Affleck co-stars with ex in 'Bounce'

Potentially awkward situation on movie set made smooth by Paltrow

— Ben Affleck chomps on ice from his soda glass, and the occasional shard of cube shoots from his mouth as he explains how it felt to make a love story with ex-girlfriend Gwyneth Paltrow.

"It wasn't easy. It was certainly awkward in some ways. Like they always say, the old adage about not � uh, it may not be printable � the idea that you're not supposed to date co-workers. ... You know the saying."

But Affleck was able to defy that old saw and make "Bounce" with his former squeeze and fellow Academy Award winner because she made it possible, even easy.

"She's a pretty exceptional lady," he said.. "I'm not a guy who's got a lot of good relationships with ex-girlfriends. I don't know how that works."

The 28-year-old actor, who shared a screenwriting Oscar with Matt Damon for "Good Will Hunting" in 1998, theorizes that women are better at remaining friends with exes. (Paltrow declined to be interviewed.)

"Women tend to say, 'Oh, my friend Steve ...' 'My friend Dave ...' And then you probe a little bit deeper and it turns out well, 'my friend Dave' is the guy they went out with for a year and a half, and their 'friend Steve,' they went out with for two years.

"That's always been a mystery to me. Up until now. Maybe I just grew up. I don't know what it was. But I've finally been able to have a decent friendship with somebody who I went out with."

Emotional honesty

One benefit of their relationship, which roughly lasted from fall 1997 to the beginning of 1999, is the "emotional honesty" that his and Paltrow's shared past brought to "Bounce," Affleck said.

In the film, Affleck plays Buddy Amaral, an unctuous, glib ad man who gives his airplane ticket to a family man (Tony Goldwyn) eager to get home for the holidays. The plane crashes and everyone is killed. Buddy's agency handles the airline's damage-control ad campaign, so, doubly racked by guilt, he drinks himself into rehab.

Once he's sober, he looks up the widow (Paltrow). Initially it seems he just wants to boost her fledgling career as a real estate agent, but then they fall in love, all without her knowing that Buddy should have been on the plane.

Affleck shot 1998's "Shakespeare in Love" with Paltrow while they were dating. (Joseph Fiennes was her romantic lead.) She won an Oscar for her role as Viola, the playwright's fictional lover and purported inspiration for "Romeo and Juliet."

Career bounce

After they broke up, Paltrow brought Affleck the "Bounce" script, which he found to be "rich, layered, textured, and interesting and subtle, and a real actor's movie."

"I would never have probably have heard about it if it hadn't been for her," he said. "Because since we weren't going out anymore, I'm sure people would have assumed that I'd be the last guy who they would bring it to, because people would assume that it would be awkward, or whatever."

After "Armageddon," "Forces of Nature" and "Reindeer Games," people expect him to do goofy romantic comedies or action films, said Affleck, explaining that he feels "trapped" by his success. "I always thought that if I got successful, then I would have the opportunity to do stuff I wanted to do."

Instead, his films "kind of pigeonholed me as a certain kind of commercial actor, and I really wanted to stretch and grow and demonstrate that I could do much more, deeper, intricate stuff."

He's grateful for the role in "Bounce": a character who is flawed and contradictory; a guy in pain who is looking for redemption. And director Don Roos said, "Affleck really shines as an actor in the second half of the movie, as Buddy is forced to go deeper."

Taking the lead

Affleck, who will appear in next year's planned epic "Pearl Harbor," thinks he's come a long way from the days when casting directors didn't think he was leading-man handsome. He credited director Kevin Smith for helping by giving him the lead in the 1997 independent hit "Chasing Amy."

Several years and various magazine covers later, the friendly 6-foot-2-inch actor admitted feeling resentful about the attitude he met early in his career. "But something good came of it," he added "It's what motivated Matt and I to sit down and write."

As for those doubters, Affleck said he doesn't want to do a dance of vindication in their offices now. What's more important to him is to prove that the people who believed in him were right. That's why he's glad "Good Will Hunting" was successful.

"Because we had to convince (Miramax co-chairman) Harvey Weinstein to spend $15 million on a movie, and I wanted him to feel like he made a good choice, a good investment. There's nothing worse than the feeling that you've let people down."

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