Interviews: Ben Affleck Talks Paycheck

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Ben Affleck stars as brilliant computer engineer Michael Jennings in the John Woo adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s short story, Paycheck, hitting theaters on Christmas Day. Jennings is hired by high-tech corporations for specialized top-secret projects. Once a job is complete, Jennings routinely has his short-term memory erased so as not to divulge any sensitive company information to future clients. He expects to earn $4.4 billion at the end of his latest 3-year project, but upon completion he is told that he has agreed to forfeit all payment. Jennings now has to solve the puzzle that was once his past and race against time before he gets killed.

“He basically rips off other people’s ideas for different companies, copies them and he doesn’t have much of a life,” Affleck says about the character. “In the future, these companies, in order to maintain the proprietary nature of technology, has developed a way to erase the memory of the person who’s worked on it so you don’t take corporate secrets with you in your mind, which I’m sure technology companies would do if they could.”

Affleck says that Jennings had to be immaculate in the film. “One of [John Woo’s] big things when I first talked to him was like, ‘North by Northwest,’ Hitchcock, kind of paying homage to that. You can see if you look at the movie there are some other Hitchcock shots in there. There’s a little ‘Rear Window’ shot, there’s a ‘Vertigo’ shot. Anyway, so that kind of set a high bar. He also felt like even in the future, people do what we continue to do, which is look to the past for style influence. The 70s come back in a 90s kind of thing. So I thought it was an interesting idea, and it also played into the antiseptic, futuristic notions.”

The role was also very physical and Affleck wasn’t about to disappoint the director. “Yeah, the Mikado stuff came in handy because it’s the training I’d done for ‘Daredevil’ and that was something that John wanted to do. But I just really tried to do as much training, flexibility training, weight training, because I was really intimidated to work with John and I was afraid that he would ask me to do something and I wouldn’t be able to do it. That would be really embarrassing if he was like, ‘No, no, no, shame. You have shamed. Back to trailer. Get stunt man.’ Then I’d be like, ‘I suck. John Woo hates me.’ So I just tried to be ready for anything and was like, ‘Just give me enough time, John.’ Because I was never the worst guy on the field. I was never so physically gifted that stuff came naturally to me. I had to work at it. So my whole approach is to just have enough time where I can practice the bastard and really kind of nail it down. That’s what I did. I got the fight stuff and the Mikado stuff early enough and just didn’t want to let John down. He’s like the benevolent father that you just want to please in a way.”

In the film, Affleck’s character is a Red Sox fan, which is thanks to him. “The team was the Mets in the script. I mean, I got family in Boston, you know what I’m saying? They don’t take this stuff lightly. I had to try and pass it off on John, you know, I was like, ‘So, I think, interestingly enough, just as a note, mmm, I think Red Sox might work better, in terms of the public consciousness, maybe a better joke with them wining the series. I just think that might play better.’ John was like, ‘grrrr.’ He’s like, ‘Good, we got it. Put it in.’ That was my one contribution in terms of thematics.

It’s been reported that Matt Damon recommended Affleck for the role. “In fact John really dug the ‘The Bourne Identity, you know, sort of naturally and wanted Matty for this thing,” says Affleck. “Matt was pleased and honored, of course, to talk to John Woo, but he read the script and said to him, ‘You know, I can’t just be amnesia movie guy, you know what I mean, or that’s all I’ll do.’ But he called me right after his meeting with John and said, ‘You gotta get on this script, man, this is really, really good.’ As luck would have it for me, John flew back from the meeting in New York on the plane to LA and they were showing ‘Changing Lanes’ on the plane. When he got here I got the part. It was great. It was serendipitous for me. I like to think though that it was ‘Changing Lanes’ that did it and not Matt, therefore I’m not giving him a cut.”

Affleck did feel the pressure of playing a leading man in a Philip K. Dick film. “It’s an intimidating tradition. I love that on the one hand you have great source material. You feel like they’ve worked really well for these other movies, but it’s also scary because it’s a high bar. And there’s been like big giganto stars that have played these roles before, and so that’s scary – Harrison, I’m constantly following Harrison! And Arnold and Tom Cruise, so that’s big shoes to fill, but by the same token, it’s worth the risk because you’ve got great material to work with. I’m a big fan. I read the book, ‘We Can Remember it for You Wholesale’, all great.

There’s also rumors going around that Ben might be interested in starring in writer/director Kevin Smith’s Fletch One. “We’ll see, I want to,” Affleck reveals. “Kevin’s like still sort of not actually written it. I’m like, ‘Look dude, just write the script.’ He’s like, ‘I have to know if you’re doing it or not. Tell me now!’ I’m like, ‘Listen, let’s just wait and see.’

And he’s also got his own script in the works. “I was hoping to do some over the next six months. I’m adapting a Dennis Lehane novel, which nobody was all that interested in. Then ‘Mystic River’ certainly did allright and it’ll probably win best picture or whatever, so I’m excited. I think that’ll be the first thing. It’s an interesting process trying to adapt someone else’s story, but it’s like in a genre and in a place – it’s set in Boston, something I really understand and am comfortable with, so we will see.”