Ben Affleck never planned to quit acting.
Despite suggesting after his acclaimed 2007 adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s novel “Gone Baby Gone” that he would focus on work behind the camera, the 38-year-old Berkeley native, raised in Cambridge, Mass., says he merely wanted to cultivate his skills as a director while taking on supporting roles in movies like last year’s political thriller “State of Play.”
With “The Town,” opening Friday, the Oscar-winning co-writer of “Good Will Hunting” (1997) continues an ambitious career resurgence, writing, directing and starring in a hard-nosed heist drama about a Boston bank robber.
Not so long ago, Affleck was a tabloid staple, co-starring in a made-for-Page Six romance with Jennifer Lopez. Simultaneously, a series of big-budget flops left his Hollywood stock at an all-time low.
Today, an older, wiser Affleck is living up to his early reputation as a savvy storyteller with leading-man charisma. “The Town” establishes him as one of America’s most promising young directors.
“He definitely separates [acting and directing],” says Rebecca Hall, 28, who plays Affleck’s love interest. “It’s a difficult thing. A director has to think about how the narrative fits together and obsess about the details, while actors obsess about finding the truth in their characters. To do both can, perversely, be a conflict of interests, but what he did, miraculously, was find a balance.”
Co-star Jon Hamm, of “Mad Men,” was equally impressed. “I find [the idea of directing] terrifying,” he says. “I don’t have the focus for it. I have the attention span of a hopped-up squirrel. How Ben does it, I have no clue, but he pulls it off.”
Though “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Town” share a setting in Boston, Affleck won’t confine his directorial work to home turf.
And he won’t rule out casting wife Jennifer Garner in a movie — but don’t hold your breath.
“Something tells me people don’t want to see real-life couples together in movies,” he says, deadpan, slyly alluding to the critical drubbing he took for 2003’s “Gigli,” in which he starred with J-Lo.
“If I could pick a woman to work with, it would be my wife, and maybe one day I will be lucky enough to direct her. Right now, I’m happy to say I got all my first choices for ‘The Town’ — Jeremy Renner, who crushes in this movie; Chris Cooper, whom I’ve been buttering up since we did ‘Company Men’; and Rebecca, whom I admired in ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona.’ To wake up every day and watch them work was a pleasure.”
IF YOU GO
Starring Ben Affleck, Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively, Pete Postelthwaite, Chris Cooper
Written by Ben Affleck, Peter Craig, Aaron Stockard
Directed by Ben Affleck
Running time 2 hours 10 minutes