The Santa Barbara International Film Festival kicked off its tribute week with Friday night’s celebration of actor, writer, and director Ben Affleck, held before a packed crowd at the Arlington Theatre.
Mr. Affleck was in town to receive the Modern Master Award and to sit down with film critic Leonard Maltin to look back on a career that, for awhile, looked like it was heading toward action films until Mr. Affleck turned to directing. After that point, in the words of Mr. Maltin, Mr. Affleck hit “three bull’s-eyes.”
“I have sort of mixed feeling about that reel,” joked Mr. Affleck after watching a high-octane career overview that began with three dramatic scenes, then accelerated into gunfights, car chases and explosions set to a heavy rock sound track.
It was clear in the actor’s tone that was the world he has been leaving behind.
“It’s good to know I can always fall back on stick fighting,” he joked, referring to the “Daredevil” clip briefly seen. “When I hear ‘Ben Affleck: Career Retrospective’ it … can go one of two ways!”
But Mr. Affleck was self-effacing throughout the evening, joking at his own expense, calling out some of his films for being mediocre, but always pointing out the lessons he learned on set.
He did a wicked impression of director John Frankenheimer, for whom he starred in “Reindeer Games.”
“Always fire two people in the first week!” Mr. Affleck recalled Mr. Frankenheimer’s advice on being a director. “Then they’ll know you’re serious!”
However, he never took that to heart when he started directing, with the acclaimed “Gone Baby Gone” in 2007.
“I’m not good at critique, let alone firing,” he said. “I’m very nervous about it.”
Early in the evening he mentioned some of his favorite films in his resume: “Dazed and Confused,” “Good Will Hunting,” “Chasing Amy,” “Shakespeare in Love,” “Armageddon,” and “Going All the Way.”
Mr. Maltin went back to Mr. Affleck’s childhood in Cambridge, Mass., and tried to get the actor to remember the spark that got him into acting.
To Mr. Affleck it was a bit of muddled memory, as the spark happened after he had started work as a child actor.
Asked to draw on imagination for an acting exercise when he was 7 years old, Mr. Affleck realized that using his imagination was fun and gave him some control.
Looking back, he can’t even comprehend how a 7-year-old would be conscious enough to make that decision.
“People ask, ‘Would you let your kids be actors?'” he said. “I think my kids have enough problems!”
When he was 8, Mr. Affleck became friends with 10-year-old Matt Damon. By the time he was 14, the two were taking flights into New York City for auditions.
“We were very responsible,” he said, although they used the time in the air to smoke cigarettes.
That friendship finally culminated in “Good Will Hunting” which they both wrote and starred in, and which earned them a Best Original Screenplay Oscar.
Mr. Damon appeared at the end of the evening to present his friend with the Modern Master Award.
Now, Mr. Affleck is up for an Oscar again (as producer this time) for “Argo,” the tale of how the CIA posed as moviemakers to help free American hostages in Iran.
He has been at many question-and-answer sessions for the film. On the red carpet, Mr. Affleck said the political discussion after the film has been invigorating.
“That’s what has been fun to engage in conversation-wise continuous through its release,” he said. “The movie is eerily current to what’s happening today and so it provokes a lot of different responses. People come with a lot of baggage.
“We’ve had Persians who say ‘We fled the country and it was just like this,’ and there are others who say ‘You have unduly characterized this regime in a negative way.’
“I mean, the country of Iran is making a sequel (to the fake film in ‘Argo’),” he laughed. “Which I love. I have a franchise now.”
SBIFF continues today with more films and an evening tribute to actor Daniel Day-Lewis.