There’s a certain allure to Ben Affleck, one of the world’s few remaining true tabloid-slash-movie stars. His personal life is constant headline fodder, but the man can also convince you that he’s just a down-to-earth guy trying to make a living playing pretend.
In The Tender Bar, the new coming-of-age drama directed by George Clooney based on the bestselling memoir by journalist J.R. Moehringer, Affleck takes a step back into the supporting-actor world by playing the nurturing and brash Uncle Charlie, who helped raise Moehringer. Watching Affleck in the film – streaming on Amazon Prime Video starting Friday – is almost like seeing his Good Will Hunting character slightly grown up, but equally as charming.
Ahead of the film’s premiere, The Globe and Mail spoke with Affleck about underachievers and imperfection.
You have an ability to play these likeable guys who are always messing up, and you find a lot of compassion in those performances. What’s it like tapping into these types of characters?
I think what you point out is really true, which speaks to an even deeper truth, which is that we tend to actually empathize more with people who are flawed because most of us go around principally mindful of our own flaws. We’re always worrying about, “I want to do this better, I don’t like this device, I wish this was different.” It’s why social media is such a new and difficult phenomenon to navigate, particularly for young people, because you’re comparing your own inside feelings about yourself to this curated perfect version of other people’s lives.
I think it can create this sense of like, “Why aren’t I doing that? Why am I not #bestlife?” Even though you’re also writing that on social media. I think that flawed characters are more like real people. I meet many “perfect” people who always meet all those standards that we set arbitrarily or artificially for protagonists, particularly in movies. Really, people are more like supporting characters, and I’m more comfortable playing that because I know how to make that real. I don’t always know how to make real that protagonist that is compressed into this narrow band that’s bounded on either side by inherent virtue.
Is there a sort of tunnel vision you get when balancing roles like this? Especially because your character is based on a real person who influenced someone’s life.
Usually when I play characters like George Reeves from Hollywoodland – actually we shot that movie in Toronto many years ago – I was mindful of taking it seriously. Almost always if you play a real person, there’s a responsibility to be truthful and I have a hard time with movies that are meant to be the true story of people that take too many liberties. I think that’s a slippery slope and can be irresponsible if not done well. But in the case of a memoir, I feel like you’re trying to evoke a feeling to recapture and regenerate what someone is looking at from their own life in a static way.
Like Clooney, you’re an actor and director. Is it frustrating going back to acting and not being in the driver’s seat?
It both is and it isn’t. It’s very frustrating if you find yourself in a position of losing faith and trust in the director. And then you can feel desperate and frustrated. But the wonderful thing about working with a director with trust, in the case of George, who has done what I’m trying to do in the movie so many times and so well, is that you benefit from his experience. He’s generous, and you feel in safe hands.
If I lose a location if the camera truck doesn’t show up, like I’ll just go back to my trailer and they’ll figure it out! I figure Amazon’s got the money, so, yeah, they’ll be able to pay for another day. It’s a great relief because one of the things that’s hard with directing is just the amount of stress, given all the things that you’re responsible for. All the things you can’t control, and the desire to make it good and constantly the relentless focus that that requires. It’s nice to be freed from that, if you believe you’re in good hands.
The Tender Bar is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video starting Jan. 7
Special to The Globe and Mail
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