Taking on the role of the original TV Superman
Ben Affleck has had quite a career - small budget films, and then a break-out hit and an Oscar win for Good Will Hunting. However, over the past few years, he's been trying to keep a low profile. It's very reminiscent of the very person he's playing in his latest flick, George Reeves in Hollywoodland.
Reeves was the original Superman - the one from the TV show in the 1950's; it was a role he took because nothing else was open. George was in every sense of the word, a true American actor, but never got the breaks he deserved. And on June 16, 1959, his life ended; the police reports ruled his death a suicide. But countless reports and investigations have suspected foul play; to this day, the death has not been solved.
Ben took on the role, knowing he'd have to portray such a memorable person. "George Reeves was an iconic guy because of who he played and that was, in some ways, tragic for him. And that very tragedy and kind of paradox - in the sense that he got the thing that he wished for and ultimately it was very destructive - is part of what makes the story so good and part of what makes the character so good. The onus was on me and on Allen and on the writers to be consistent with who the guy really is, because there is a kind of a burden and a responsibility and I think even more so because I think of George as a guy who never really got a fair shake and so I thought it would be the least we could to here to give him his fair shake, finally, that he kind of didn't get in his career or following his death.
Ben also had the fortune of starting with tons of material as research for Hollywoodland. "There was a tremendous amount; I was a beneficiary of in terms of the screenplay and Allen (Coulter, director) and the producers and what they'd done. I was keyed in to where to look and who to talk to and I wanted to play his as authentically as possible. And fortunately he left behind a body of work that I could look at and watch; I saw all 104 episodes of the television show - 52 in color, 52 in black-and-white. And then So Proudly We Hail! this movie he did with Claudette Colbert; obviously, he was in the beginning of Gone With the Wind, so there's stuff available. So that was a great help to me; but to not belabor the point, yes, I really wanted to try to treat him fairly and you benefit from a whole wealth of information to draw upon. If I screw that up, I really have no excuse."
Ben did talk about the parallels of his career and Reeves' and how it compares to what he's been through in his life. "For me, it's about the condition of humanity, whereby it's never really enough, that feeling, that ambition that drives you to achieve and people to invent rockets and to build machines and the industrial age and also keeps us perpetually kind of dissatisfied, that sort of 'grass is greener' thing and that those two things that at once propel, at the same time frustrate and stifle us and trying to live and manage those two things and it's really that contradiction, contrary impulses, that are universally human and that I think everyone can understand and that are really painfully. I'm like, 'How is my life not living up to my dreams? If I just had this then I'd be happy.' Getting that and finding out that's not the thing. And I think that's really at the root of the thing, for me. I think it really kind of transcends Hollywood, although it's a really good example of that kind of thing, because it's to the extreme."
What has happened in Hollywood over the last 50 years is the status of the media. In Hollywoodland, Adrien Brody plays Louis Simo, a private detective investigating Reeves' death. He was able to gain a lot of information by sneaking around; and none of what he found ended up in the papers. Today, you would know every single fact, whether it was true or not.
Ben talked about those complete differences of times from now and then. "If that's the most trivial aspect of the evolution of the media is to what degree do they treat some celebrities sexual dalliances versus say, President Clinton versus Jack Kennedy and the degree to which private lives being made public is accepted as news, and to what degree the media has to govern itself. They say well we have a set of standards, we have inside sources and the degrading of that is all part of the transition that he's talking about because the media, really is a reflection of ourselves and what we show ourselves. It doesn't really pass judgment on it, I don't know what the judgment is, but it is certainly interesting to take note of and for those of you folks in that job, you know far better than we would to what extent that evolution has happened, what the differences are, what it feels like, to what degree editors are telling you go find this information versus that information."
One thing Ben isn't concerned about is who is going to judge Hollywoodland for exploiting Reeves' death. "Sometimes there are these external circumstances that come into play after you've made a movie and before it comes out - sometimes they work against you and sometimes they don't. I think it's good, I think Superman as a character is pretty iconic; that's why they keep on making movies and TV shows about him. I think it's a really good representation of this icon, the American hero icon, particularly as seen through the media and movies."
You can see Ben, as George Reeves, don the red and blue tights of Superman in Hollywoodland; it opens in theaters September 8th, rated R.