Ben Affleck On Acting and Activism
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Ben Affleck has a lot to be thankful for. The prolific actor is now equally sought after as a director; he’s married to gorgeous actress Jennifer Garner, with whom he has adorable daughters Violet, 4, and Seraphina, 1; and he learned one of life’s most valuable lessons early. “Don’t be a fuckin’ consumer!” Affleck’s grandfather, Sam Shaw—ex-Marine, World War II combat veteran, lawyer and sometime boxer—would yell at Ben and his brother, Casey, when the future Hollywood heavyweights were kids in Cambridge.
"He used to break our balls," Affleck recalls, “He was the one to take us out, make men of us, make us work. We’d just be sitting around playing video games, and he’d be like, ‘Don’t be a consumer!’ I never really understood what he meant until I got older and realized I wasn’t doing a damn thing to make the world better. I was being a consumer, you know? I was living a life that was oriented toward myself, and it didn’t feel good all of a sudden.”
Sam Shaw is in his 90s now, and the once-strapping Marine still lives in Boston. His grandson has become one of the biggest names in Hollywood: This fall Affleck hits the silver screen in two new releases, both shot in the Boston area—September’s The Town, a crime drama he also directed, and The Company Men, starring fellow New Englander Chris Cooper (who lives in Massachusetts) and Tommy Lee Jones (a Harvard graduate). But Affleck has not forgotten his grandfather’s lesson from long ago. “He’s a man of tremendous character and a guy I really admire,” he says. And so the actor, director, husband and dad took his words to heart and decided to try, in his own way, to make the world a better place.
GETTING TO WORK
Affleck has focused his energies on several areas: He founded the Eastern Congo Initiative to help the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where war, poverty and disease have killed more than five million men, women and children since 1998. He is a member of Feeding America’s Entertainment Council and has raised funds and awareness for the Jimmy Fund, the Paralyzed Veterans of America and Operation Gratitude. He has also raised funds for the A-T Children’s Project, which is searching for a cure for ataxia-telangiectasia, since he and his wife became friendly with Joe Kindregan, a young man suffering from the degenerative neurological disease.
“Nick Kristof, a columnist for The New York Times, has a great line,” Affleck shares. “He said, ‘While charity has a mixed record helping others, it has an almost perfect record of helping ourselves.’ That’s been my experience. I don’t know that I’ve done anything of substance. I’ve tried, and there are a lot of people doing more than me, but what I have done has really made me feel better. In a way it’s kind of even more selfish, but it’s a good selfish.”
photograph by matthias vriens-mcgrath/trunkarchive.com; styling by arianne tunney for tracey mattingly; barbara kinney for eastern congo initiative (affleck in africa)