Ben Affleck’s career has been as turbulent and dramatic as they come. He was championed as a rising young actor, celebrated as the Oscar-winning screenwriter (shared with his childhood best friend Matt Damon) of Good Will Hunting, ridiculed as a pretty face in Michael Bay’s action spectacles, and written off after a string of box-office failures. As his star rose and he dated the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Lopez (which earned the name “Bennifer”), he became tabloid fodder, and his crash was splashed all over the media. He and Lopez split weeks before their wedding, his career took a header with flops like Gigli and Surviving Christmas, and he became an object of parody in an Off-Broadway satire called Matt & Ben, co-written by Mindy Kaling (who played Affleck onstage), not to mention a favorite target of Trey Parker (remember the line “I need you like Ben Affleck needs acting school” from Team America?).
That might be enough to end any career, but instead he stepped off the roller-coaster ride and took stock of his life and career. “I was frustrated with the movies that I had done,” he told The Hollywood Reporter in 2012. “I knew that I had something to offer. I said, ‘Here are the things I’d like to do: I want to direct movies, and I want to be in a movie that I’m enormously proud of. I want to have kids.’ I set out goals.”
By any measure, he is meeting them. He is happily married to Jennifer Garner, with whom he is raising three kids; his acting career has segued into mature screen roles; and third film as a director, Argo, was a popular hit, a critical success and Academy Award winner for Best Picture.
Now he’s been cast as Batman in the upcoming Superman sequel from Zack Snyder (an announcement that sent the fanboy comments pages flaming with an fiery outrage unseen since Heath Ledger was cast as The Joker) and has yet another adult drama coming out this month, playing an online gambling entrepreneur with an international drug sideline in Runner Runner.
What better time than now to look back on the long, strange trip that brought Ben Affleck from rising young star to pop culture punch line to one of Hollywood’s most respected filmmakers.
“Dazed and Confused” (1993): The beginning
While it wasn’t actually his film debut (that honor goes to School Ties), Richard Linklater’s cinematic flashback gave Ben Affleck his first real opportunity to show off his chops. The role of bonehead class bully Fred O’Bannion, a fifth-year senior and compulsive jerk who takes his failure to graduate as an opportunity to beat up incoming freshman for two years running, is little more than an aside in the film. Affleck stands out thanks to the petty cruelty and insufferable arrogance he brings to the part, and the wild-eyed fury during his ultimate humiliation has the feel of real Method acting. One wonders what sense memory that was pulled from.
In his own words: “I realized, when the movie came out, that I played the one really unappealing character in a huge movie full of really appealing characters. I love it. If they did a sequel, I would do it in a second. I mean, how awesome would it be to see what O’Bannion is doing now?”