of this interview Friday morning. "Daredevil" opens in theaters tomorrow.

 
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