Ben Affleck talks ‘Argo,’ Whitey, and kids

Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

At the local premiere of “The Town” a few years back, Ben Affleck said he was done filming in South Boston. The next movie, he insisted, would be shot entirely in Allston.

He was kidding, of course. Affleck, who also directed “Gone Baby Gone” in South Boston, has moved far beyond the Old Harbor Housing Project in his new movie, “Argo.” The film, about a CIA “exfiltration” of six Americans from Iran in 1979, was largely shot in Istanbul, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.

Buoyed by positive reviews at film festivals in Telluride, Colo., and Toronto, the movie starring Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, and Alan Arkin is being talked about as an Oscar contender — and it won’t even be in theaters for another month.


At a sneak screening at the AMC Loews Boston Common Sunday, the reaction was robust and enthusiastic, and that pleased Affleck, who sat with Joyce Kulhawik afterward and answered audience questions.

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“This was the rare occasion where I got a screenplay kind of out of the blue,” he said. “It was written by Chris Terrio and I thought, ‘I have to do this movie.’ . . . It was kind of like magic.”

“Argo” tells the true story of a bizarre gambit to extricate a group of Americans from the Canadian embassy in Tehran during the Iran hostage crisis. Affleck plays Tony Mendez, the real-life operative who conceived and carried out the Hollywood-style escape.

“This movie would be terrible if this weren’t true because it’d be impossible to believe,” said Affleck. “It would be up for a number of Razzies.”

Although this is the third film he’s directed, Affleck said he consulted other actor-directors for advice before embarking on the ambitious project. They included Warren Beatty, George Clooney, Mark Ruffalo, and Kevin Costner, with whom Affleck worked on John Wells’s made-in-Massachusetts movie, “The Company Men.”


(About the underrated “Company Men,” Affleck speculated that the downsizing drama may have been overlooked by the public because it was “so painfully in line” with the economic problems faced by many families. “They were seeing enough layoffs,” he said. “I’m not sure they wanted to pay $10 for, you know, ‘Layoffs in IMAX!’ ”)

When it was our turn, we asked about the Whitey Bulger biopic. Affleck said the script is being by written Terry Winter, whose credits include “Boardwalk Empire” and “The Sopranos,” with Matt Damon slated to play Bulger and Ben’s brother Casey playing the mobster’s brother Billy.

“It’s tough because it’s exciting and obviously daunting,” Affleck said about bringing the Bulger saga to the big screen. “Not only is it a real story, but it’s taken on the scale of a legend. . . . Whitey’s become, I don’t know, a modern-day [Al] Capone or something. The irony for me is the guy got caught not half a mile from my house.

“It’s a pretty amazing story and it’s going to require a lot of work, a lot of nuancing to get it right,” said Affleck, who revealed he’s also puzzling with a movie version of Stephen King’s “The Stand.” “It’s one of those things: If you do Whitey, you better make damn sure you execute and make a good movie.” (“Execute” may have been a poor choice of words.)

Affleck just celebrated his 40th birthday and he seems content with the arc of his career, though he admits he doesn’t have the “bandwidth” to do everything he wants because he’s also a husband — his wife of seven years is actress Jennifer Garner — and the father of three young children, of whom he’s fiercely protective.


“I got in this game so people are going to take my picture and bother me in the street and there’s TMZ,” he said. “If that’s the worst price I have to pay, OK, but for my kids, I don’t think it’s appropriate.”

Finally, Affleck was asked why some other directors who make movies in Boston don’t use as many local actors as he did in “The Town” and “Gone Baby Gone.”

“I would hope people are smart enough to avail themselves of the giant pool of talent that’s here. But, you know,” he said, cracking a smiling, “there’s no accounting for taste.”