The Ben Behind the Headlines

You worked for John Woo in his new sci-fi suspense movie, ''Paycheck,'' playing a guy who has three years of his memory wiped out by a major corporation and has to figure out what he did during that time. So what I really want to know is: Did you get to use Woo's signature two 9-millimeters?
[Laughs] The first two posters I had up in my early days of living in L.A. as an actor were [Woo's] ''The Killer'' and ''Hard-Boiled.'' I love those movies, they were a big part of the independent movie scene in the early '90s. But no, I didn't get the two guns. I was pissed about that. I think Woo's aware [of his own tropes] and doesn't want to repeat himself exactly. Interestingly, he directed this more like a Hitchcock movie than a John Woo movie. It's not just about people constantly shooting each other, and it's not as violent as some of his other movies. He creates tension by other means.

It seems that you do two kinds of movies: these big ones, like ''Armageddon'' or ''Daredevil,'' in which you play cartoonish heroes, and littler ones like ''Changing Lanes'' or ''Boiler Room,'' where you play these really interesting weasels.
The whole reason I do movies like ''Daredevil,'' ''Armageddon,'' and ''Pearl Harbor'' is they afford me the opportunity to do ''Shakespeare in Love,'' ''Boiler Room,'' ''Changing Lanes,'' and stuff like that. Even ''Gigli,'' frankly. [In those movies] I get to play characters who are unappealing. I thought that the only way I could get people to hire me to do those smaller movies is because they thought, ''Maybe he'll mean some money to us because of the bigger stuff.''

Hypothetical scenario: A major director is going to make a $200 million movie that has to earn $400 million to be profitable. What DVD do you send him to convince him you're the guy to star in it?
[Long pause] ''Changing Lanes.''

And if Scorsese called?
Uh, whatever he wanted to see. I'd have to do my own lame Criterion track over my stuff, like [prissy voice] ''This isn't the take I would have used here. There was some footage that was MUCH more interesting, if you were directing it, it would be GENIUS!''

Let's talk about ''Good Will Hunting.'' That's where you go from being just an actor to, you know, Ben.
We got the cover of ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY [in February 1998] after all. We look like people with birth defects on that cover! They chose this picture of us gaping and drooling on ourselves, and [it was] like, ''They like the picture! They think it shows your real spirit.'' I was like, ''What do they think our real spirit is? Vaguely, um -- I don't want to say it -- but Special Olympics?''

What was the aftermath of ''Good Will Hunting'' like?
On the one hand, it was really exciting. On the other, I got introduced to the way that you become exploited. [Matt and I] were a very successful marketing hook for Miramax, and they used it. It felt a little bit like we were whoring our friendship, like a guy out there with an organ grinder and a monkey. The Academy Awards happened so fast. [Pause] In some ways I wish I could have spread some of it out more.


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