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Ben Affleck comes clean on his life as a tabloid star. Awaiting the release of his thriller ''Paycheck'' the actor talks about his long-term career plans (well hellooo, Mr. Congressman)

Ben Affleck, Paycheck | WHO'S THE MAN? Affleck insists he has a life beyond tabloid fodder
Image credit: Ben Affleck: Fran Ockenfels
WHO'S THE MAN? Affleck insists he has a life beyond tabloid fodder

The words ''Jennifer'' and ''Lopez'' will not appear in this piece. Okay, they won't appear again in this piece. Why would we leave her out of an interview with Ben Affleck? Simple. Because what's been forgotten in all the fuss over Bennifer is that in his spare time, Affleck is an A-list star who has opened at least one $100 million-grossing movie each of the last three years -- and who once upon a time (remember his Oscar for ''Good Will Hunting''?) was seen as moviedom's Great Young Hope.

On this ashy gray New York afternoon, none of that potential is reflected on Affleck's drawn and tired 31-year-old face. The man has had one rough year. There was the debacle that was ''Gigli.'' There was the collapse of a movie at Disney -- titled, ironically, ''Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.'' (The studio swiftly named him to star in an even higher-profile Jerry Bruckheimer sports film.) And as we've all read, there's the canceled wedding, the gun license, the strip club allegations, and so on. Add it all together, and you might conclude that you're looking at a career gone south. But before you write his obit, you might want to buy a ticket to ''Paycheck,'' the new thriller from action master John Woo that he headlines this Christmas.

Somewhere between the genius of ''Good Will Hunting'' and the catastrophe of ''Gigli'' lies the real Ben Affleck. We gave him a chance to speak for himself, and he ran with it.

The mayor is making a move on your girl. What are you gonna do about that?
Man! I figure I can leverage that to get some parking tickets taken care of. The mayor appears to be... I mean, it's funny, but sometimes I think that this dude may be serious.

I brought a visual aid for my first real question. EW saves every bit of press on most movie stars, directors, and producers. This is your file. [A three-inch-thick folder is dumped on the table.] Did you ever imagine this when you started acting?
No. I mean, wow. [Leafing through pages] This is exactly what I had hoped wouldn't happen. I love this New York Times headline [about the box office performance of ''Gigli''], though, ''J. Lo and Affleck Finally Get Some Privacy.'' That's my favorite ''Gigli'' headline.

What do you make of this?
Well, 80 percent of what you'll read in here is not accurate. A lot of it could be corrected with a simple phone call. I think the entertainment media is evolving into something different. It's more strident.... I'm envious of actors who have managed to avoid this kind of thing.

How'd you get trapped in it?
When ''Good Will Hunting'' first broke, it was all about Matt, and it occurred to me that you had to be in one of those [leading] roles to make it.... I've always felt like I've been in a perpetual audition. And maybe that's part of what has contributed to the fact that this [gestures at file] has happened. I don't think anyone should shed a tear for me. I've had a good life. But it's become too much. Of course, part of that's just a product of who I chose to go out with. [Flipping through the stack of clips] Jesus, though. It's staggering.

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