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Ben Affleck: Just don't ask about the wedding

He stars in the new John Woo thriller, ‘Paycheck’
/ Source: The Associated Press

Ben Affleck wants to tell you about his new sci-fi thriller “Paycheck.” He does NOT want to tell you about the status of his romance with Jennifer Lopez.

One of the most bankable stars of his generation, Affleck has been a wisecracking hero to guys and a heartthrob to ladies with lead roles in popcorn epics like “Pearl Harbor” and “Armageddon.” But now a lot of audience good will toward the Oscar-winning “Good Will Hunting” co-star is at risk, due to one very bad film in an otherwise stellar career.

Affleck’s last movie — the one everybody loves to hate, even if they haven’t seen it — was “Gigli,” which has replaced 1987’s “Ishtar” as shorthand for “box office disaster.”

Not that “Gigli” was the world’s biggest failure — it earned $6.5 million and cost about $40 million to make (other flops have lost twice that much). Rather, it was the buildup.

Affleck and Lopez hooked up while filming “Gigli,” and their subsequent engagement was gossip gold. When it was time to promote “Gigli,” they were everywhere: in magazines and on TV, walking glitzy red carpets again and again and again, debating whether their future children would be Red Sox or Yankee fans.

It was overexposure on the grandest scale. When “Gigli” bombed — “unwatchable,” according to the Associated Press review — that led to an even greater feeding frenzy of rumor and innuendo.

Then Affleck and Lopez, citing paparazzi overkill, indefinitely postponed their Sept. 14 wedding just days before they planned to say “I do.”

Back on track
Now Affleck is trying to put the focus back on his work: In addition to “Paycheck,” he has wrapped “Jersey Girl” with director Kevin Smith (it also co-stars you-know-who-Lo) and next year’s holiday comedy “Surviving Christmas.” Soon, he’ll start filming “Glory Road,” the true story of white basketball coach Don Haskins, who broke racial barriers by winning a 1966 national championship with an all-black starting five.

For now, Affleck agreed to talk — grudgingly about Lopez, and more forthrightly about tabloid readers, working again with Matt Damon and what “Paycheck” says about the meaning of life.

AP: There have been a lot of conflicting reports about your engagement. Is it still on?

Affleck: That’s the chief concern of The Associated Press?

AP: People are interested.

Affleck: That is probably not the question I’m going to answer. But everything is fine, I’ll tell you everything is good. It’s all under control, and if I’ve learned anything it’s to be more frugal with the information I give out. That’s about all I want to say.

AP: Does all the gossip make you angry, does it make you laugh?

Affleck: For whatever reason, my personal life became one of these stories that takes on a life larger than itself. I don’t feel like it’s actually about me. I feel like it’s about some projected idea. I don’t take it personally. And to preserve my sanity, I just ignore it.

AP: Any myths you’d like to dispel?

Affleck: I think that most people understand that tabloids are essentially fiction, so it’s not really worth addressing.

AP: Much of the gossip comes from anonymous “sources close to Affleck.”

Affleck: (Shrugs.) I often wonder, like, ‘Who is this?’ I would love to find out who some of those people are because I’m sure I would be like, ‘I don’t even know you!’

AP: In “Paycheck,” you play a man who loses three years of memories after working on a secret project. Is this just a fun action movie or sci-fi with a message?

Affleck: Part of the theme is about a life well lived. Life is the present. It’s all these little moments, it’s all the interactions you have with people. They’re the tiny little tiles that make up the giant mosaic of your life. The character takes this job where he has to give up three years of his life because he really has nothing going on in his life but his work.

AP: “Paycheck” is adapted from a story by Philip K. Dick, who also wrote the source material for “Blade Runner,” about human identity, and “Minority Report,” about predicting the future. This tale is sort of a combination.

Affleck: You can see in this the themes that Philip K. Dick worked with his whole life, questioning the nature of our identity. Is it merely a collection of memories, or is there some sort of innate soul? If we didn’t remember anything, would we still be the same person? I think this movie will beat people’s expectations because it’s unusually smart and well put together and thoughtful for an action-adventure-thriller movie.

AP: You and Matt Damon won an Oscar for writing “Good Will Hunting.” Are you planning to work together again?

Affleck: I probably would want to write something to direct, something I could co-direct with Matt ... if we can find the time to make our schedules work. It was easier to write together when neither of us had a job. We had nothing to do all day. We did (“Good Will Hunting”) not because we wanted careers as writers, but because we were just trying to jump-start acting careers that were kind of stalled.

AP: You put on a good face promoting “Gigli,” and went on “The Tonight Show” to poke fun at it after it flopped. Was it hard to have a laugh at yourself?

Affleck: No, that was fun actually. You can’t take that seriously. ... I’ve got three good movies in the can now. And having gone through the experience of the Galacto-Bomb “Gigli,” it’s nice to feel happy promoting a movie and encouraged about it.

AP: Some people say “Gigli” has put your career on the downslide.

Affleck: Ultimately it comes down to the movies you’re in. “Paycheck” is a good movie, it should do well. It’s cyclical. ... There were probably 10 movies this year, studio movies that were DOA. They were just more quiet so ...

AP: Why was that?

Affleck: I don’t know what it is, the nature of celebrity or whatever. It was exaggerated in operatic tones. All these things are appealing to readers. As a dramatist, I understand. When you want to make something seem more compelling, you cast it in starker tones. If “Paycheck” was not good, and if “Jersey Girl” wasn’t any good, then my name would start to move down the roster however many notches and it would be a little harder for me to get a job. And if I got something that was a hit, it would be: He’s BACK! Fortunately, I think it will be two (successful) movies out of three in one year.

AP: With all the public scrutiny, do you find yourself mistrustful of people?

Affleck: Yeah, you become more guarded, unfortunately, just because you might have a casual conversation with somebody and then it shows up in a paper. Or somebody says, “Can you take a picture with me?” You say, “Sure ...” and then they sell it to a magazine.

AP: Like the Georgia sheriff who gave you gun permit info?

Affleck: He called me and was like, “Well, you know I told (the woman who took the picture) don’t sell it, but she said she could get a whole lot of money, and that means a lot to her.” I thought, you know what? Good for her. She’s struggling, got a couple of kids. She needs the dough ... I still haven’t been smart enough to catch on. Like, why don’t I just sell these pictures? (Laughs.) Somebody’s getting rich off of it. So obviously, my business acumen has dulled significantly.

AP: So, next for you is a celebrity magazine?

Affleck: Ahhh ... I don’t know. (Smiles.) I’d rather be in the manure business.