How to Interview: Ben Affleck on “The Accountant”

In the thriller The Accountant, Ben Affleck stretches to play Christian Wolff, a math savant who can uncook books like nobody’s business – and has coped being on the autistic spectrum with his own certain set of skills (Read our review).

At the press day, we learned eight things about Affleck’s performance and how he prepared:

On the challenges of this role:

Ben Affleck: It was a very challenging role and it required a lot of research. [Director] Gavin [O’Connor] and I went around and spent time with people who were at various places on the autism spectrum, and observed behavior and talked to them and engaged with them in everything from what their daily life is like to what type of movie they’d like to see about someone with autism. We got a lot of different responses, but really, the value was in grounding the guy and making him like real people we had met and seen in real life, rather than just an imagined version of what it might be. It was a cobbling together of observed behaviors and character traits from people we met. That’s what I anchored the performance in.

On what struck him most about the autism spectrum:

Affleck: How funny and how much wit people had, who had Asperger’s. There were a lot of laughs and a lot of funny observations. I wanted to keep that aspect of the wry, observational, detached behavior. But humor is such a powerful form of intelligence and I was really moved by then, so I wanted to include some of that. It’s a fine line. We didn’t want to make fun of this character, but he is witty, the way he sees the world in his own unique way.

On what those people he met thought of him:

Affleck: The Batman character has a lot of fans. It turns out that’s a well-known character, so that was fun. I don’t think the movie had come out yet, though. There are some people on the spectrum who, just because of the way their social thinking works, they don’t observe the same social niceties or have certain tact. I remember one girl was like, “I’ve never heard of you! Who are you?!” And I was like, “I’m just an actor.” I got a lot of fun reactions. But the truth is, the biggest reaction was that people were psyched to be a part of making a movie. They understand that they were coming up with ideas for a character. They really wanted to volunteer and help out. It was also educational because I had this idea of autism being withdrawn, but these people were actually quite enthusiastic, engaged and fired up about participating, in their own unique ways.

On the training:

Affleck: Gavin was very concerned about the action being real and good, which is something he’d done very well in Warrior, for example. So, training was as much a part of this as it was for the Batman movie. In fact, even more so with this because it’s a lot harder for the stuntman to do your stunt when you’re not wearing a mask. So, I had to really be on top of my game and work hard with some really great professionals who were very helpful and really good at the stuff, and they educated me about this fighting style. It was a learning experience. I have a lot of respect for the guys who do it for a living.

On parenting styles:

Affleck: Yeah, that’s what I thought was the most heartbreaking thing about the story. That was definitely moving to me. As a parent, I face dilemmas, like we all do every day, about what’s the right way to raise children. And every time, in every little moment, there comes a crossroad and there’s a lot of different parenting choices that you could make. We all make mistakes, for sure, but we try our best. A lot of it is just that when you have kids, your heart is outside of your body and you feel so vulnerable. The fear of your child being vulnerable is very, very powerful, and I can see how that makes for a really interesting character with the father. It’s a guy who, out of love, compassion and fear for his son, ends up brutalizing him and abusing him. It’s a really interesting look at what’s the appropriate way to channel the intense emotion we have, as parents. It’s not easy.

On how The Accountant is like Batman:

Affleck: He has the same chin. If you stretch hard enough, you can draw parallels with a lot of different characters, but this is a really distinct, unique character in a unique film. What drew me to it was Gavin and his work, and the fact that it was very unusual. You think you’re getting one kind of movie, and then you get something that’s smarter, more interesting and more challenging, and is thematically resonant for people who are different and what they’re capable of. It’s about how we try to protect our children from home and, in some ways, harm them more by doing so. That’s what interested me about the project.

On how being a director has taught him things about acting:

Affleck: Movies are all about the director. I’ve learned that, finally. When you work with a director, you’re on his or her ship, and you’re going in that direction. Your job is to be creative and bring forth your ideas, but fulfil their vision of how they’re telling their whole story. You’re responsible for your performance, but you have to be as tuned to the director as possible, try to follow through with their vision, and make their movie. It’s very satisfying to feel like you’re on the same page with someone like Gavin [O’Connor], who’s also really interested, engaged, thoughtful and thought-provoking, as the process was going on. The nice thing about acting is that, if the set falls down, you can just go back to your trailer and be like, “I’ll come back when you figure it out.” So many things are not my problem, as an actor. It’s very, very nice

On changing it up in his career:

Affleck: It’s important for me. I’m not much of a tactician when it comes to what a career should look like. I’m not a big believer in that strategic level of planning. It’s more about projects that interest me and move me, and part of that is variation. You would get bored doing the same thing, over and over again. With Batman, The Accountant and Live By Night, I’m lucky that I’ve had the chance to do things that are completely different. It keeps me activated and engaged, and hopefully doing my best work.