“I had gotten really disillusioned with the kinds of movies I was acting in and the career that I had,” says Ben Affleck of his decision to take on the small but pivotal part of the doomed George Reeves, television’s reluctant Superman, who either died by his own hand or a confluence of malevolence.
“And I was really unhappy finding myself perpetually in the sights of paparazzi cameras and in the gossip magazines. This character was broken, but he’s also the archetype of all those kinds of guys I had played — the actual, real version, which is damaged and somehow unhappy and trying to be something other than what he is. And to me that made it infinitely more interesting.”
Take Affleck’s Daredevil, or Larry Gigli from “Gigli,” Jack Ryan from “The Sum of All Fears,” A.J. Frost in “Armageddon,” RafeMcCawley in “Pearl Harbor” or Michael Jennings in “Paycheck,” prop them up at a bar and fill them full of “envy and self-loathing,” and you might have a reasonable facsimile of Affleck’s affable Man of Steel — here undone not by kryptonite, but by Hollywoodland, what Affleck calls “the business of long, sharp knives” when describing his own journey through the vortex of tabloid fame, more or less intact.
“Hollywoodland” had a long, tortuous journey to the screen, almost starring Kyle McLachlan back when it was still called “Truth, Justice and the American Way.” In the process, rumors about Reeves’ demise have only grown more baroque.
But unlike “Auto Focus” or “Fur,” for instance, which present speculative biographies of their subjects, director Allen Coulter opts for “JFK”-styled multiple explanations, in the process turning MGM production chief Eddie Mannix, his wife Toni, Reeves’ fiancee and Reeves himself into a postmodern game of Clue.
“The scene where he kills himself, just sitting on the bed,” says Affleck (one ending of many), “that was based on a photograph that was taken a week before Reeves died. Allen and I both discovered it simultaneously; it was the one picture where he wasn’t smiling or posing, it was just naked, honest and vulnerable. I said if we could get this feeling into the movie, then that says it all.
“Whatever happened to him, he had arrived at a point in his life that was dark and heartbreaking. It’s like Bob Hoskins says, ‘If somebody did kill him, they did him a favor.’ ”
Favorite film of the past five years: “21 Grams.”
Actor who impressed you greatly after working together: “I’d have to say Diane Lane. Honestly, she made me better in a way that I’ve rarely experienced. She’s so good.”
Next project: “I’m in the editing room (on ‘Gone, Baby, Gone,’ his directorial debut, from the mystery novel by Dennis Lehane) and will be on this thing until at least March. There’s just starting to be stuff coming in, and I’m just starting to write something, so I don’t know. I’m just trying to get this next movie that I want to direct, but my agents are thinking maybe I should take an acting job.”