Video: Ben on Jen and 'Jersey Girl'

NBC News
updated 3/12/2004 9:37:40 PM ET 2004-03-13T02:37:40

Google Ben Affleck these days and you'll find the hits just keep on coming, most of them about the life he's been living off-screen. But now the focus is back on Affleck the movie star, and he's reuniting with his longtime pal, director Kevin Smith. It's a pairing that's tried and true -- and they promise it's not Gigli 2.

Before "Gigli,” Ben Affleck was on a roll. Sometimes little movies can make big stars. And that's what happened when the working class kid from Beantown went Hollywood -- winning an Academy Award for the screenplay of "Good Will Hunting." 

Ben Affleck was on a meteoric rise, from "Armageddon" to "Pearl Harbor." But then his celebrated celebrity courtship with Jennifer Lopez sent Ben Affleck into the stratosphere -- only to have the red-hot, red-carpet romance flame out this past January.

Katie Couric: “Ben, I wanted to get the toughest question out of the way.”

Ben Affleck: “Out of the way? OK, I have no idea what it's going to be about.”

Kevin Smith: “It's the gay question again.”

Affleck: “Yea. If I have to face yet another one of these questions again.”

Smith: “The answer is yes ... moving on...”

Couric: “No it really is, seriously, it's probably the question you've been dreading and it's highly sensitive. How do you feel about A-Rod getting traded to the Yankees?”

Affleck: [Laughter] “You know, I'm over it. I realize, I'm taking the Curt Schilling stance. 'It's just another 40 home runs and 120 RBI's.’ It's just very frustrating, very irritating “

Clearly, it doesn't take much to get Ben Affleck seeing red.

Smith: “Way to overstate it. Way to go for the real issues.”

Affleck: “The Red Sox, it's a constant tease. You’re always like Sisyphus, you get the rock all the way to the top. And then it rolls back down on you and, you know, a bird comes and picks out your liver.”

Couric:”I love when you invoke Greek mythology.”

Smith: “Sox fans everywhere, they're like, ‘He's right, it's like Sisyphus.' “

Since his new movie's called "Jersey Girl," we decided to take that ride across the river to the Jersey side, home of the Boss, Bon Jovi, and Boardwalks. Nothing says New Jersey like Asbury Park. And what better spot than one named “Moonstruck” to chat about movies?

Affleck:”There's something about New Jersey that says middle-America to people, I think actually.  It's kind of like—"

Smith: “When it’s really on the East Coast, but whatever.” [Laughter]

Kevin Smith, on the other hand, was born and bred here. And he's made New Jersey his personal backlot for a successful brand of slightly subversive comedies, featuring the derelict duo, Jay and Silent Bob. 

Ben Affleck's no stranger to Kevin Smith's strange world. They've already made four other films together including "Dogma," "Mallrats," and the critically acclaimed "Chasing Amy." 

Affleck: “I was remembering fondly, sort of, I'm reminiscing with Kevin saying, you know, we should do something like ‘Chasing Amy.’ It was so much more satisfying and so much more interesting. And it was, you know, when we did it, you know, I had like slept on his couch.  And it was a really small group of us. We kind of-- I didn't want to go quite that far back.”

Smith: “I wanted my own room.”

Affleck: “It was weird. I was like, if we're going to do it, do it right. I got a room, dude. I got a room. But no, I didn't want to sleep on his couch. But I did want to do something like that.”

Smith: “I think he tends to romanticize the ‘Chasing Amy’ period because this was the moment before you became ‘Ben Affleck.’ That was the time when you were just Ben Affleck. And then you became 'Ben Affleck' and whatnot.”

Since then, Kevin's made quite a name for himself, too. And he's now created a movie that's, dare we say, heartwarming, inspired by his daughter, Harley.

Smith: “I don't know if I would have written a picture about fatherhood if I hadn't become a father.  Because it would have been a lot of extrapolation at that point. It's like, what do I know about being a dad? I knew stoners from New Jersey. That's usually my niche.” [Laughter]

Couric: “I know.”

Affleck: ”It's a little frightening that your current area of ‘reputeeze’ is fatherhood.”

In the film, Ben plays a hot-shot music publicist who enjoys the bright lights of the big city. But the birth of his daughter, followed by the sudden death of his wife, turns his world upside down, challenging his priorities and his perspective.

Smith: “I kind of wrote the movie for the wife and then presented it to her. I was like, this is kind of a Valentine to you. And she was like, ‘What, how? I die in the first 15 minutes. And you somehow wind up with Liv Tyler. How's that a Valentine to me?’"  

The film also stars nine-year-old newcomer Raquel Castro, who already knows how to steal the spotlight. 

Raquel Castro: “I'm the Jersey Girl. It's really about me. I'm not trying to brag or anything, I need to tell  the truth.”

Couric: “This is really the first time that you've worked with a child isn't it?”

Affleck: “Yeah, it is. And I didn't realize that until sort of half way through the movie. And I thought, I have no experience doing this at all. This was something where the whole movie centered, really, around this little girl. And she was going to have to carry the movie. I mean, that's what it was about, this little girl who was the love of this guy's life, that changed his whole life, that made everything different. And there was like a point early on where I was terrified all of a sudden. Because I thought like, what if this doesn't work? You know, I don't know. I knew I had worked with adult actors or whatever and then—“

Smith: “He's lying. He was terrified because she's a far better actress.” [Laughter]

Affleck: “She's upstaging me.”

Smith: “Totally. He'd come and pull me aside and be like, 'Can't we get a kid that's not nearly as good, dude. Because--'"

Affleck: “Can you dial her down a little bit?”

Smith:”"--she's mopping the floor with me." 

Affleck: “It's like working with Hopkins!”

Smith: “The funny thing about him working with that kid was -- she was a little girl, right? So, she's like, 'I hate boys. And I don't want to kiss a boy.' And you'd be like, 'In this scene, you talk and then you've got to hug him and kiss him.' She'd be like, ‘No, he's a boy. He's corroded,’ you know stuff you haven't heard—“

Couric: “He's got cooties.”

Smith: "Totally. And I'd be like, 'Just kiss him. I know how you feel.' I felt she had read tabloids and stuff and she's like, 'I've seen where he's been.'”

But "Jersey Girl" has been getting more buzz for what's not in it. It was filmed late in 2002, back when the love had just blossomed between Ben and Jen. Casting Hollywood's hottest couple as man and wife seemed like Publicity 101. 

Smith: “I think we were able to get a performance out of him that we got because it was Jen. If it was random actress A, B and C, I don't know if you would have felt the loss when her character drops out of the movie. And this-- the stuff between you is real heat. Like you guys were, you know, really in love at that point.”

But their break-up, coupled with last summer's super-flop "Gigli," prompted Kevin Smith to nix the nuptial scene from the final cut. J. Lo's down to practically a flash frame in the trailer. And the movie studio, Miramax, is calling her 10 minutes of screen time a cameo.

Couric: “Her role in the movie has been downplayed.”

Smith: “Look, had ‘Gigli’ been a huge hit, you know, it would have been all over the poster. But post-‘Gigli,’ it makes sense to market the film more honestly. It's what it is. It's him and the kid.”

Affleck: “One of the curious good things about the other movie not working was that now, they're like saying, no, she's gone in the first 10 minutes, which you would never see.”

Smith: “’The other movie not working.’ Why don't you just say it, dude?”

Couric: “Go ahead say it.”

Affleck: “What, ‘Gigli?’ Yeah, like I'm shy about saying it?”

Clearly, Ben's kept a sense of humor about the "other" movie, even reading his own reviews on the “Tonight Show. “

Affleck: “Like ‘Gigli,’ I can joke about it. I don't really care. What's done is done. I knew the movie didn't work when I saw it. It's kind of like we tried to re-shoot it for four weeks. It was one of those things that was never going to work.”

Couric: “You just  felt it?”

Affleck: “Yeah, just sometimes that doesn't pan out. But with this one it's like I would hate to have that sort of like tabloid aspect of it or the relationship or anything overshadow, you know, what I think is really Kevin's best movie -- and probably mine too. But I make more movies than Kevin.”

Smith: “Probably? This is definitely your best movie.”

Affleck: “I don't know. I mean, I did 'Sesame Street' early on...”

The movie studio says "Jersey Girl" has been well-received in previews thus far, hoping to silence Hollywood nay-sayers who are quick to predict another Bennifer bomb.  

Affleck: “You know, I mean, ‘The Passion of Christ’ is a great example. Everyone in Hollywood for a year before that was saying, ‘This is Mel Gibson's, you know, 'Heaven's Gate.' He shouldn't have put his money into it. No one's going to see it blah, blah, blah.’ And it becomes this big movie and a hit and the whole thing.”

Smith: “Basically what he's saying is, if you loved ‘The Passion of the Christ,’ you'll love ‘Jersey Girl.’ Because it's kind of a sequel in a way.”

Affleck: [Laughter] “You're going to hell.”

Couric: “Let's talk about your character a little bit more. Your character, Ollie Trinke, has a little girl. And you're now 31… and I'm sure you want children at-- you'd like—“

Affleck: “Yeah, I'd love to have children.”

Couric: “I mean, as a guy, you would like to be a father.”

Affleck: “Yeah, I would love to be a father. I would love to. It sounds good, but I also think you’ve got to do it at the right time when you can be, you know, available and are ready and stuff like that so. At least I comfort myself with those thoughts.”

Last year, it seemed Ben Affleck was thinking it was time to settle down, buying Jennifer Lopez that 6.1 carat diamond engagement ring. Hollywood's golden couple was the toast of the town, here, there, and everywhere.

Couric: “You know, reading up on Ben for this interview, and Kevin on you to a lesser extent.”

Smith: “To a far lesser extent, I could tell.”

Couric: “You know, I had to obviously get some research material. So, you know, gee, Ben it is really hard to find an article about you over the last year.”

Affleck: Yeah, I know.”

Smith: That's the problem with this guy, he doesn't get enough press.”

Couric: You know?”

Affleck: “I mean, that particular magazine I should have bought stock in. You know, they're all wonderful pieces and very touching.”

Couric: “Do you get used to this? Seriously, how do you explain the fascination?”

Affleck: "I don't have no idea. Certainly you know, I had a relationship with an actress once before you know, who's, you know, a lovely woman. And I thought, well I had—“

Couric: "Are you-- Gwyneth Paltrow, is that who you're talking about?”

Affleck: "Yeah, Gwyneth Paltrow, yeah, yeah, yeah. So I thought I was familiar with the extent to which the media would cover it. Which was like obtrusive to a degree, but never-- it wasn't-- it was nowhere near what happened later.”

What happened later was an unrelenting media frenzy over what came to be known as "The Bennifer Show." 

Couric: “I always felt like you guys were kind of courting the media, that you were really kind of into it. That's how it came off to me. Look at me I'm everywhere.”

Affleck: “No, let me show you. Like, this is not a posed photograph right? This was not a posed photograph. That was not a posed photograph.” [Points to pictures]

Couric: “Here, show them to the camera so that we can see them.”

Affleck: “The camera can take my word for it.” [Laughter]

Smith: “That one is kind of posed, but that's for a magazine cover.”

Affleck: “But, this-- yeah, right. This was at a party, you know, this was a premiere, so that's one. And so… I don't blame you for getting that impression.”

Smith: “Yes, you do, don't lie.” [Laughter]

Affleck: “Okay, a little bit. But, it's a false impression. And I'm not sure what -- I think part of what it has to do with is that because you get inundated with all these images, that you just assume, well someone must be complicit in this. Whereas that was really-- I tried sort of to not have it be like that. In fact, I thought, you know, we did this video, which I thought… we would send up and sort of satire the whole tabloid phenomenon. And instead ends up like—“

Smith:  “Satirize.”

Affleck: “Satirize, thank you. That's one of the things Kevin's good for. It ended up sort of fueling that in a way. It's like, what I discovered about that particular kind of media is it's like an animal or a fire -- feeding it just makes it stronger. You can't-- and then try to pull away from it doesn't work either. And what I decided to do was I wasn't going to change my life. I wasn't going to become a hermit. I wasn't going to go crazy or go Norma Desmond or do any of those things. I was going to be who I was, and if people were there taking pictures, they could do that. That wasn't going to change anything. But, it also made the perception of like, well here he is. Look at him, he walks around all cavalier like he can just walk on the street. He must want this.”

Smith: “He walks around like he owns the world, you know?”

But nothing fueled the fire like reports of their on-again, off-again September wedding, which ultimately never took place.

Couric: “But you must have felt during that period like a hunted animal.”

Affleck: “It's a weird spot. I don't think it's one that should engender sympathy. You know what I mean, when all sorts of people are like, send in your wishes and your checks. People at home. Just any donation.”

He can joke about the demands of celebrity, but turns serious talking about the demise of his relationship.

Couric: “As I saw your life being covered incessantly, I thought how can any relationship survive this? And I'm wondering, how much did that contribute to just making this an untenable situation?”

Affleck: “Somewhat, certainly. I mean, it was-- was a part of it. And I absolutely have caring feelings for Jen. She's a great lady. And you know, I talk to her and wish her the best and we're still friends. And so there's no unpleasantness in that sense. And I think she more than I was, is and was treated sort of unfairly by the press for some reason… And I don't know why that is. But, oftentimes people tend to see the worst in her. And really she's a really kind, decent, good woman who's done nothing but work really hard to be where she is. Never had any advantages, never had any, and I think she did great. And I think for some reason she's resented or viewed as this diva or something. But anyway—“

Couric: “Well, I think it still happens with strong women particularly you know?”

Affleck: “I think it does.”

And whether it's fair game or not, there's been no shortage of tabloid gossip on what finally split them up -- her ex-flames, his late night casino carousing, and penchant for parties with pal Matt Damon. 

Couric: “When you read all the explanations as to what happened, you know with all these different theories, and blah, blah, blah… Do you read these and go, hello they know nothing. Or, you know, do you want to set the record straight? Would you rather keep it between you two, which I totally respect?”

Affleck: “I don't even read it. Because, it will just irritate me. I really don't. It would just make me crazy. And the truth is, that was the decision that we made that we felt was best for us, and the rest of it is, you know, between she and I. And Kevin.”

Smith: “Third wheeling it.”

Affleck: “Yeah, hanging out.”

Smith: “I felt like the third wheel in that relationship many times.”

Affleck: “Well, you were.”

Smith: “Because, people kept going, what do you think? I'm like, what? I don't know, I don't sleep with either of them, yet.”

But inquiring minds want to know, especially Ben's mom, a sixth grade teacher.

Affleck:”It used to be that she would bring to me like whatever article she read. And I was like, 'Mom, those are not true, stop reading it.' And she was like, 'Well, the janitor at my school...' And I'm like, 'Never mind what the janitor thinks. I know better about my life than the janitor at your school who's telling...' She was like, 'Pat knows.'  And I was like, 'Pat?'”

Couric: “Pat.”

Affleck: “Pat the Janitor.”

But both Pat and Ben's mom can rest easy. Ben says he's cleaned up his act, feeling healthy and happy -- and is stone cold sober.

Couric: “I know you were in rehab in 2001-- you know, they're always talking about your gambling, young man.”

Affleck: “They love to talk about something. It's one of the difficult things… here I was, let me make a change in my life. I'd like to live a healthier life… and the weird thing to me is that you would think that that would make people think, oh, look here's a guy who sort of addresses the issues in his life that are of concern to him and deals with them.”

Smith: “What planet are you living on, dude?”

Affleck: “Right! Instead… I think it's a stigma. And I think it's why groups like that are supposed to be anonymous. Because… then everything else you do is suspect. You know what I mean?”

Couric: “Right.”

Affleck: “Everything else could be evidence of addictive behavior. You know, shopping, eating, sex, gambling. I mean, you know, you'd have to sit stock still and never move. I mean, I feel pretty good. I feel like I addressed the issues that I have… I don't have a perfect life. I struggle with things, I deal with things. But I feel like right now I'm living in a pretty healthy way and I appreciate the concern. It's really nice, thank you.”

If there's a 12-step program for overexposed celebrities, step one is rehabilitate your image -- and playing a devoted dad in "Jersey Girl" is a good start. Meanwhile, he has no plans to give up his life-long addiction to his favorite baseball team, so we decided to feed his habit with some Red Sox swag. But before we let Ben go, we decided to throw him a few curve balls.

Couric: “Complete these sentences please.”

Affleck: “Okay.”                   

Couric: “Celebrity is?”

Affleck: “Overrated.”

Couric: “If I weren't an actor I would be?”

Smith: “Pole dancer.” [Laughter]

Affleck: “I would like to be a speech writer. That's probably the thing I would try to do is write political speeches.”

Couric: “My ideal woman is?”

Affleck: “Katie Couric.”

Couric: “I knew you were going to do that.”

Affleck: “No, no, no, no.”

Smith: “Just go right in there dude.”

Affleck: “Yeah, that was just too easy.”

Couric: “The New York Yankees are?”

Affleck: “The worst thing to happen to professional sports since the inception of professional sports. The New York Yankees are the-- how can you root for the Yankees?”

Smith: “There are some Yankee fans who might have gone to see this picture until you opened your big fat mouth.”

Affleck: “Stay away, stay away you evil, evil people.” [Laughter]

In between baseball games, Ben Affleck has some other things on his plate. He says he'll be heading off to India for some R-and-R with Matt Damon. They're working on another screenplay together, their first since "Good Will Hunting.”

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