TODAY   |  September 13, 2010

Ben Affleck takes on ‘Town’ bank robbers

The Academy Award winner discusses writing, directing and starring in his new drama, “The Town,” which is set in Charlestown, Mass., the town that has produced more bank robbers than anywhere else in the world.

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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.'