Ben Affleck

Ben Affleck

American actor, director, producer, and writer Ben Affleck experienced some of the highest highs and lowest lows possible over the course of a three-plus-decade career. He went from child actor to indie darling to Oscar winner to action star to paparazzi pariah to walking punchline to respected filmmaker to superhero to cautionary tale, but somehow always managed to stay an integral part of the zeitgeist, one of the last true leading men of Hollywood. Born in Berkeley, CA, Affleck's mother, Christopher Anne "Chris" Boldt, was a Harvard-educated elementary school teacher, while his father, Timothy Byers Affleck, was an aspiring playwright who held down a number of odd jobs over the years, including carpenter, auto mechanic, bookie, electrician, bartender, and most importantly, janitor at Harvard. When Affleck was three, his family moved from the West Coast back to Cambridge, MA, where younger brother and future co-star Casey was born. His childhood was far from happy: Affleck's father was a chronic alcoholic, and when his parents finally divorced in 1984, he recalled feeling a sense of "relief" that his father was out of the house (Timothy Affleck would eventually become homeless for two years due to his addiction, before entering rehab in Indio, CA, spending a full twelve years at the facility working as an addiction counselor). Around this time, 12-year-old Affleck began getting serious about pursuing a career in acting. He had already made an uncredited appearance in the indie drama "The Dark End of the Street" (1981) three years prior, but he soon landed his first big role in the PBS educational film "The Voyage of the Mimi" (PBS, 1984), thanks to his mother's friendship with a Cambridge-area casting director (though she secretly thought that acting was an insecure and "frivolous" profession, and hoped that her son would reconsider and become a teacher instead). Before long, Affleck was traveling across the country for auditions, often alongside Matt Damon, a friend from elementary school who proved to be just as ambitious and driven as Affleck was. The two teens saved their earnings in a joint bank account, and dreamed of one day moving to Los Angeles. After following a girlfriend to school at the University of Vermont, but dropping out after a few months after a basketball injury, Affleck moved to Los Angeles at the age of 18, where he majored in Middle Eastern affairs at Occidental College for a year and a half. While at Occidental, he directed student films, and landed a few small roles here and there, including playing Patrick Duffy's son in the TV film "Daddy" (NBC, 1991), taking an uncredited role as a basketball player in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (1992), and popping up as a prep school student in "School Ties" (1992). The following year, Affleck landed what would prove to be his breakout role, when he was cast in Richard Linklater's beloved high school stoner comedy "Dazed and Confused" (1993). Set on the last day of school in a Texas high school in 1976, Affleck played O'Bannon, an obnoxious, borderline psychotic jock who purposely flunks his senior year so that he can participate in the school's annual freshman hazing tradition. Though "Dazed and Confused" was a flop upon its initial release, it has since grown into a cult classic. Affleck's first leading role was an aimless sad sack art student in the indie drama "Glory Daze" (1995); that same year he collaborated with the first time with writer/director Kevin Smith, playing a violent yuppie creep who manages a menswear outlet in Smith's sophomore film, "Mallrats" (1995). Though he had enjoyed some success up to that point, 1997 would prove to be the year that put Affleck on the map: he received rave reviews for his performance as a Korean War vet in "Going All the Way" (1997), and reunited with Smith for the acclaimed romantic comedy "Chasing Amy" (1997), in which he played a cartoonist who is madly in love with a woman who identifies as a lesbian. However, it was the success of Affleck's third film that year, "Good Will Hunting" (1997), that changed everything. What began as a 40-page assignment written by Damon for a playwriting class at Harvard, the pair decided to expand into a feature-length screenplay after becoming roommates in Los Angeles in 1992. Affleck and Damon sold the screenplay to Castle Rock Entertainment in 1994, but after a lengthy battle with the studio over finding a proper director, the rights were sold to Miramax, who hired indie auteur Gus Van Sant to direct. Affleck and Damon spent the next two years in Boston. Upon its release in the fall of 1997, "Good Will Hunting" was an instant sensation. Damon starred as Will Hunting, a janitor from South Boston working at Harvard who is secretly a genius-level prodigy (or, as Casey Affleck's character Morgan puts it at one point, "wicked smaaaht.") After a brush with the law, he accepts a plea deal which involves training under a strict, self-serious mathematics professor (Stellen Skarsgaard), and receiving counseling from a therapist with a broken heart and a similar blue collar background (Robin Williams), who helps Will to cope with his abusive childhood and pursue a relationship with Harvard med student Skylar (Minnie Driver). Affleck played the integral supporting role of Chucky, Will's best friend who eventually provides him the tough love he needs to pursue a better life for himself. Beautifully observed, endlessly quotable, heartbreaking, funny, and perfectly scored to the music of Philip Glass and the songs of Elliott Smith, "Good Will Hunting" received rave reviews from critics, and eventually pulled in over $100 million at the box office. Come Oscar season, the film was nominated for nine awards, including Best Picture, and walked away with two: Best Supporting Actor for Robin Williams, and for Best Original Screenplay, 25-year-old Ben Affleck and 27-year-old Matt Damon. To this day, Affleck is the youngest person to ever win in that category. Practically overnight, Damon became a serious prestige actor, while Affleck went down the road of leading man. The following year, he starred in "Armageddon" (1998), director Michael Bay's sci-fi action spectacle about a group of oil drillers trained by NASA to blow up a meteor that could wipe out all life on Earth. Critics scoffed, but "Armageddon" was the highest grossing film of the year. Affleck rounded out 1998 by appearing alongside then-girlfriend Gwyneth Paltrow in that year's Best Picture Oscar winner, the period romance "Shakespeare in Love" (1998). Next up was a detour into romantic comedy alongside Sandra Bullock in "Forces of Nature" (1999), and an onscreen reunion with Damon, for Kevin Smith's highly controversial, satirical look at Catholicism, "Dogma" (1999), in which the Affleck and Damon played a pair of fallen angels on a mission to destroy Earth and gain re-entry into the kingdom of Heaven. Meanwhile, Affleck was beginning to become interested in directing, and used the opportunity of appearing in the middling heist thriller "Reindeer Games" (2000) to shadow its vastly overqualified director, John Frankenheimer, on what turned out to be his final film before passing away in 2002. He also took a small turn as a corporate shark in "Boiler Room" (2000), and reunited with Paltrow for the romantic drama "Bounce" (2000), which was released right around the time the couple split up. Affleck then reunited with Michael Bay for the historical epic "Pearl Harbor" (2001), which found our leading man in a love triangle with a nurse (Kate Beckinsale) and his childhood best friend (Josh Hartnet). While the film's action scenes were predictably impressive, Bay proved to be utterly non-equipped to handle a splashy three-hour doomed romance, and Affleck's unfortunate Southern accent didn't help matters. The film made money, but critics scoffed. After a very meta cameo (playing both himself and his "Chasing Amy" character) in Kevin Smith's "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" (2001), and an unsuccessful attempt at becoming the next Jack Ryan in "The Sum of All Fears" (2002), Affleck earned rave reviews for his performance as a morally compromised businessman pushed to the edge in the thriller "Changing Lanes" (2002). It would turn out to be the last accolades he would receive for awhile. In 2003, Affleck began dating Jennifer Lopez. While he had always been a tabloid fixture, the paparazzi's interest in "Bennifer," as they became known, pushed his public exposure to a point of over-saturation, to the point that GQ magazine named him the "world's most over-exposed actor." What didn't help matters was a series of high profile misfires and bombs: the ludicrous superhero flick "Daredevil" (2003), John Woo's futuristic thriller "Paycheck" (2003), and the dreaded "Gigli" (2003), one of the most notorious flops in recent memory, in which Affleck co-starred with Lopez, who by then was his fiancé. Affleck's bad luck continued into 2004, which found him appearing in Kevin Smith's ill-advised attempt at serious filmmaking, "Jersey Girl" (2004), and the horrendous family "comedy," "Surviving Christmas" (2004). To make matters worse, Affleck and Lopez called off their wedding the night before the ceremony was to take place, leading to much shaddenfreude in the press. A few months later, their relationship ended for good, and Affleck decided to take a much-needed break from acting. During this self-imposed hiatus, Affleck met and married actress Jennifer Garner, received rave reviews for his small role as "Superman" actor George Reeves in the neo-noir "Hollywoodland" (2006), and decided to take a dive into directing. His debut behind the camera was "Gone Baby Gone" (2007), a police procedural set in working class Boston, and starring his younger brother, Casey Affleck, as a private eye who uncovers a conspiracy surrounding the disappearance of a young girl. While it didn't light up the box office, the film was warmly received by critics, who noted Affleck's genuine talent as a director. While he continued to appear in small roles over the next few years, including turns in "He's Just Not That Into You" (2009), "State of Play" (2009), "Extract" (2009), and "The Company Men" (2010), Affleck was clearly focused on his directorial career. His sophomore effort, "The Town" (2010), was a kinetic heist film set in South Boston, and starred Affleck, Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively, and Rebecca Hall. Critics praised it, and it was a surprise box office hit. For his third film, "Argo" (2012), Affleck starred as a CIA agent who devises a plan to rescue six stranded U.S. diplomats during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis by pretending to be location scouting for a big budget sci-fi epic. "Argo" was a major hit with both critics and audiences, and despite the surprise of Affleck being snubbed for a Best Director nomination at that year's Oscars, "Argo" became the first film since the 1930s to win Best Picture without said nomination. Affleck then starred in Terrence Malick's little-seen "To the Wonder" (2012) and the flop thriller "Runner Runner" (2013) before taking on one of his most acclaimed leading roles, as a husband suspected of murdering his missing wife in David Fincher's adaptation of the popular novel "Gone Girl" (2014). The film was a box office hit, and critics noted Fincher's smart decision to cast Affleck as a character who is dealing with intense media scrutiny into his private life. Affleck's next move surprised everyone: he was cast as none other than Batman for Zach Snyder's superhero epic "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" (2016). While many initially questioned whether Affleck was right for the role, when the film was released, critics had many complaints, but the uniform opinion was that Affleck's take on both the caped crusader and his alter ego, Bruce Wayne, was one of the film's rare high points. Affleck would reprise the role for a cameo in "Suicide Squad" (2016), and as the lead of "Justice League" (2017), and there were plans for a stand-alone Batman film, which Affleck would also direct. However, the actor fell on some hard times. Despite receiving treatment for alcohol addiction in the past, Affleck fell off the wagon hard following the failure of his fourth directorial effort, the period gangster piece "Live by Night" (2016). 2017 saw Affleck take a break from the business, and focus instead on getting sober. During this time, the Batman project fell apart, and he and Garner separated after more than a decade of marriage, allegedly due to Affleck having an affair with their nanny. Their divorce was finalized in 2018, and Affleck sadly spent the next few years in a very public fight for sobriety, relapsing a number of times. Despite his woes, Affleck continued to work, in films including Gavin O'Connor's sports drama "The Way Back" (2020), and Dee Rees's political thriller "The Last Thing He Wanted" (2020).