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Affleck's influences: An apple for the teachers

In a career that spans about 40 films, Ben Affleck has learned a few lessons from his directors over the years, including Gus Van Sant, John Frankenheimer and Kevin Smith.

January 06, 2011

In a career that spans about 40 films, Ben Affleck has learned a few lessons from his various directors over the years. Among them:

Gus Van Sant ("Good Will Hunting") — I learned from Gus the power of letting actors make their own discoveries. I was so used to the director coming over after a take and saying, "How about this? How about that?" We'd do a take and he'd say, "OK, one more. OK, one more." Finally I'd say, "Gus, what do you think?" And he'd say, "I don't know. What do you think?" And all of a sudden, I went, "What do I think?" I was empowered, instead of looking at it as a process where you're kind of auditioning and trying to please the director, I was thinking, "How do I think this should be played?" … and take responsibility for that.

Roger Michell ("Changing Lanes") — He taught me that you have to cast every single role in the movie like it's the lead. Down to the extras and people who have one line, they need to be right. That was a big, big, big lesson I learned.

Kevin Smith ("Mallrats," "Chasing Amy," "Dogma," "Jersey Girl," others) — He taught me the importance of writing, the words the characters are saying. No one loves the written word as much as that guy does. Some people might find it a little too R-rated, but he's a really good writer.

Terrence Malick (an as-yet-untitled project due in 2012) — taught me you have to tell your own story. Terry's not making anybody else's movie. He's not trying to make anyone else happy. He's making the movie he wants to make, that touches him or is about things he believes are important. I don't know if [self-doubt] ever crosses his mind. It crosses my mind all the time. Are people going to like this? How does this stack up with that? And those are the worst questions you can ask yourself.

Allen Coulter ("Hollywoodland") — Mood matters more than you think; the way you establish tone in a movie in really subtle ways can make or break movies. In that case, it was a sort of noir, historical tone he did in a really delicate way. The other thing I learned from him is just how important transitions are. It never occurred to me as an actor or writer — the transitions really help your movie. Just those little beats on a sting or a cut or the sound of a flag whipping in the wind, just these brief things.

John Frankenheimer ("Reindeer Games") — He prepared for rehearsals in a very specific way. He would tape off the furniture on an empty soundstage, the entire set, he would block it and play it and rehearse it. He did those "Playhouse 90s"; he wanted to know the movie up and down like a play. I didn't do exactly the same thing, but more and more as an actor, a writer and director, I see the things that yield the most for me personally are research and prep, rehearsal. Even if you throw it all away when you get there, having a plan that you feel good about to tell the story helps a great deal.

His most helpful advice: I met Warren Beatty after "Gone Baby Gone." He had a lot of practical insight and was really helpful because he talked about feeling like you can do it, you belong there. "Look, you can do this." That was incredibly valuable to me. It sounds so simple, but you have to understand, there's a built-in insecurity. It's a big job, directing. Acting's just one little part of it. So to feel like you can take that step, I was really lucky I had people to tell me that.

—Michael Ordoña

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