Ben's Open Road
By Leslie Bennetts, for Vanity Fair (March, 2003)

In private, Ben Affleck is so laid back - no hovering publicists, no entourage, no forbidden topics - it's hard to believe that he's the $15 million star with the screenwriting Oscar, or that he's engaged to the flashiest beauty in America. With Affleck playing blind superhero Matt Murdock in this month's Daredevil, Leslie Bennetts hears all about his geeky past, his stay in rehab, and why he wants J.Lo to be the mother of his kids

The place seems way too quiet to be the red-hot center of a media maelstrom. All afternoon, Ben Affleck has been lounging on a leather sofa at his house in the Hollywood Hills, vigorously chewing Nicorette and talking about himself. Except for seven computers, the small room in unadorned. The walls are covered with tacky pine paneling and a series of photographs taken by Affleck’s father of bullet-pocked debris in a junkyard. When I ask if we’re sitting in some kind of den or office, Affleck looks surprised.

“This is my living room,” he says.

Oops. He shows me the kitchen and bedroom, both of which are smaller than my own in a New York City apartment. This techno-geek lair is actually the home of the hunky movie star whose price has skyrocketed to $15 million per picture? The epic hero of the next big comic-book blockbuster? The too-cool-for-school wunderkind who was only 25 years old when he and Matt Damon snagged an Oscar for the screenplay of Good Will Hunting?

But there’s no sign of an Oscar here, let alone an entourage. Hours ago an assistant handed Affleck a small meal packaged in a plastic carton (“I’m trying to do the Zone diet,” he explains, although he prefers fast food) and then disappeared. The house is empty except for us as our conversation ranges from Affleck’s engagement to Jennifer Lopez to his experiences with alcohol and rehab to whether his hair and imposing chin cleft are fake. Completely absent are all the usual trappings of celebrity. No publicists have strong-armed me beforehand, prohibiting questions about Affleck’s love life. No handlers or sycophants lurk in the corner, having a heart attack when he helpfully volunteers the extent of his homosexual experience. No one pounces when we discuss the published report of a secret tryst with ex-girlfriend Gwyneth Paltrow a few days ago. Paparazzi may lie in wait down the lane, hoping for Affleck to emerge with Lopez and ignite a firestorm of flashbulbs, but she’s at her own home a couple of minutes away. On Affleck’s property the peaceful twilight is disturbed only by the rustling of palm fronds in the wind.

Finally he takes me into the last room of his house which was actually built as a guest cottage; he bought the whole place from Drew Barrymore after the main residence burned down, but he never bothered to rebuild it. Here, at last, is the sole evidence of Hollywood glamour: a screening room furnished with comfortable chairs, it’s walls decorated with African movie posters painted in Ghana on flour sacks, advertising such attractions as Bad Girls Dormitory – No Man Is Safe! and The Inglorious Bastard. With state-of-the-art editing equipment, it’s as much a high-powered workroom as a recreational space. Inside a glass case in one corner is the oxblood leather mask Affleck wore to play blind superhero Matt Murdock in Daredevil, which opens February 14 (one of many reasons why he says he and Lopez, despite reports to the contrary, will not marry on Valentine’s Day: “We don’t have time!”).

A week earlier, I’d met Affleck in a Tribeca hotel and almost missed him as he ambled in alone and on time, a woolen cap pulled down on his head, a stubbled goatee shadowing that dimpled chin. It seems preposterous to describe someone who is over six foot three and was named “the sexiest man alive” by People magazine as nondescript, but Affleck, wearing khakis and a drab coat, actually blends into the background. He doesn’t carry himself like a star; there’s none of the preening self-awareness, the high-voltage force field that usually emanates from such icons, ensuring that all eyes remain upon them. No posse follows Affleck around, signaling his celebrity status to everyone in the vicinity. Unfailingly good-humored and energetic, he’s like a big, friendly dog that never stops wagging its tail. No matter how sensitive the subject of conversation, he doesn’t bristle or turn rude or abrupt.

“He doesn’t pull the movie-star trip,” says Phil Alden Robinson, who directed Affleck in The Sum Of All Fears.

“He’s totally normal,” says Harvey Weinstein, the head of Miramax Films, who helped launch Affleck’s career with Good Will Hunting and has since made many other movies with him. “He’s grounded. He surrounds himself with his friends, and there’s no ego-tripping or bullshit allowed.”

Given his circumstances, this can be disconcerting. “When I met Ben, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop,” admits Mark Steven Johnson, the director of Daredevil and a friend of Kevin Smith, who directed Affleck in Chasing Amy and Dogma, among other films. “Kevin said, ‘There is no other shoe.’ You keep thinking there’s got to be the monster, the big multi-million-dollar movie star going to come out. Kevin said, ‘He’ not there.’ Ben’s just one of those guys – until you get out in public.”

Then, of course, all hell breaks loose, but Affleck is trying hard to resist those pressures. “I think humility is an underrated quality,” he says. “No actor is god, no athlete is god, but you get deified. You’re portrayed in a way that makes you seem larger than life. It somehow fucks you up. Celebrity is corrupting and spoiling; it’s insidious and creepy. You act in these movies and you expose yourself to a degree where you can no longer relate to the world in a way that’s normal. The world has changed in the way it relates to you.”

Particularly since he and J.Lo announced their engagement, the ongoing focus of much tabloid hysteria. A one-woman multi-media factory who churns out hit movies, best-selling albums, clothing and fragrance lines, and other commodities in dizzying profusion, and who, at the age of 32, has already racked up two failed marriages, the ravenously ambitious Lopez is perhaps the last woman on earth Affleck should have chosen if he really wanted to maintain a lower profile.

“That occurred to me,” he says, looking a bit sheepish. “Why did I fall in love with this person? What does that say about me? Maybe I am conflicted, but I also have a contrary streak. I said, Just because I’m in this situation, I’m not going to behave any way differently than I ever did. Jennifer is a really wonderful, fabulous woman, smart and interesting. Spending time with her makes me a better person and a happier person. She impressed me every day. It feels better to me to be with her than without her. That’s why I made this decision, even if some other things have to be sacrificed.”

But why propose so precipitously, months before she even got a divorce decree to dispatch her most recent husband? “There were a million reasons not to,” Affleck concedes. “Neither of us is so obtuse that we didn’t understand the degree of skepticism, the amount of sniggering in how the joke would be received. Saturday Night Live epitomized it: Tina Fay said, ‘Jennifer Lopez announced her engagement – it’s the first marriage for Affleck, the third for Lopez, and the last for neither.’ But that’s not something I want to allow to dictate how I make choices. This is something I would do if Jen was a teacher and I was working construction in Boston. Jen and I want to get married for the reason everyone else does: we fell in love. I’m in love; I want to have a family, and she’s the only person I’ve eve met who made me entertain the thought of doing that. You know within 10 minutes of meeting Jen that she’ll be a good mother. Though the heavens fall, she’ll be a good mother. My father said the same thing about my mother, who was a world-class-Olympian mother.”

But the cynicism persists unabated. First, people whispered that the engagement was a ploy to promote the couple’s upcoming movies. But Affleck and Lopez ply each other with such lavish gifts that, as Liz Smith observed recently, “if this is a publicity stung, it is one of the most expensive in history.”

If it’s real, everyone seems to expect Lopez to eat Affleck alive. As 2003 began, the British betting agency Ladbrokes was giving three-to-one odds that they would divorce by the end of the year.

Affleck shrugs it all off. Ever since he took out a full-page ad in Variety to extol Lopez’s virtues last year while they were filming Gigli, he has seemed completely besotted. “Jen has developed this reputation as a diva and a pain in the ass, and I had trepidations about it, frankly,” he says. “I wanted to go on record within the industry to counteract that, to say what a pleasure it was to work with her. She works harder than anybody I’ve ever seen. I thought I was busy with movies and television and writing; I felt pretty maxed out until I met her. She was doing all that and recording albums on weekends!”

But Lopez was also married to Cris Judd, the backup dancer she wed on the rebound from her stormy relationship with Sean “Puffy” Combs. “When I met her we became really, really, really good friends,” Affleck explains. “But at first, because she was married, there was no thought of a romantic relationship, so that created the opportunity to get to know each other without any of the falseness that goes with courtship because you’re trying to make a good impression. I didn’t try to change anything about myself, and she didn’t either. We became really good friends in a way that was very comfortable.

Although Judd’s father has claimed that Ben and Jennifer got involved while she was still with Cris, Affleck says firmly, “That is absolutely not true. It goes against the fundamental code I believe in and live by: being honest, doing things with which I can live, rather than be ashamed of – doing estimable things. Deliberately and consciously trying to live like that made me happier. Because I feel very comfortable and good about where I am and the choices I’m making, the very idea of hiding or misrepresenting anything I’m doing makes me really uncomfortable. And that’s not something that’s in Jennifer’s character, either. Both of us wanted to err on the side of doing the right thing.”

Not that he was unaware of his growing attraction to his co-star, with whom he went on to film Jersey Girl last summer. “I believe that more or less from the beginning of a relationship you have an accurate sense of how far it could go, what the possibilities are,” Affleck says. “With Jen, I thought, Even though it can never happen, it was nice for me to know I was capable of feeling that way – that I could love somebody in a way where what I really wanted was for them to be happy, even more than I wanted what I wanted. That was a new experience for me.”

But Lopez wasn’t happy, although Affleck maintains she was discreet. “I got the sense that she thought it would have been inappropriate to do too much bad-mouthing of her situation,” he says. “We would hang out, but I talked about me all the time: ‘Enough about you!’ I was vaguely aware she had something going on, but I was too busy running off my mouth.” He flashes a gleeful grin; Affleck always seems happiest when the joke is on him. “It changed when she told me she was getting separated. At that point, it became a possibility; doors were opened.”

How that will translate on film remains to be seen. “Part of the fun of watching Gigli is deciding where and when they started falling in love,” says Joe Roth, the head of Revolution Studios, which will release the film in August.

When the engagement was finally revealed last fall, the Ben-and-Jen story immediately turned into front-page tabloid fodder (and launched a new fad for pink diamond like the six-carat rock Affleck selected at Harry Winston). “I’m in the middle of the media carnival,” Affleck says with resignation. “After having been in a relationship with Gwyneth, it’s not something that’s new to me; it’s just an escalation. But I really don’t understand it. I can promise you that our life together doesn’t warrant it. We watch movies; we sit at home; we go out to dinner. It’s more or less what everyone else does. There is war looking in the Middle East. Europe is redefining itself. America is in a recession. Sure, we’re getting married, but I just can’t fathom why this isn’t a page-20 item. Because of the degree to which it’s been discussed, it has to have to do with something deeper than just two actors who are romantically involved, because how interesting is that, really? That has a shelf life of about two weeks. I think it has to do with race and class, the fact that I’m white and she’s Puerto Rican. That’s what’s underneath, although nobody says it because it’s not politically correct.”

Although Lopez flaunts her sexuality at every turn, Affleck claims that her sizzling image is misleading. “Jen has had fewer boyfriends than your average high-school junior,” he says. “In the physical sense, she’s extremely chaste. She’s had a much simpler, more easily explainable, more clean romantic history than I have. She can tell the whole story in 15 minutes, whereas I always have to preface the whole story with ‘It was complicated…’ I think this also has to do with race. There’s a kind of language that’s used about her – the spicy Latina, the tempestuous diva. She’s characterized as oversexed. I mean, the woman’s had five boyfriends in her whole life! She’s a deeply misunderstood woman, in my opinion.

As one listens to the starry-eyed Affleck rhapsodize about his fiancée, it is difficult to reconcile his adoring view with Lopez’s flamboyant public persona. The girlfriend of Puff Daddy during his arrest and trial on bribery and weapons charges she was shrewd enough to show up at the Grammys wearing a translucent dress that bared so much of her breasts that the question of how she kept her nipples from popping out generated international headlines. There days she is posing nude for her own fragrance ads. Although she is a canny manipulator of her public image, sordid tidbits about her past keep slithering out from under discarded rocks like nasty little snakes, some of them supplied by Lopez’s first husband, a former waiter named Ojani Noa, who recently launched an ugly broadside in the tabloids. Describing Lopez as a “cold, heartless modern day Elizabeth Taylor,” who is “in love with herself,” Noa charged. “Wedding vows mean nothing to her… She moves on when she gets tired of sleeping with the same man.” Noa accused his former wife of betraying him with Puffy Combs, and added, “Ben Affleck better beware before it’s too late.”

Affleck is unperturbed about Noa’s attack. “I suspect he feels pretty shitty about it,” he says. “Jen says great things about him.”

So when’s the Ben-Jen wedding? “I think it will be sometime next summer,” he says. In the meantime, the breathless gossip continues, often wildly contradictory. December brought the published rumor that J.Lo had called off a Valentine’s Day wedding in a fury after learning that Matt Damon had tried to talk Affleck out of marrying her (“A lie,” says Affleck’s publicist, David Pollick). January’s revised gossip proclaimed that Damon, who is allegedly engaged to Affleck’s former assistant, actually wanted to make it a double wedding. Both the engagement and the double wedding plan were denied.

But the hype has catapulted them to the top of the A-list. Lopez’s Maid in Manhattan became a box-office hit in December, following up the success of her latest album, This Is Me… Then. With Affleck on the cover, People’s 2002 “Sexiest Man Alive” issue outsold those of the previous four years, which had featured Brad Pitt, Pierce Brosnan, Harrison Ford, and Richard Gere. Affleck’s asking price has jumped from the $12.5 million he received for Gigli ($500,000 more than Lopez got) to the $15 million he’ll earn for the aptly titled Paycheck, a John Woo movie shooting later this year.

Such bounty reflects Affleck’s growing clout at the box office; even his clunkers have made money – the much-reviled Pearl Harbor earned $400 million worldwide. Last year’s The Sum Of All Fears pulled in $200 million worldwide, $300 million counting TV and video, and Changing Lanes, a dark film that Affleck says he “thought was basically an art movie,” has made $70 million in the U.S. alone. Armageddon made half a billion dollars.

“I knew he was going to be a big star when I saw his screen test for Armageddon,” says Joe Roth. “Ben’s got all the things people want to see. He’s charming, handsome, smart, savvy, and he’s the guy next door.”

He is also extremely motivated. “There’s a lot of work that goes into becoming a major movie star, an Ben was very much up to doing the work,” says Gus Van Sant, who directed Good Will Hunting. “He always had that affable charm. Matt wasn’t as warm; he was more guarded, but Ben was just like Mr. Chummy.”

Affleck is nevertheless bemused by the metamorphosis of his image. “I never really thought of myself as a beefcake kind of guy, nor was I treated like one until recently,” he says. “I was never pretty. I always thought my head looked like one of those statues on Easter Island – I’m a member of the Big Forehead Club. I wasn’t this guy who everyone lusted after. I got dumped. I got cheated on. I had to pursue girlfriends who didn’t really want to be with me. I always had difficulty getting roles. I was gangly, sort of uncoordinated, and not in control of my body. I was big; I was tall; I had baby fat. My tooth was cracked – “

From what? “From being stupid, getting in trouble. I went up for one TV show where they said, ‘He’s fine, but he’ll never be on the cover of a magazine.’”

When he agreed to make Pearl Harbor, director Michael Bay “started griping about my teeth,” Affleck reports. “I said, ‘I’m happy to get them fixed if you guys will pay for it.’” But aside from the teeth, and his abdominal muscles, which he has worked hard on, today’s Affleck is the same guy who had so much trouble getting cast when he first arrived in Hollywood that he and Damon wrote Good Will Hunting to land a decent job.

No, Affleck didn’t get his chin red-done, contrary to published reports. No, he does not wear a toupee. “Of all the bizarre rumors that have been started about me, that was the most bizarre,” he says, tugging on his unruly thatch of thick brown hair, which at the moment is sticking straight up in the air. Affleck is happy to shoot down other tabloid stories as well. Eminem’s lyrics on the subject notwithstanding, Affleck says he did not have a fling with Britney Spears, let alone break up her relationship with Justin Timberlake. Lopez took off her clothes for the ads for her women’s perfume, Glow by Jlo, but Affleck is not going to do a nude ad to promote any companion men’s fragrance. “You’d have to call it Blow,” he cracks.

Clad in a terry-cloth bathrobe, he did costar in Lopez’s video for her hit song “Jenny from the Block,” but he complains that everyone missed the point. “The reason I did the video was as a commentary on the crazy tabloid paparazzi attention,” he says. “But it was covered without any irony whatsoever. We were trying to say, ‘Look how silly this is!’ while at the same time have it be fun and sexy.”

Oh, and about those rumors that Affleck is gay? “I’m not stylish enough to be gay. I have too much trouble trying to pick out which shoes go with which pants.” He chortles, then realizes I’m wondering if he’s being evasive. “I’m not gay. I’ve never even had a gay, you know, thought. The only man I’ve ever kissed is Jason Lee, in Chasing Amy. The only thing I regret is that I had such a hard time with that scene. The kiss wasn’t very convincing, which reflects poorly on me. I jus couldn’t do it all the way. It was a closed-mouth kiss, a bullshit false moment. I just blew it.”

While we’re at it, Affleck also did not spend $1.1 million on former CIA and FBI agents to guard Lopez; she has one bodyguard, he says. Nor did Lopez demand a pre-nuptial agreement requiring Affleck to fork over $5 million for every act of infidelity and make love to her at least four times a week. “Whoever writes that stuff for the tabloids ought to consider writing avowed fiction,” he says, not without admiration. “There is no pre-nup. You can’t legislate behavior. You’ve got to believe in the person and believe you can meet the challenges you face. Neither of us are stupid or naïve. It would be nice if you could have ‘The Rules,’ but you just can’t write it down. I don’t believe in the French model of marriage, I believe in monogamy and making it work, because otherwise what’s the point?”

His own parents split up when Ben was 11, and his mother raised him and his younger brother, Casey, by herself in Cambridge, Massachusetts, after their alcoholic father drifted out of the picture. Although Affleck has since resumed communication with his father, who got sober years ago, he seems to be yearning for the domestic stability he never had as a child. He talks a lot about having children, “He’s a natural around kids,” says Meryl Poster, co-president of production for Miramax. “He’d sit with my one-year-old daughter and talk with her. He treats them like equals and he’s very caring.”

Affleck claims he’s ready for commitment. “I had a good time, I’m not going to look back and say, I wish I could go out to clubs. That’s pretty empty.” But until I showed it to him, Affleck was unaware of the recent Liz Smith column alleging that he and Paltrow had been “caught in a Manhattan apartment bathroom downtown” in a steamy tryst in December. Although the item coyly withheld their names, there was no mistaking their identities. “This is clearly about me,” he agreed after reading it. “There’s no truth in it whatsoever. Gwyneth is in London. The last time I saw her was at the memorial service for her father. While we’re friends, you would not find use in any compromising position.

Paltrow has been described as horrified by Affleck’s engagement, and there is a history of bad blood between her and Lopez, who has openly dissed her in past interviews. But according to Affleck, Paltrow took pains to deny that she dislikes his fiancée: “Gwyneth is one of the most gracious, well-manned people I’ve ever met, and when I saw her a the, what’s it called, the shivah, in the middle of what had to be the worst time of her life, she said ‘You know that’s not true. Please tell her it’s not true. I wish you guys only the best.’”

But Paltrow hasn’t been able to resist getting her digs in. “Marriage isn’t something that should be taken lightly,” she told Britain’s B magazine in January. “I don’t want to be married for six months and then say, ‘Oh well, never mind. On to number two.’” Or number three?

The unflappable Affleck also dismisses rumors that his gambling has spiraled out of control. Two years ago, a lucky streak that won him $800,000 helped spur his decision to enter rehab, but Affleck says recent reports about a half-million dollar spending spree were exaggerated: “I spent about $18,000m which was money we had won playing blackjack. That’s about six outfits at Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana.”

While that may be Affleck’s idea of budget shopping, the papers have stayed full of reports on his profligate spending, although Affleck says Lopez actually paid for the Mercedes he was credited with purchasing for her mother. “The excesses are much more modest than are portrayed by ‘Page Six,’ although I appreciate their looking out for my well-being,” he adds dryly.

Some commentators have suggested that Affleck’s appetite for gambling and conspicuous consumption represents another manifestation of the excessiveness that once characterized his drinking. Sober for 17 months, he describes his stay in rehab as a “pre-emptive strike.” Given his family history of alcoholism, he knew he was headed for major trouble down the road. “I just didn’t want it to get to that point,” he says.

“Most people have to really hit bottom before they realize they have a problem,” observes Phil Alden Robinson. “Ben didn’t wait for that. That’s a level of maturity few people have.”

“I was really unhappy,” Affleck says. “I wanted to break the cycle of going out drinking, feeling hung over and tired in the morning, not remembering conversations you had, being vaguely aware you were obnoxious. It was really depressing me. It felt vapid and meaningless and stupid. Because I have money, I went to this place and did some therapy. I feel like I became a much better actor and a person who thinks about what’s important to them more. What sort of person do I want to be? What sort of work do I want to do? Going out, running around mindlessly in a haze every night, wasn’t helping me do that. I re-evaluated a lot of things. I’m not a monk; I don’t stay in the house. But it makes me a more responsible, more accountable person. I pay closer attention.”

He smiles ruefully. “It’s amazing how many blunders you can make sober, but I like to think I make fewer. In terms of destructive behavior, the barometer I use is: Is this hurting my life? Am I creating problems in my life?”

In his opinion, excesses at the gambling table or the cash register aren’t really the problem. “The shopping and the buying things are not it. What’s it is the need to continually be in motion and doing things and working,” he muses. “We have to make this relationship a priority. To me that’s really the issue. I stopped drinking and became much more productive. I had a greater capacity for living and working, but I used it mostly for working. As an actor, you’re always worried that it will go away, that you’ll never get hired again. Maybe it’s manic energy that was medicated by drinking. That’s the biggest issue I’m dealing with, personally. There’s a natural-born restlessness. I think I moved 14 times in my first six or seven years in L.A. I always wanted to see what was over the next hilltop. I’ve never been particularly good at being idle. It’s hard to slow down. If you’re a compulsive like me, I’ve got to know I’m gonna have a job. It’s not so much about reality as it is about your own neuroses. Gotta have work.”

Affleck may be a college dropout – he left the University of Vermont after less than one semester – but he is also capable of tossing off quotes from A.E. Housman (“When the journey’s over/There’ll be time enough to sleep…”) and Andrew Marvell to illustrate his points. His journey is far from over, but he recognizes that he’s made a deal with the devil. “I understand why they’re paying me what they do,” he says calmly. “It’s the price of my privacy – the price of my life. It has to do with international exposure. It’s somebody who can get in the papers, be on television, and draw attention to the movie. You have to become a whore. Nobody’s paying anybody money out of the goodness of his heart. What is it worth to whore you private life and have every aspect of it totally exposed? When you consider that, I feel like I’m underpaid.”

The blockbusters notwithstanding, Affleck has charted a highly personal course in Hollywood, alternating his big-budget studio pictures with small independent films. In Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, which contains a parody of Affleck and Matt Damon making Good Will Hunting II, Affleck says to Damon, “What do I keep telling you? You gotta do the safe picture, then you do the art picture. Then sometimes you gotta do the payback picture because your friend says you owe him. Then sometimes you gotta go back to the well.”

“Sometimes you do Reindeer Games,” Damon says derisively.

“That’s just mean,” Affleck whines.

But it’s a pretty accurate description of his career to date. “Ben takes these franchise properties so he can go and experiment,” says Harvey Weinstein.

“He believes in trying to stretch himself and not keep doing the same thing,” observes Bruce Willis, who starred with Affleck in Armageddon. “He’s an awesome actor, and I think he’s going to do great things.”

Several years ago, in a televised interview on Inside the Actors Studio, Affleck said that his goal was to make big commercial movies. He has since revised his ambitions. “That’s an adolescent aspiration, in a way. I’d rather be in movies like Magnolia, which I think is a towering achievement. I’ll continue to act, but I won’t act in a way that requires me to hang my name out there and do a lot of publicity. I’ll do character roles and focus on writing and directing. It doesn’t require the same kinds of sacrifice, in terms of quality of life and personal life, and it’s a more holistic approach to the process. It’s become increasingly frustrating for me to have my role in the storytelling process limited to one character. You have to be respectful and judicious about your input when it’s somebody else’s project.”

Affleck has always impressed colleagues with his voracious appetite for information and skills. “He has made it a point to learn everything he can about how the business works – not just the craft of acting, but from the producing standpoint from the studio standpoint,” says Jon Gordon, executive vice-president of production at Miramax. “He knows how deals work. It’s what sets him apart. If he wanted to run a studio at some point, he could. He’s about as sharp as they come.”

Affleck is already juggling his acting with screenwriting and such other commitments as Project Greenlight, the contest he and Damon started to help launch the careers of young filmmakers. Affleck’s friends are certain he’ll be directing soon. “There’s no question,” Weinstein says. “Both he and Matt. I think they’re going to rewrite the rules. These guys can fix anything. There’ll be some home runs in both instances.”

But there are other thoughts tickling the back of Affleck’s mind as well. A passionate liberal, he campaigned for Al Gore, cares deeply about political issues, and is extremely well informed. He entertains himself by writing imaginary political speeches in his head. He would rather discuss AIDS in Africa than his movie career.

When Lopez goes to Affleck’s mother’s house for dinner, Weinstein reports, “J.Lo told me that the conversation at the table is always about politics – about government initiatives, educational initiatives, what’s going on in the day.”

So, is Affleck planning to become the liberals’ answer to Ronald Reagan? He admits that he entertains the thought of someday running for Congress, at least. “I think there’s a real nobility to public service. It would be fun to run on a platform I really believed in, without any of the kind of compromises people make – without being behold to the win-at-all-costs mentality.”

And the invasion of privacy would be nothing new. “What are you going to say about me that hasn’t already been said? I don’t cheat, I don’t drink, I don’t do drugs, I live a clean life,” Affleck says, his eyes twinkling.

“He’s only 30 years old,” says Jennifer Todd, who co-produced Boiler Room. “He still has an enormous amount of time to do things.”

Time, and drive. “I think he’s incredibly hungry,” says Sean Bailey, who founded the media and production company Live-Planet with Affleck, Damon, and Chris Moore. “I think the guy has very grand aspirations. I don’t think he’s going to be content with just being a movie star. He knows he has the potential to do very big things.”

Such ambitions could be derailed by any number of miscalculations, including a private life that generates too many sensational headlines, but Affleck has a clear idea of the ultimate goal. “On my deathbed, I have to be one who looks back and feels I lived a good and substantial and meaningful life,” he says.

In the meantime, however, there’s a wedding to plan.