Last year at this time, Argo had just surpassed the $100 million mark at the box-office on its way to winning three Oscars, including the statue for Best Picture. Ben Affleck’s true Hollywood story of the CIA’s risky mission to rescue six U.S. diplomats from the angry hive of the Iranian Islamic revolution in 1979 was bold, confident filmmaking, and his emergence as a sentimental favorite during awards season was as delightful as it was unlikely, considering the many ups and downs of his career. Fifteen years after Good Will Hunting, 10 years after Gigli, and five years after becoming an acclaimed director with Gone Baby Gone, Affleck’s crowning achievement established him as a master Filmmaker, with a capital F, in league with other actors who became esteemed directors, like Eastwood, Redford, and Beatty.
Affleck, fortunately, hasn’t given up acting. In fact, it’s well known that he’ll spend 2014 filming two of Hollywood’s most-anticipated movies: David Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, and Zack Snyder’s Batman Vs. Superman. (Psst, he plays Batman.) But before he embarked on those projects, Affleck wanted to revisit Argo one last time. In the new extended edition Blu-ray, in stores today, he reinserted nine minutes of footage that revolve around his character’s family life, fulfilling a promise he made to a now-famous actor whose scenes had been left mostly on the cutting-room floor.
Below, in addition to a behind-the-scenes video from the new Blu-ray, Affleck discusses the cut scenes, why he’s not worried about the fans who erupted online when he was cast as the new Batman, and the one character that he considers even more daunting than the caped crusader.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: With Gone Baby Gone and The Town, you’d already proven yourself as a director. But was there something about making Argo that was new and kept you up at night?
BEN AFFLECK: Every good director that I’ve met kind of confessed to being scared before they started a movie. I’ve pestered some and these are guys who’ve made 5-10 great movies. So it made me feel better about the fact that I’ve been pretty terrified before each film that I’ve done. In terms of the specifics, I guess the stuff that I was really uncertain about honestly – there were two things, one was the tone. I wasn’t sure that the comedy and the sort of more grounded realism could exist side by side. In other words, that you could laugh at Alan Arkin and still worry about the lives of these six people. The other one was just the sort of like, you know, it wasn’t quite David Lean, but getting 2,000 extras in Turkey to seem like they’re the Islamic student revolution in 1979 in Tehran was very very intimidating.
You mention the tone and you’ve said in other interviews that one of the early scripts you read was a tad more comical. When you decided you wanted to play this straight, was that an easy debate to win with the producers. Or did they really need to be persuaded?
Well, those guys, Grant [Heslov] and George [Clooney], are really smart guys, they’re actors, they’re filmmakers. They come from a world of being the person who has to go out there and try it. So my pitch to them was, “Look, I love the movie and I want to do it and I want to cut out any joke that undermines the integrity or the realism of the movie, and I want to err on that side.” You sort of have to pick. Either you’re faithful to laughs and you’re making a comedy or you’re faithful to the truth of the film. Not that comedies can’t be serious, but the laugh can’t be supreme in the version of the movie I wanted to make. And George and Grant both aspire to that great sort of Coen brothers quasi-comic serious movie, and I just wasn’t confident that I knew how to do that. I was much more confident knowing how to do the other thing, which was just chasing realism. And they were cool with it. One of the great things about those guys as producers is that they see producing as being literally about supporting the director. So it was kind of like, “Tell us how you want to do it and we’ll help you get it made the way you want to get it made.” It was never like, “No-no-no, we think it has to be more or less comic.” And ultimately, I was lucky to have those guys because I was able to sort of do it the way I wanted to.
This new extended cut of the film has nine extra minutes. Now, are those scenes your darlings that broke your heart to slash for the theatrical release? Or are these scenes more supplementary, adding context to what already exists?
No, it’s really interesting. I’ve never been in a movie where this happened or encountered it as a director. The nine minutes kind of came out all in one piece. I was screening the movie and people were really complaining that they were bored in various places but they couldn’t say what the problem was or what they didn’t like. They’d just say “Well, it’s slow. It takes a while to get going, blah, blah, blah.” And I loved the movie and I didn’t know what to do. I could tell that people were a bit less interested in Tony’s home life and so the editor and I, sort of as an experiment, said “Let’s just take out all the scenes with his wife and his kid, and just at the end, he just shows up at home on the porch. Let’s just see what happens.” And we did it and we screened it, and all of a sudden it just came together perfectly. And it broke my heart because the themes about family, responsibility, and marriage and all the other stuff were so dear to me; they were so central to why I wanted to make the movie. And Taylor [Schilling] is so great [as the wife] and she’s now on Orange is the New Black and everybody knows how great she is. But at the time, it felt like such a sh–ty thing to do – just to cut her all the way out of the movie, out of no fault of her own. And it’s such a sh–ty call because it’s like the breakup: “It’s not you, it’s me.” But it really was me! And now, I really was happy because I said [to Taylor], “Listen, I promise you, I’m going to put the whole thing back on the extended version so you’ll be able to see it. You’re really good in it.” And I’ll be interested to see if the people who do watch it share the belief that I had ultimately, that while really good, it was stuff that had to come out for the sake of the larger narrative. But it’s not just the kind of like, “Oh yeah, the bathroom scene we took out and, you know, 30 seconds from that scene.” You know, how people kind of slop stuff back in there just to be able to put a sticker on it that says “More Footage!”
The Oscar for Best Picture must have felt like a giant bear hug from your peers and the public. At that moment, did you feel like you had graduated past the pearl-clutching reaction that the Internet than dropped on you upon the Batman announcement?
No. I mean, that’s the sort of great and terrible thing about this business. Each project is kind of in its own silo, you know what I mean? You do something, it works, people say it works. And if the next one doesn’t, you know, it doesn’t. You don’t get to start ahead because you did well last time. Without getting into the vagaries of the internet and who’s sort of out there being vocal about it, at the end of the day, when you get into the arena of those kinds of movies, these superhero movies, particularly ones that are working with characters that everyone’s known for so long, everybody’s got these strongly held opinions and preconceived ideas about what it should be. I totally understand and recognize that. At the same time, I don’t think projections about something that hasn’t happened yet are all that meaningful. I think at the end of the day, it’s like any other movie or project: You go out and make it great, people will say it’s great. If you go out and miss, you’ll hear about it. The stuff beforehand is kind of just the noise that happens.
Kevin Smith, a pal of yours and a huge fan of Batman, interviewed Zack Snyder recently and Smith raved about photos of you in the new Batsuit. I appreciate you’re not yet about to tell me what’s in Batman’s arsenal this time around, but what did it feel like wearing the suit for the first time?
Well, I don’t want to get too far afield and I’m sure I’ll have time to talk about Batman down the road. What I’ll say is that I really like Zack. From what I’ve seen of what’s Zack is doing, it’s made me very excited. One of the nice things about being an actor in that movie is they show you all the stuff before anyone else gets to see it. So all the sort of world-creation, and the take on the character and the other characters is really exciting. And at the end of the day, the truth is it’s really directors that make movies work or not – especially these kinds of movies, where it’s about the whole world, and a rising tide lifts all ships. And if it all has integrity, if it all has a sense of realism, then it works. And if it doesn’t, than it doesn’t really matter what everyone’s doing [on the screen] because they just look like a bunch of Mexican wrestlers in suits.
You’re currently working on Gone Girl, which is based on Gillian Flynn’s best-seller. We at EW might be a little a more interested than most, since Gillian was a beloved co-worker here for several years.
She told me all the secrets of EW – all the backroom sh-t that goes on there, so I know all about it! Gillian is amazing. She’s really cool, really down to earth. A lot of writers can be fussy or defensive, or if you want to alter anything, there can be a confrontational vibe that develops. She is so smart and if you have a question and you want to change, she’ll come up with an even smarter work-around. I got to rehearse with her for like a month and she really was real partners with David [Fincher] in developing that screenplay in a way that I have not seen a director and a writer be partners.
I think people are still looking forward to seeing you work with Matt Damon again. Are the two of you still working on making a Whitey Bulger movie?
Matt and I are still very very interested in the movie. We have a new writer and he’s writing away, as we speak: Aaron Stockard, who co-wrote The Town and Gone Baby Gone with me. So he’s grinding away. Supposed to turn in a draft I think after the new year. I’m as optimistic as anybody. It’s certainly an interesting time – you do a story and it was still unfolding, the trial and everything. It’s a great part and Matt would be great. It’s a great story to tell and it’s a pretty good take on it. We’ll see.
Last thing, which is more for me than most of our readers. I just finished reading Ben Bradlee’s new 864-page biography on Ted Williams, the famous Red Sox slugger, and there’s at least 12 great Ted Williams movies locked in there. It could be baseball’s version of Raging Bull. You’re a huge Red Sox fan: is Williams a story that potentially appeals to you as a filmmaker?
I love his story. I guess I’m getting a little long in the tooth but I regretted that I’m not a lefty because I’d never get asked to play the part. It’s an amazing story. And like a lot of those stories, it’s got two things. One, this guy whose talent is mind-blowing. He seems like another species he’s so good. But also, he’s a really flawed guy. And that’s what makes those stories really work – when the person is also somehow their own worst enemy. [Williams] couldn’t be happy. He wouldn’t tip his hat. All this stuff where you just think, “What’s wrong with you? These people love you!” I think it’s exactly the kind of story that really works. By the same token, as a Boston guy, I would be really intimidated. You think a superhero’s got people who care strongly about…? You should try The Ted Williams Story. It’s a little bit like the Last Temptation of Christ.