My very Kiwi 15 minutes with Ben Affleck: ‘Oh! Eeets Imily!’

Ben Affleck plays an advice-dispensing uncle in The Tender Bar.

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Ben Affleck plays an advice-dispensing uncle in The Tender Bar.

The details from the company promoting Ben Affleck’s new film clearly labelled our interview “Zoom: Audio only”. So it was a shock when, after spending 15 minutes in a virtual waiting room listening to Dad Rock, I was suddenly thrown into a video call with a dapper-looking Affleck. Fumbling to conceal the mess of a room behind me with an awkwardly thrown shoulder, I let my Kiwi accent go into overdrive.

Hi, Ben!

Oh! Eeets Imily! I’m sorry, you didn’t need that.

In your new film, The Tender Bar, you play an advice-dispensing uncle. So Ben: are you an advice-giver?

I hate to say it but I probably am. At least to my kids – I’m quite a bit more conscious about assuming the role of advice-giver to other people because I think you can be condescending and arrogant, but with my children I completely free myself from those concerns.

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My daughter read the script and was just like, ‘Oh my god, you’re playing your fantasy part where you just stand around and give lectures to your children’ – and she’s probably right.

What one piece of advice would you like them to remember?

Be kind to yourself and others. Love yourself and love others. Be forgiving, be compassionate, know your worth, know that you are important and valuable and not any more or less valuable than anyone else but enormously valuable to me. The most valuable and important person I would say.

Don’t get caught up in what college you’re going to go to, or what indicators of success you’re going to achieve. Those things are meaningless. What’s really meaningful is the degree to which you can build a life which is congruent with your own interests and satisfaction, and that your own sense of being a good person is going to serve you better than anything else and to – as you can see I go on at great length, so now I’ll stop.

Do you believe in second chances?

God knows if I had to be perfect every time out and get everything right the first time I never would have done anything. But I also never would have learned the more valuable lessons I learned in life. Second chances are not only the nature of life, in that we all need them, but that if you didn’t feel like that was out there you’d never take a risk.

What would surprise people about you?

A good answer to that question would require me to have a more comprehensive, accurate sense of how in fact people do perceive me or what they would expect from me. It’s either, hey, here’s something good about me which would be a big surprise, which would presuppose that nobody would assume anything interesting or valuable about me, versus here’s something bad about me that you never would expect, which in turn presupposes that I am seen somehow as above and greater and better than others. Neither of those things are true.

George Clooney in a scene from The Tender Bar, which he directed.

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George Clooney in a scene from The Tender Bar, which he directed.

So the public doesn’t know who you are?

I think that the prism through which people look at celebrities’ public lives is a little bit distorted, so that it actually is hard to get a very accurate sense of the truth of what’s happening in people’s lives, mostly because people’s inner lives are their inner lives.

In terms of my connection to this movie and what’s really meaningful about it to me is that the movie really is about the need to love and care for and be present for children and raise them in ways that is both honest and loving, compassionate and wise, kind and genuine, and the synergy of all of those qualities is what goes into the essence of good parenting, and that is the single preoccupation of my life.

What’s the hardest thing about being a parent?

The hardest thing about it is the degree to which they grow from these beautiful kids who are full of love who just want to hold you and cling to you, and from whom you give and get so much wonderful loving compassion and warmth, to adults who are all of a sudden their own people and don’t want to play a game with you and don’t want to come downstairs because they’re talking to their friend.

The Tender Bar is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video from January 7.

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My very Kiwi 15 minutes with Ben Affleck: ‘Oh! Eeets Imily!’

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