Ben Affleck’s weekend probably went a long way toward making up for being left off the list of Best Director nominees at the upcoming Academy Awards on Feb. 24.
The "Argo" actor/director collected three prestigious honors in three days: the Modern Master Award from the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, the best picture award for the Producers Guild of America and the best film ensemble award from the Screen Actors Guild – honors that come just two weeks after taking home a pair of Golden Globes for directing and best drama.
Affleck tells NBC that the succession of accolades that have resulted from his work on “Argo” has significantly bolstered his confidence as a filmmaker – a growth track that’s been in progress since his first film, “Gone Baby Gone.”
“I think for me it's incremental,” he says. “I was terrified my first movie, had built some confidence in my second – the third I felt like I really was able to express what I wanted to say as a director. But there were still a lot of things that I was worried about. I think a certain amount of anxiety is really important. You can't lose it. You gotta carry it with you because when you shift over to arrogance I think you start missing things. And your work actually goes downhill. So I try to keep that balance between fear and insecurity and confidence.”
He believes he’s gained some ground in his acting career as well, following a string of starring roles which hadn’t been as well received before stepping behind the camera. “Every time I do a film I think I gain some measure of confidence,” he says. “There are always things that I wish I could've done better and stuff that I kinda kick myself about. But as an actor it's really been educational for me to cut my own performance, because you have to develop a very kind of clinical detached perspective on what works and what doesn't.”
Another big confidence booster was being approached to potentially helm the much-anticipated next episode of the “Star Wars” saga, a job which ultimately went to J.J. Abrams. “They asked me about it,” he reveals. “I was super-flattered to be asked. I'm more probably a 'Star Wars' fan than I am a 'Star Wars' filmmaker. And I think they got the perfect guy for it. I'm really excited to see J.J.'s version.” And in any event, he was able to keep the vintage “Star Wars” action figures that appeared at the end of “Argo.” “That's right – I got the dolls!”
Film critic and historian Leonard Maltin, who interviewed Affleck onstage before a packed house at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, said Affleck is carving out a rare career as a double threat. “He's now made three really good films in a row, and how many people can say that, of any kind – people who are just starting out, veterans, let alone actors-turned-directors?"
During the ceremony, Affleck charmed the crowd with many inside-showbiz anecdotes, including how he first steeled himself to step behind the camera. “Luckily I know a few directors who are actors and I talked to a few of them,” he revealed.”Kevin Costner, George Clooney, Warren Beatty. And Warren Beatty kind of had the best thing, because Warren is a wonderful guy. He's so smart, has the best stories in the world. You're just so lucky if you can spend half an hour with the guy – and he also doesn’t lack for confidence. So I had to be in front of him, saying, 'I don't know, Warren. I'm a little insecure about this thing. [Beatty said] 'Look, look, look – have you ever been on a movie as an actor, looked over and saw the director and just thought to yourself, "If this f***ing guy can do it…?"' I was like ‘All right. All right. Good job.’”
Affleck said sharing a journey through Hollywood with his childhood friend Matt Damon - on hand to present his pal and fellow Bostonian with the award - has been “a really nice thing to have, which is a nice thing today, still: a friend who's in it with you. We had the same goals. We both kind of supported each other. We both wanted to get the part, but if it wasn't us we wanted it to be our friend. And that really carries through 'Good Will Hunting' and then sort of just through time to have somebody to kind of touch base with who you knew when.”
Backstage at the SAG Awards Sunday night, Affleck addressed his omission from Oscar’s short list with a sense of big picture perspective. “I think I’m very lucky to have a job; much less any of this awards stuff that goes with it,” he said. “I am sort of half serious about that. It reminds me every time I come to something like this that I’ve been around long enough to deeply appreciate this kind of thing. It doesn’t happen all the time, and it may not come again. It’s really wonderful to have awards, at least, in the sense that they encourage artists, and I’m really encouraged by this – thrilled.”