Hell of a thing to interview Ben Affleck and Stephen Frears back to back. Affleck is in Toronto to present his second film as director, “The Town”. Frears is (reluctantly) doing the same, except that his movie “Tamara Drewe” is his thirtieth effort.
While Affleck is clearly exhausted as he promotes “The Town” (in which he is also the lead), Frears is an affable grouch who doesn’t allow himself to get tired doing press rounds. In fact, the journalists are the ones who must put the extra effort to extract some words from Frears beyond a “yes” or a “no”.
The effort pays off, as Frears has some interesting things to say. For starters, he doesn’t believe in the idea of directors as “authors”. He defines himself as a craftsman who happens to have good taste and a lot of luck. The man behind “Dangerous Liaisons”, “High Fidelity” and “The Grifters” assures he got away with murder with “The Queen” and states that he only watches his films if they are on TV some lazy afternoon. Even then, the first thing that he notices is whatever he did wrong at the time.
Frears honesty is refreshing as a man who has nothing to prove or pretend. Affleck, on the other hand, is trying to change the public perception of his persona. To a degree, he has been successful (Beniffer is now just a faint memory), but the acclaim that followed “Good Will Hunting” has eluded him since then.
For “The Town”, Affleck talked with other actor/directors, did massive amounts of research in to fleshen up the screenplay, and nearly had the entire town of Boston at his mercy. The outcome is strong, although too similar to modern classics like “Heat” and “The Departed”. Frears film, “Tamara Drewe” is in the top tier of his filmography and, by his own confession, didn’t break a sweat while making it.
Both approaches are perfectly valid, but Frears is more sustainable in time. He could use some of Affleck sense of duty to move from ‘solid’ to ‘sublime’. As for Ben, he is on the right track, but he needs to stop taking himself so seriously.