Ben Affleck

Paycheck

Interviewed by Nev Pierce

“I should give Matt a kickback for recommending me ”

Ben Affleck and Matt Damon wrote Good Will Hunting in a bid to play decent parts - and ended up winning an Oscar. The pair now swap projects but lead contrasting lives, with Affleck tabloid fodder for his relationship with Jennifer Lopez. The actually-quite-down-to-Earth star of Paycheck tells you about success, failure, and working with action legend John Woo.

Was the combination of Philip K Dick and John Woo irresistible?

Yeah. I had seen the Philip K Dick movies [Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report] and read a few of the stories. However, I had been a fan of John Woo's since the first movie of his I saw. I can't remember if it was The Killer or Hard Boiled first but I've had these posters of those movies ever since. It was an opportunity for me to work with someone who I have admired for many years, who I think is personally responsible in a lot of ways for elevating the way action movies are made. It was a very easy decision.

The movie has a machine that can see into the future. If you could have looked into the future, how would you have viewed the last couple of years?

One of the things Paycheck talks about is this notion of whether or not it's a good thing to see the future, or to try to erase the past. Interestingly, as people we're really anxious to see what's going to happen, and don't really want to think about what did happen. I think it's an unhealthy desire. I think it's a good thing we don't see the future because otherwise we'd dwell on the negative things that are going to happen. It's also important to remember both the good and the bad in our lives. It builds character.

The idea erasing something from your memory is very tempting. Are there any movies you'd like to erase from your memory?

[Laughs] Yeah, there are a few. It's funny because oftentimes the experience of making a movie, or the things I have learned, are not necessarily mirrored in the final product. I've had some really interesting, valuable experiences where I've learned a lot, where the movies didn't work out very well. And unless you've got a great director that you really, really trust, it's a tricky proposition and one never really knows. It's hard to make a good movie. In some ways you learn more from failures than you do from things that work, because they're just much more pointedly instructive. I might be depriving myself of something valuable by erasing those things.

While filming, did you find yourself getting as paranoid as your character?

Yeah. You can't help but absorb a little bit of what you're doing. During this movie I had these really weird dreams. I think it had to do with trying to ratchet myself up into a state of both ignorance - in terms of this character's life - and frenzy. So I guess a little bit of that bled over.

How much was the action hero element of this a realisation of boyhood fantasies?

A lot of it is that. Getting to be in an actual John Woo movie - that, by itself, was a big deal for me. And doing that action stuff definitely fulfills an adolescent fantasy. Although I liked that my character isn't a superman. He was a real person and a lot of the struggles were intellectual action, in a way - trying to unravel a logic puzzle.

Matt Damon was considering Paycheck but recommended you instead - do you often give each other scripts?

Yeah, all the time. What's nice when you have a friend who's a contemporary in the same business is there's somebody to bounce ideas off. Matt and I were both great fans of John's for a long time, and I got this phone call after he had sat down and met with John. He had just done an amnesia movie [The Bourne Identity], and he didn't want to do the same thing over again, but he said, "The script's really good, I just met with John Woo. You should talk to him." It's nice to have somebody you respect, who you knew from before, who is in a similar position. I suppose I should give him a little kickback for the recommendation.

In the film your character gives up three years of his life to work. Given the right project, would you ever be willing to sacrifice three years of your life?

It's a tricky question. One of the things I thought was interesting about the movie at its base was that no matter what we do, I think most people grapple with this notion of how much are we going to give up of our lives for our professional work? For many of us we're lucky enough to work on things that we really love doing and still there are attendant sacrifices. And that balance is a tricky one to maintain, so that theme is resonant. I probably would have given up three years and worked for free to work with John, but they didn't ask me to, so I took what I could get.