Ben Affleck Calls the Shots

Affleck hopes that The Town isn't one of those noble failures that critics admire but no one goes to see. For one thing, he wants to be able to keep directing movies. For another, it's a personal story about the city he grew up in and, for the first time in his professional life, there's no one else to take the hit if it tanks. ''It's kind of hard to disavow a movie when you're the actor, writer, and director,'' he says. ''You're definitely all in.''

For a long time, Affleck wasn't sure he'd be able to keep all three balls in the air. He wasn't alone, either. ''At the end of my audition, I remember asking Ben, 'How do you know you can direct and star in this thing?''' recalls Renner. ''And his answer was what made me do the movie. He said, 'I don't know.' Ben's taken a lot of flak for s---. But this movie will establish him as a serious filmmaker.'' Hamm agrees: ''Ben is intelligent and curious. And I think that combination has let him pick up directing so quickly. As an actor-turned-director, he's just way more familiar with what the actors are going through.''

One thing that impressed Affleck's costars was how, as with Gone Baby Gone, he studded the cast of The Town with working-class locals and ex-cons with chowder-thick accents. Affleck admits that the bit players not only lent authenticity but also helped the pros give better, richer performances. ''I've developed higher standards,'' Affleck says. ''It's something I learned late. I guess I'm a late bloomer, which is too bad for a guy who has success young. But fear is a great motivator. You have to be fighting all the time and work as hard as you've ever worked. I learned that the hard way.''

When Affleck says things like this, it feels like he's speaking to himself, trying to remember not to take his career for granted. To be choosier. Next month, for example, he'll star in The Company Men, a timely drama about corporate downsizing. He also just signed on to star in Badlands director Terrence Malick's top secret next film, opposite Rachel Weisz. ''Malick is one of the geniuses,'' he says excitedly. ''It's like when you look at Matt [Damon], he's had such a wonderful career because he's a great actor, but he's also had the greatest apprenticeship in the history of cinema if you look at the directors he's worked with.''

Hearing Affleck say something so hopeful kind of comes as a shock. And to be honest, it's a bit of a relief. Sure, he's made a few bad movies. Eighteen years and 40 films into a career, who hasn't? But by all appearances, his reboot seems like a boffo success. ''Yeah, life is pretty good right now,'' he says. ''I don't do movies that make $300 million, but I'm happier than I've ever been. I'm extremely lucky in my family. I'm married to this incredible woman. I'm not sure I did anything to deserve winding up here, but I'm not going to do anything to f--- it up.''