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Video: Ben Affleck takes on ‘Town’ bank robbers

  1. Transcript of: Ben Affleck takes on ‘Town’ bank robbers

    MEREDITH VIEIRA, co-host: Back now at 8:41 with Academy Award winner Ben Affleck , the writer, director and star of the new thriller " The Town ." He plays the leader of a group of criminals in Charlestown , Massachusetts , who fear a witness to their most recent bank robbery may have seen more than she is letting on.

    VIEIRA: Ben , good morning to you.

    Mr. BEN AFFLECK: Thanks very much.

    VIEIRA: Saying earlier, I saw the movie last night, it is fantastic.

    Mr. AFFLECK: Thank you.

    VIEIRA: Really, really wonderful. It -- it's about this area in -- called Charlestown , which has produced more bank robbers than any other single square mile anywhere.

    Mr. AFFLECK: Yeah.

    VIEIRA: And you grew up in Cambridge , another section of Boston . I mean, what was your impression of Charlestown growing up?

    Mr. AFFLECK: Well, where I grew up in Cambridge was actually next to Charlestown , but it was kind of worlds away, you know? We knew these guys were -- the townie guys were really tough. And, I mean, I guess in short I was -- I was sort of intimidated and scared by Charlestown . They had this kind of code of silence. And really, the movie portrays Charlestown now kind of as it was in the mid and late '90s when this bank robbery thing was really in its -- in its heyday.

    VIEIRA: And you actually went back and you talked to ex-cons and you talked to people who are currently in prison as well, right?

    Mr. AFFLECK: Yeah, I did...

    VIEIRA: What was that like for you and for them, to have you come by?

    Mr. AFFLECK: I don't know what it was like for them, probably sort of surreal, you know, all the sudden this guy shows up at the prison and is like, 'Hey, can I talk to you about, you know, bank robbery ?' For me it was a little scary initially. I didn't know what I was going to expect when I went into these prisons. But, you know, I -- and I was really intimidated by sort of what would be in the -- in the room, you know. And ultimately, interestingly enough, the people who were there visiting these prisoners was just, you know, wives and children mostly.

    VIEIRA: Yeah. Well, because that was sort of the -- I mean, that was a given in that community. That's the way people grew up. That's what became of people.

    Mr. AFFLECK: Yeah. And in some part of there, there -- it was almost like, as I've been told, like a trade that was kind of passed down father to son, and it produced this sort of aspect of, you know, banditry. And that's what was really interesting, I thought would make an interesting movie outside just the usual conventions of kind of heist movie , robbery movie .

    VIEIRA: Exactly. It's got a little bit of everything. You co-wrote it, you directed it, but you also star in it. What is it about this character, Doug MacRay , that made you want to take on the role?

    Mr. AFFLECK: You know, I thought it would be an interesting challenge. The first thing that I liked about the movie was that I got the opportunity to play the role. It was not the kind of role that I -- that comes along very often. He's a flawed guy, he kind of wants to change. But also, you know, he -- there's a love story, too. So you have these -- both aspects competing in the movie , and I thought that was really interesting.

    VIEIRA: Also, you -- there's a pivotal scene towards the end at Fenway Park . Now, you're a major, major Red Sox fan. I'm not sure they've ever done anything like that at Fenway , from what I understand.

    Mr. AFFLECK: I don't -- I don't think so. You know, when you had a movie about a big heist taking place in Fenway Park , it was sort of like my dream, you know. I was combining movies that I loved like, you know, "Heat" or something like that, with the place that I grew up, this iconic sports stadium. So it was really, really exciting.

    VIEIRA: And your accent in this film is really thick. Is that the real Ben Affleck voice that I'm hearing? I mean, did you grow up with that accent or did...

    Mr. AFFLECK: No. I had a little bit of an accent, but then sort of lost it as I got older because I wanted to be an actor, I wanted to play all kinds of parts. The character that -- the guy that I based this character on who's from Charlestown had a sort of a stronger accent than I ever had growing up.

    VIEIRA: Do you worry about -- I mean, you have "Gone,_Baby,_Gone," and then " Good Will Hunting " way back when...

    Mr. AFFLECK: Mm-hmm.

    VIEIRA: ...and now this one set in Boston . I mean, you're going to be identified as the guy who makes these movies -- I mean, on the one hand who cares because if they're good they're good.

    Mr. AFFLECK: Right.

    VIEIRA: But do you worry at all about doing too many there?

    Mr. AFFLECK: You know, I do, actually. As I said, I really wanted to play the role, but I was a little hesitant to direct it because I thought I was going to get, like, pigeon-holed as a, you know, Boston crime drama Johnny there a little bit. And so, you know, people'd be like, 'Maybe he can do a movie about Rhode Island , but I wouldn't get him any further out than that.'

By
TODAY contributor
updated 9/12/2010 8:31:27 PM ET 2010-09-13T00:31:27

Say the name “Ben Affleck,” and chances are you’ll get at least three distinct descriptions in response:

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Wonder boy Oscar-winning screenwriter, along with Boston bud Matt Damon.

Celebrity boy-toy to J. Lo and star of big-budget Hollywood dreck.

Respected auteur of intelligent crime dramas and devoted family man.

The fact that Affleck is only 38 and has time to reinvent himself a few more times suggests one of the more remarkable stories in the entertainment business. Certainly there have been many stars who climbed back from a career abyss to rediscover paydirt; in fact, it’s an essential element of a long-established, formulaic narrative.

Video: 'The Town': Sept. 10 (on this page)

But Affleck’s return to prominence after a period of prominent stumbles is particularly striking. This week he hits theaters in “The Town,” a taut crime thriller set in his hometown of Boston that he directed and co-wrote, and in which he also stars. “The Town” is his second effort as a feature film director after 2007’s “Gone Baby Gone,” an adaptation of a Dennis Lehane novel that generated brawny reviews for Affleck and kicked open new doors.

“The thing about Ben that’s so amazing is that he’s so confident, so at peace with himself,” noted Basil Iwanyk, one of the producers of “The Town.”

“He’s very happy where he is in his life. He’s got a great family, a lot of close friends. I feel like the world beat him up a bit. I think he’s coming back in a big way.”

When the world takes some shots at you, it’s one thing. When it happens in Hollywood, that’s quite another.

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In 1998, Affleck and writing partner Damon won an Academy Award for penning “Good Will Hunting.” But that did not simply represent one stupendous debut in the biz. Affleck had toiled for several years as an actor, grabbing small roles in films like “School Ties” and “Dazed and Confused,” and fatter ones in pictures like Kevin Smith’s “Mallrats” and later “Chasing Amy.”

Affleck and Damon both starred in “Good Will Hunting,” which inflated their mojo as bankable actors. While Damon’s road from there took him to highbrow projects like “Saving Private Ryan,” “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and “All the Pretty Horses,” Affleck skidded off into some forgettable fare, most notably “Pearl Harbor,” “Daredevil” and “Gigli.”

It isn’t completely accurate to say that all of his choices during that time were of the head-scratching variety; “Changing Lanes” in 2002, for instance, with Samuel L. Jackson, was a well-received and underrated film. But Affleck appeared in enough regrettable outings that, combined with “Bennifer,” his grotesquely magnified relationship with Jennifer Lopez, he became that unfortunate figure in Hollywood: an insider who is an outcast.

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“I think Affleck veered off track when he went from actor to celebrity,” explained Elizabeth Weitzman, film critic for the New York Daily News. “You can’t really blame him. Plenty of young actors — not to mention twentysomething Oscar winners — buy into their own hype, or simply assume they have to become the stars the media wants them to be.

“The truth is, though, Affleck may never have been cut out for superstardom. That public arrogance often came across more like overcompensation. His relationships with Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Lopez were extremely high profile, but with the latter in particular, it almost felt like we were watching an imposter try to keep up.”

As a result, Affleck shut it down for a while, relatively speaking. He married actress Jennifer Garner in 2005, and the couple has two daughters. He also began choosing his projects more carefully as an actor — his turn as actor George Reeves in the 2006 independent film “Hollywoodland” brought him healthy reviews as well as a Golden Globe nomination — and then he gravitated toward a position behind the camera.

Newsweek: 'Town' proves Affleck can do it all

“Gone Baby Gone” brought him accolades and respect, as well as a slew of honors for actress Amy Ryan, including an Academy Award nomination. But he didn’t appear in that film, although another Affleck — brother Casey — was one of its stars.

In “The Town,” which is getting a much wider release — over 2,700 screens and a hearty studio publicity push compared to the 1,700 screens for “Gone Baby Gone” — he not only occupies the role of main character Doug MacRay, he also directed. Iwanyk admitted to some initial trepidation.

“Frankly, the studio and some of the other actors anticipated some issues,” Iwanyk said. “How is he going to act and direct at the same time? But he was a dream.

Hamm intimidated by Affleck's 'Town' body

“He has a generosity of spirit and an empathy for people, and he was accessible to anyone who asked questions. Add to that the fact that he is the king of Boston, he was shooting on the streets of Boston, and he had that added pressure. ... For most directors, when they just shot something, they think it’s genius. So when somebody walks up to them with a note, they think, ‘What could this person possibly have to say to me?’ Ben is just the opposite. Everything he does he assumes he could do better, and when you walk up to him he listens.”

Jeremy Renner went from the sweltering terrain of Jordan, where much of “The Hurt Locker” was filmed, to the friendlier borders of Beantown and “The Town,” in which he appears as MacRay’s short-fused, bank-robbing cohort Jem. The Oscar nominee raved about his experience working with Affleck, and savored the change of scenery.

“This felt so right,” he said. “It was easy. Everybody on the set was lovely. Working with Ben, he sets the tone for the entire set. It was like shooting a short film with a really good buddy of mine.”

“The Town” has been well received at both the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals, and is set to open on Friday. The film doesn’t represent a new day for Affleck, but rather one that has already dawned and is well underway.

Said the New York Daily News’ Weitzman: “Not too long ago, we’d seen too much of this guy. Who would have guessed that, (approaching) 40, Ben Affleck would once again be the one to watch?”

Michael Ventre is a frequent contributor to TODAYshow.com.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Photos: Ben Affleck

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  1. Life in 'The Town'

    "Mad Men" star Jon Hamm plays an FBI agent who's after a bank robber played by Ben Affleck in the 2010 thriller "The Town." The film is set in the Boston area, where Affleck grew up. (Warner Bros.) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. 'Town' residents

    Ben Affleck and co-stars Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm and Jeremy Renner attend the premiere of "The Town" during the Venice Film Festival on Sept. 8, 2010, in Venice, Italy. (Vittorio Zunino Celotto / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. King of Boston

    Actor Ben Affleck waves to the crowd at the premiere of "The Town" at the Venice Film Festival on Sept. 8, 2010. (Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. One of the Guys

    Affleck presented actress Charlize Theron with the Decade of Hotness award at Spike TV's Guys Choice Awards on June 5, 2010, in Los Angeles. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Give peace a chance

    Affleck is a noted activist, and is seen here speaking during the Children Mending Hearts 3rd Annual "Peace Please" Gala held on April 16, 2010 in Los Angeles. Children Mending Hearts is an arts exchange program designed to give homeless kids and those less fortunate a voice. Kids in America and those in armed conflict zones around the world write letters and paint pictures for a global children’s book given to the President. (Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. With fame and wealth comes responsibility

    Affleck has earned acclaim for his acting, but hasn't forgotten to give back. He is the founder of the Eastern Congo Initiative, and works with community-based healthcare leaders and survivors of sexual violence in the African country. He is seen here meeting with community-based healthcare leaders and survivors of sexual violence at HEAL Africa on March 18, 2010 in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo. (HEAL AFRICA via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. In a 'State'

    In 2009, Affleck played a congressman whose mistress has been found dead in the topical thriller "State of Play." Russell Crowe, right, portrayed a reporter investigating the case. (Glen Wilson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Return to Congo

    Ben Affleck made his fourth trip to Congo in November 2008, part of his effort to help in the humanitarian crisis in the African nation. Here he visits a camp for displaced people. (Karel Prinsloo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Heart in the right place

    Affleck was one of a number of celebrities who turned out for Children Mending Hearts, an event honoring the International Medical Corps, in Los Angeles in February 2009. (Matt Sayles / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Jen and Ben

    It was a different kind of "Bennifer" (the media's joint name for Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez when they were an item) when Affleck costarred with Jennifer Aniston in 2009's "He's Just Not That Into You." (Warner Brothers) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Family man

    Affleck and Garner walk with their daughter Violet on Oct. 13 in New York. Violet Anne Affleck was born on Dec. 1, 2005. On January 6, 2009 they became proud parents of their second daughter, Seraphina Rose Elizabeth Affleck. (Marcel Thomas / FilmMagic) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. On the campaign trail

    One of the most politically active of Hollywood's celebrities, Affleck campaigned for Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Behind the lens

    Affleck directs the new film "Gone Baby Gone," in 2007, which stars his brother Casey. Based on the Denis Lehane novel, it tells the story of two private investigators hunting for a 4-year-old girl. (Miramax) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Back on track

    In 2006's "Hollywoodland," Affleck's poignant portrayal of "Superman" star George Reeves won over critics. Affleck's role as an actor who feels trapped in the limited way the public views him, seemed to echo his own troubles as half of "Bennifer." (Focus Features) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Lump of coal

    Another year, another bomb. In 2004's "Surviving Christmas," Affleck played an obnoxious young millionaire who wants to buy the perfect family Christmas. James Gandolfini costarred. (DreamWorks) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. For the troops

    Affleck entertained the crew of the USS Enterprise warship, which was conducting missions in the Arabian Gulf in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom on Dec. 23, 2003. (Adam Jan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. End of the road

    Affleck rides a horse carriage with Lopez during the filming of "Jersey Girl." After the disaster that was "Gigli," Lopez's role was trimmed down to almost a cameo. The couple split in 2004. (Arnaldo Magnani / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Opposites attract

    Affleck met his future wife, Jennifer Garner, when he starred opposite her in 2003's "Daredevil." The movie, about a blind superhero, tanked, but Affleck would eventually marry Garner in 2005. (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. A new low

    Affleck starred opposite then-girlfriend Jennifer Lopez in 2003's "Gigli." The off-screen couple just couldn't create any on-screen chemistry in this stinker. (Columbia Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Bombs away

    Affleck starred opposite Kate Beckinsale in 2001's big-screen bomb "Pearl Harbor." The movie told the story of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that jolted the United States into World War II. (Touchstone Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Doing his part

    Ben Affleck testified with Joe Kindregan, who suffers from the fatal disease ataxia-telangiectasia, on Capitol Hill before the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health & Human Services and Education on July 11, 2001. Affleck urged lawmakers and private citizens to support increased funding for National Institute of Health (NIH) research into Kindregan's fatal disease and other rare ailments. (Paul J. Richards / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. 'Room' service

    Set in the backwaters of New York's financial world, "Boiler Room" features Seth Davis (Giovanni Ribisi) stumbling upon a shady brokerage firm on Long Island that's making a killing in stock market sales. He sees it as his chance to shine. Affleck costars as Jim Young, one of the company's hot shots, in the 2000 film. (New Line Cinema) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Serious turn

    Affleck starred as Buddy Amaral, a hot shot urban ad executive, who woos Abby Janello (Gwyneth Paltrow), a struggling single mom, in Don Roos' 2000 film "Bounce." (Miramax Films) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Saving the world

    From left: Steve Buscemi, Will Patton, Bruce Willis, Michael Duncan, Affleck and Owen Wilson star in 1998's "Armageddon." An oil driller and his crew are hired to rocket to a gigantic asteroid and blow it up before it slams into Earth. (Buena Vista Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. 'Love' story

    Paltrow and Affleck celebrate their win for outstanding performance by a cast in a motion picture for "Shakespeare in Love" at the 5th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards on March 7, 1999, in Los Angeles. (Jim Smeal / WireImage via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. All the world's his stage

    Affleck took a small part in then-girlfriend Gwyneth Paltrow's "Shakespeare in Love." He played popular actor Ned Alleyn, who was eager to star in William Shakespeare's new play. (Miramax) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. The 'Will' to succeed

    Damon and Affleck hold their best original screenplay Oscars for "Good Will Hunting." The film earned over $225 million worldwide. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Big break

    After struggling as actors, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon decided to make their own luck and wrote themselves plum roles in the 1997 film "Good Will Hunting," which was directed by Gus Van Sant. Damon played a math prodigy with personal issues, while Affleck costarred as the best friend who just wants him to fulfill his potential. (Miramax Films) Back to slideshow navigation
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