Monday 23 April 2018

It's more than a numbers game for Ben Affleck

When he's tense he's really tense but when Ben Affleck warms up he is the most charismatic person in a room

Ben Affleck and Anna Kendrick figure it out in The Accountant
Ben Affleck and Anna Kendrick figure it out in The Accountant

Anne Marie Scanlon

Ben Affleck and Anna Kendrick make a very odd couple. Affleck is tall, well-built and, frankly, a fine figure of a man, while Kendrick is tiny and fragile-looking. I meet the unlikely pair the morning after their new film The Accountant premiered in London.

While Kendrick looks well-rested, Affleck looks like he could have done with another hour or two in the scratcher. He also seems a bit tense and more than a bit intense.

The A-list actor's career has often been overshadowed by his domestic life. After he and best friend Matt Damon shot to fame with Good Will Hunting in 1997, which they co-wrote and co-starred in (and which won them both a Golden Globe and Oscar for the screenplay), he dated Gwyneth Paltrow until 2000. In 2002 he became part of super couple 'Bennifer' with singer Jennifer Lopez but they broke up after 18 months and a last-minute cancellation of their nuptials.

While Damon became entrenched in the public consciousness as a serious actor, Affleck started to be seen as, at best, the 'frivolous one' and, at worst, a joke. In 2005 he married actress Jennifer Garner, settled down, had three children, resurrected his acting career and gained critical acclaim as a director.

Last year the couple announced, the day after their 10th wedding anniversary, that they intended to divorce. All three women have spoken warmly of Affleck and, in a recent interview with Vanity Fair magazine, Garner called him the "love of her life". The actress also said "he's the most brilliant person in any room, the most charismatic, the most generous."

I'm not seeing it. In The Accountant, Affleck plays Christian Wolff, an accountant whose abilities are described as "nothing short of supernatural". Chris owes much of his success with numbers to the fact he has Asperger's Syndrome. I wonder briefly if Affleck has stayed in character while doing interviews for the film. And then I make him laugh. And then he starts to relax. And then I begin to see what Garner, J-Lo and Gwynnie were talking about.

The Accountant, despite what the name implies, is an action thriller. Chris is no ordinary CPA (Certified Public Accountant), while he does ordinary folks' year-end returns he also has a number of high-profile, high-risk clients in the criminal underworld. There's a lot of guns, a lot of shooting and quite a lot of blood. I enjoyed it immensely.

While Affleck is no stranger to action roles, including Batman ("which is supercool, I mean who doesn't want to be Batman?"), he explained to me that the role of Chris Wolff needed a lot of research and training.

"That was the most challenging part for me," Affleck says. "I never trained in any martial arts or anything like that, so it was all very new. I had to do a lot of training with military guys, a police SWAT team, a guy from Mossad, I just wanted to look like I knew what I was doing (with weapons) rather than 'Ow, I pinched my thumb!'" he says, laughing, "which I was in danger of doing."

Affleck and director Gavin O'Connor (whose late father came from Mayo and was a cop in New York City) took a lot of time researching and speaking to people on the spectrum. For Affleck "getting it right" was especially important. Portraying someone with Asperger's Syndrome also presented the actor with a new set of challenges. "(I wanted) to bring the research to bear in such a way that it would feel realistic and also, on a personal level, that the people who I'd worked with (researching the autistic spectrum) were happy, the people who had taken time to tell me stories and let me in to their life and expose me to how they really felt about the difficult parts of life as well as the joyous ones. I wanted them to be glad that they co-operated with me."

Kendrick (Pitch Perfect, Into The Woods), unlike her onscreen character Dana, is easy to chat to and quite obviously very good at making people feel comfortable. When I admire her Charlotte Olympia Perspex clutch bag she offers, quite conspiratorially, "I don't own it, it all goes back."

The actress makes the point that social awkwardness is by no means confined to people on the spectrum. "Dana is neurotic and gets in her own way... she has just as much trouble connecting (as Chris)."

Both performers have a lot of Irish connections. Affleck tells me about his mother's relations. "For some reason they all immigrated to New Jersey," he says in a tone of comical bewilderment.

"So on the one hand they're really cool because they're Irish but on the other hand they're really boring because they're from New Jersey! I don't know what drew them to Trenton." (I'm very familiar with Trenton and can't offer much of a defence for the place.)

"I'm Irish as well," Kendrick says. "My real name is supposed to be Anna McGinn Connolly, real hard-core Irish, but both families changed their names to get work." The actress then goes on to tell me about her first visit to Dublin when she was 18. "My brother and I were sitting in an Irish pub and an old beardy man with a flat cap asked us all our history and basically told us we were descended from the heroes that died at Kilmainham Gaol! I was like 'Is this guy just set up here to give tourists the most incredible Irish experience?'" Affleck laughs "Yeah, then the next people get on the ride…"

There is a very strong possibility that The Accountant will have a sequel. "This is not something I went into going 'this is going to be a franchise!'" Affleck states. It's hardly surprising audiences have flocked to see the movie in the States as original material is fairly thin on the ground these days, to the extent that many critics have declared Hollywood 'dead' due to the lack of new material.

"Are you asking if we saved cinema?" Kendrick interrupts. "Yes!" she continues laughing. "That's my headline," I respond. Affleck gives me a nod and a smile. "Originality is hard to come by," Kendrick continues in a slightly more serious manner, "and when you come by it you get very excited and can't wait to get on board."

"I was excited by the fact that it was different and new," Affleck says. "I wasn't out to prove anything, I just wanted to be in a good movie."

The Accountant is in cinemas from November 4.

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