Live by Night is Ben Affleck’s third directorial effort, based on the crime novel of the same name in which he stars. He chats to MiNDFOOD about his career and the ups and downs of his personal life.
The gangster genre has been a staple for decades. What is it about this form of cinema that interests you?
The Warner Brothers gangster movies in the 1930s and 1940s marked the first time the audience was allowed to have a kind of morally uncomfortable relationship with the protagonist. We weren’t sure we liked him or we were doing the right thing, and you had this engine of cops and robbers and betrayal and love while the whole time you are sort of wondering if you are on this guy’s side or not. And these are broken protagonists and I really, really liked that.
Just thinking about the title, Live by Night. Are you a morning or a night person? Do you stay up late?
It’s funny, I go to bed early and I am still not a morning person. So I have the best of both worlds. I go to bed at nine and I still don’t want to get up until 10:30, so I guess we’d call that a lazy person. (laughs) But I feel that I actually do like to sleep in. Luckily I have my kids there, so they all need to get to school and to get me out of bed. But staying up late, particularly as a writer, is when you have time to just be by yourself and be with your thoughts and let the world quiet down a little bit. That is when I do most of my writing, is at night.
Your friend, Matt Damon…
He’s not my friend! (laughs) No he is my friend, I am just kidding.
Do you still spend much time together?
He lives down the street from me and I am very lucky and our kids get together all the time and our kids have sleepovers and parties and they have gotten to be good friends, which is really satisfying and cool. And professionally, Pearl Street Productions is Matt and I’s company so we try to produce movies together as much as we can and stay connected in the same way. We share scripts and give each other advice. We watch football together and just do things that people do.
How much of a gangster is in you?
I don’t know how much of a gangster is really in me. I am not really a tough guy and I am sure the first time I’d see somebody pull out a gun I would run the other way. It’s all acting in that regard. But there’s a kind of wonderful tradition of it and a wonderful tradition of actors to emulate who have done it so well in the past.
Your kid brother, Casey, is following in your footsteps. He’s winning awards, starring in big movies. But even so, you seem to have taken different paths.
Well we have taken different paths but my brother and I are very much alike, although we have done different movies and have had different roads. And I would argue that he hasn’t had quite the same chances that I have had but now he is starting to get more opportunities to show what he can do. It’s remarkable. I will vote for him at the Oscars (laughs). He is a phenomenal actor and even more than that, he is someone who is very deeply important to me in my life. He has got two wonderful kids and he is an amazing father. He is a profoundly gifted actor and a thoughtful and sensitive guy. I was so happy to see Manchester come along and give him the room, the runway. He’s a race car and he finally got enough track that he could really show what he could do in all six gears. And it’s just marvellous to see and wonderful to hear people say nice things about him because he deserves it.
Your character loses the love of his life. In what way has your life taken a different route because of the loss or addition of love?
That was one of the things of the movie that really drew me to the movie, these themes of love and what is true love and what does it mean to have an adult love and a grownup love that involves sacrifice and that involves uncertainty? I have had a few girlfriends in my life, not a secret, and you have covered it faithfully for two decades. And I want to thank you for that. (laughs) But mostly what I drew upon in this case was the rich material in the book and as I did that adaptation, there was so much stuff to draw from the material, that it wasn’t about, ‘let me remember this moment in my romantic life and put that on the screen.’
But what about when you were younger? Did you join a club because of a certain girl?
Oh I did all kinds of stupid things with girls. I went to a college because of my high school girlfriend and then I was in the University of Vermont and it was 40 below zero and I thought, ‘What the fuck am I doing here?’ (laughs) She dumped me and I moved to LA. (laughs) So that started me off.
What are the pros and cons you’ve experienced with love in your life?
Well the kinds of loves that I have experienced in my life. I have been very lucky and blessed and the central relationship in my life has been with Jennifer, who is the mother of my children and is an extraordinary woman and a loving woman and a role model and just somebody that I continue to admire and respect enormously. I am very grateful for her and have had that as a model for something that will always be the most important thing to me. And I don’t know that I have any message for the world, but I think if you have a message, write it down or stick it in one of the mouths of your characters. (laughs)