Ben Affleck Saves The World In Leather

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Ben Affleck, you've just saved the world in "Pearl Harbor" and "The Sum of All Fears." What are you going to do next?

Save it again, this time in leather.

As the title character in "Daredevil," Affleck is Hollywood's latest comic-book superhero, testing the waters with a more obscure title than "Superman" or "Spider-Man."

Affleck, who also has played the save-the-world hero in "Armageddon," said such good-guy roles can get tiresome. A "Daredevil" fan since childhood, he was drawn to the story's emotionally wounded hero because he's a darker character whose crusade for justice strays into vengeful vigilantism.

Daredevil — by day a blind attorney named Matt Murdock who seeks justice for the downtrodden, by night a leather-clad zealot whose other four senses are superhuman — actually must pause to ask himself, "Am I the bad guy?"

"He's a flawed guy. It's very gray. He's not doing the right thing, and I like that," Affleck said in an interview. "It gave me a lot more to play rather than just playing the kind of iconic, square-jawed hero."

The 30-year-old actor has been trying to put some distance between himself and the Boy Scout heroes he's played in his biggest hits.

In between the stouthearted good guys of "Pearl Harbor" and "The Sum of All Fears," he squeezed in the petty, materialistic attorney of last year's "Changing Lanes." After the ambiguous moral world of "Daredevil," which co-stars Jennifer Garner and Michael Clarke Duncan, Affleck has the mob romance "Gigli" and the down-to-earth family tale "Jersey Girl" coming this year.

He counts on those films to put him in a new light with audiences. But "Gigli" and "Jersey Girl" come with other baggage: They co-star his fiancee, Jennifer Lopez, and Affleck worries the films could suffer amid tabloid headlines over their engagement.

Gossip columnists have questioned how long the relationship will last. Some hinted that Lopez wanted to break off the engagement, but Affleck said the wedding is still on, though no date has been set. From the start, they figured on roughly a year-long engagement, he said.

Is Lopez on the fence?

"No, that's not my impression. Unless they know something I don't know. Unless she's calling the tabloids, which just seems highly unlikely," Affleck joked. "It's just because people are writing fictional stories. They need a second act. And if you don't deliver it, well, can it be manufactured?"

For the first time since his career took off in the late 1990s, Affleck says, he has become better known as a romantic partner with Lopez than as best buddies with Matt Damon, a frequent co-star with whom he shared a screenwriting Academy Award for 1997's "Good Will Hunting."

Affleck and Damon wrote "Good Will Hunting" to fire up their acting careers, which consisted mostly of small parts or independent films.

They almost lost the chance to star in "Good Will Hunting." The original studio planned to cast other actors but gave Affleck and Damon a month to shop the script to other companies. Their pal Kevin Smith, for whom Affleck starred in "Chasing Amy," interceded and landed "Good Will Hunting" with his backers at Miramax, which took over production and let Damon and Affleck star.

Since then, the two have worked steadily in high-profile films and have become part of the regular roster for Smith, who wrote and directed "Jersey Girl." In Smith's "Dogma," Affleck and Damon played fallen angels; in his "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back," they spoofed themselves on the set of an ultra-violent sequel to "Good Will Hunting."

"I love Kevin's movies. I love him. I owe him a great debt," Affleck said. "But that's not why I want to work with him. It's because I love doing it, and I think he's extraordinary. This most recent movie we did (`Jersey Girl') I think is his best, my best."

Affleck and Damon also created "Project Greenlight," the HBO show that chronicles the experiences of a first-time filmmaker given $1 million to make a movie. And Affleck co-wrote the short-lived TV series "Push, Nevada."

Stardom took a toll on the actor, who checked into rehab in 2001 for alcohol abuse. Affleck, who said he no longer drinks, decided that live-in treatment was more likely to succeed than trying to kick the booze on his own.

"Frankly, I wouldn't have done it if I'd thought it was going to become known by the public, because it's just more of a drag," Affleck said. "But I figured I had the resources, I had the time, I might as well really commit. I knew if I went to rehab and really committed to it, I'd be more likely to stick to it."

Affleck now is shooting the comedy "Surviving Christmas," about a lonely guy who hires a family for the holidays. Then he moves on to the sci-fi thriller "Paycheck," based on a Philip K. Dick story and directed by action master John Woo.

While "Daredevil" is more obscure than some of its comic-book cousins, Affleck figures the movie will benefit from arriving toward the front of a wave of flicks inspired by comic books, including "The Hulk" and sequels to "X-Men" and "Spider-Man."

Marvel Comics writer Stan Lee, whose creations include "Daredevil," "Spider-Man" and "X-Men," said Affleck continues a string of spot-on casting choices for live-action versions of his heroes.

"He's a good dramatic actor, he's handsome, he's agile," Lee said. "He is as close to Matt Murdock as you could ever come."
  • Sue Chan

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