The Tender Bar star, 49, shares deep thoughts on a number of topics — including his alcoholism and the hurt he carries for causing pain to important people in his life — in a new interview with the Wall Street Journal Magazine. The lighter side of the conversation, however, is rare comments about getting back together with J.Lo last spring — 17 years after they ended their engagement.
Affleck tried to avoid the Bennifer topic altogether, saying, "One of the harder lessons that I have learned is that it’s not wise to share everything with the world" and — more bluntly — "I just don't want to be talking about my personal relationship in the newspaper." But when pressed on how it restarted — like who called who first? — he made it clear it's a helluva story, but also one we, the masses, may never know.
"I can say that it's definitely beautiful to me," Affleck said of how he seemingly swooped in as Lopez's relationship with Alex Rodriguez unraveled, amid a mini-scandal, early in the year. "One of the things I really value across all facets of my life now is that it was handled in a way that reflected that. My life now reflects not just the person that I want to be, but the person that I really feel like I am — which is not perfect, but somebody who tries very hard and cares very much about being honest and authentic and accountable. It’s hard to say who benefits more, without going into gossipy detail. I could just say that I feel great about being very healthy. And it is a good story. It's a great story."
He teased, "Maybe one day I'll tell it. I'll write it all out," before adding with a laugh, "Then I'll light it on fire."
Affleck said to those speculating how it may have happened "to imagine the best story" and "that's the true version" of the reunion.
The Oscar winner went on to talk about second chances — like this second spin with the woman he was thisclose to marrying in 2003.
"I am very lucky in my life in that I have benefited from second chances, and I am aware that other people don’t even get first chances," he said. "I've had second chances in my career. I've had second chances as a human being. Life is difficult, and we are always failing and hopefully learning from those failures. The one thing you really need to avail yourself of the opportunities provided from that growth is the second chance. I’ve definitely tried to take advantage of that. I haven’t always been successful, but in cases in which I have, they’ve turned out to be the defining aspects of my life."
However, he added that his reunion with Lopez wouldn't have happened unless he learned from past "difficulties" and also attributed it to luck.
At another point, Affleck brought up marriage. The actor who shares three children with ex-wife Jennifer Garner said he's learned in the last fours, as he's gotten sober again and tried to maintain it, that he now recognizes, "I won't die without work. The most important thing is being a good father. The second most important thing is to be a good man. And a good person. And, ostensibly, you know, a good husband. Hopefully."
His sobriety was discussed a lot, as his new film The Tender Bar, directed by George Clooney, sees him playing a bartender — and one who reminds him of his own father, who is also in recovery and made sporadic appearances in Affleck's life when he was a child. At one point, Affleck was asked if "in all your moments falling down, did you ever wake up one day to find yourself thinking, I've destroyed it all?"
"Definitely. Many times," Affleck said, but he noted that he "blanches at that question."
"I know that’s sort of become optically like: Ben Affleck, alcoholic. Because I've spoken about it," he said of his addiction struggles. "Other actors have refused to, or were lucky enough to maintain their anonymity. Because I can think of scores of addicts working in this business whose issues aren't public, who never have to answer questions like this and who have had just as many, if not much worse, troubles than I have. But it is also true that I am an alcoholic. That period of time was awful and all the things that you would imagine."
He continued, "And yes, there were moments where I really faced the thing that was most important to me and the prospect of losing that. And that is what ultimately changed things for me. I didn't get any stronger or develop any willpower. I simply met that threshold. You know, somewhere in the amygdala it said, This is too painful. I'm not going to do this anymore. I don't want to do it. It was a moment after which it became clear that this was not the life I wanted."
While not naming names, he also spoke about the hurt he caused others as he struggled and the shame which went with it, which he called "a really toxic, awful way to feel... Shame just makes me feel miserable and s****y."
Asked that as he approaches 50, what would he say the 25-year-old kid who won an Oscar for the Good Will Hunting screenplay.
"There's a lot that I would want my younger self to understand. Some things, honestly, that I'm too self-conscious of or shy about to be really candid about with the whole world because they're mostly mistakes," he admitted. "Things I wish I had done differently, and they're rooted in that instinct to look at my past and think, I wish I could have avoided this painful event. I wish I could have not caused someone else pain. I wish I had understood better the nature of what was difficult about life for me. I wish I did not have to learn some lessons the hard way."
However, he said, "But I've come to believe you can’t get there the easy way. I had to learn those things in an authentic, meaningful way to really learn the lessons... Addiction is a good example. Oftentimes they want to sell you: 'Do your 30 days, and it'll be fixed.' The only real cure for alcoholism is suffering. You just hope that your threshold for suffering is met somewhere before it destroys your life."
He said he used to get annoyed by people saying they are grateful for their problems.
"I used to think, This is bulls***. You’re not grateful for disasters, creating pain and wreckage in your life," he said. "Say you feel s****y about it and you wish you were better! Only within the last five years, I really felt increasingly grateful for the difficulties that I've had. It’s not insignificant, because a lot of that pain is rooted in pain caused to other people. And that turns out to be the most painful thing in life."
Affleck said as he looks ahead, his focus is being a good dad — one who is present with his children: Violet, 16, Seraphina,12, and Samuel, 9.
"It's important to have two parents for the rearing and upbringing of a child," he said. "The most important thing to me is to be a good father. Boys need to be taught. How to behave, how to conduct yourself. What your values should be. The ways my father did that for me are really meaningful — as are the ways in which he was absent."
So for "the next nine years," before youngest Samuel flies the coop, "the priority is being a great father for my kids until they're all off at college. In terms of my work, it would be about directing complex dramas that don’t necessarily have happy endings and resolve neatly, but explore the adult world without judgment."