Director Ben Affleck will keep you captivated with scorching new film
22:04 GMT, 18 October 2012
Ben Affleck has dreamed of being a director
Ben Affleck was in his early 20s when he told me of his dream to write and direct movies.
I reminded him of this when I saw him at the Soho Hotel this week. Affleck, now 40, smiled and said: ‘At least I said I would be doing something that I ended up doing.’
We were meeting to discuss his scorching new film, Argo — his third as director — which was being screened at the BFI London Film Festival.
Argo, as I’ve mentioned here before, is one of the best movies of the year — and one of the front-runners for Bafta and Academy Award honours.
It focuses on a fascinating footnote to the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis: when the U.S. embassy was seized, six State Department officials hid out at the home of Canadian diplomats in Tehran.
Affleck and Bryan Cranston play CIA officers involved in a plan to help them escape. Affleck’s the agency’s exfiltration expert and he embraces Hollywood players (brilliant portraits by Alan Arkin and John Goodman) to help him extract the secret six.
When I described the film to my son, I told him to think of the best of TV series Homeland — without the Apples, BlackBerrys and other digital fruit.
Affleck laughed and noted: ‘We were constantly reminded that, gosh, if this was the present day, none of this would have happened. You could just pick up the phone, or look up information on the internet.’
Affleck, who won an Academy Award with Matt Damon for writing Good Will Hunting, added: ‘In a sweet kind of way, the pre-technology era of 1979 made it so that we actually had to work to do things much more.’
He sensed the film would strike a chord with viewers because of the Arab Spring, but never imagined it would have tragic resonance because of the recent terror killings of U.S. Libyan ambassador Christopher Stevens and his colleagues in Benghazi.
‘It raises the question of history repeating itself,’ Affleck said.
He remarked that the 1979 television news footage used for background was spookily similar to reports from the region we’re seeing today. ‘Other than the quality of the video, it’s hard to tell them apart.’
Argo opens on November 7.
Helen Hunt She's as Good As It Gets
Helen Hunt said filming was 'rigorous'
Sex is hard work for the woman Helen Hunt portrays in her new movie. She plays Cheryl Cohen Greene, a certified sexologist who helps the physically challenged achieve intimacy.
The film, The Sessions, is based on Cheryl’s real-life relationship with the late poet Mark O’Brien (played by John Hawkes), who spent most of his life paralysed from the neck down and encased in an iron lung after contracting polio as a child.
O’Brien hired Cheryl to introduce him to sex, and take his virginity.
Usually when actors shoot a sex scene there’s some choreography to map out where arms and legs end up. But not this time.
‘Physically, putting all sexuality aside, it was rigorous work,’ Helen told me. ‘John couldn’t help me, because in character he couldn’t move. I had trouble getting his shirt off!’
It’s a terrific movie, with the lead performances full of passion and humour. Both will surely be in contention for awards.Helen (pictured) met Cheryl, who still works as a surrogate, before filming started. ‘She’s very direct, very precise, and I used that essence of her,’ she said.
Both actors are totally naked in the ‘surrogate’ scenes and because those moments involve a lot of clumsiness and pushing and pulling, there’s a truthfulness about them.
The 49-year-old actress was matter-of-fact about the nudity. ‘For a part like this, you shrug and go “whatever”,’ she said. ‘It’s not there to titillate.’
Helen, who was in London with Hawkes this week for screenings of The Sessions at the BFI London Film Festival, believes the film, directed with verve by Ben Lewin, is more than just a story of disability. ‘It’s not so much about someone who’s disabled — it’s a movie that includes disability.’
She added that the love scenes are the opposite of glossy Hollywood movie sex ‘where you’re perfectly elegant, you time it just right, and your underwear drops to the floor’.
‘That kind of leaves a lot of us out . . . like almost everyone,’ she says. ‘Whereas with this movie, because it’s so true, no one is excluded.’
Helen’s acting in The Sessions is, in my opinion, the best work she’s done on screen — and that includes her Oscar-winning part opposite Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets 15 years ago.
I asked her why she’s been out of the limelight of late.
She said she’d been busy raising her daughter, Makena, now eight, and hadn’t found any ‘big flashy movies’ to be in. Instead, she worked on smaller pictures, some of which she directed or wrote.
She said being there for her daughter meant a lot. ‘Not because she needs me. Selfishly, it’s for me. It’s like an intravenous vitamin drip to be at home with her.’
The Sessions will open here on January 18.
Tim Minchin is a musical delight
Tim Minchin is the revelation in the rock arena production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Jesus Christ Superstar.
Minchin stars as Judas in the show, which played Wembley Arena on Wednesday and travels to Nottingham Capital FM Arena tonight and tomorrow, before moving to the Motorpoint in Sheffield on Sunday.
Revelation in the rock arena: Minchin gives and outstanding performance in Andrew Lloyd Webber's new show
The show was written for arenas and stadiums and it was fun to see it, as Andrew put it, ‘out of the straitjacket’ of regular West End theatres.
The score and lyrics are excellent, and it’s worth checking out the DVD, which is due out on November 19.
Minchin is one of the forces behind the musical Matilda, which has advance bookings worth more than 5.2 million at the Cambridge Theatre.