By Angela Dawson
HOLLYWOOD — Batman star Ben Affleck plays a different kind of vigilante in his new film The Accountant. Diagnosed with a form of autism (or Asperger syndrome), his character Christian Wolff is a numbers man who uses his aptitude to do the bidding of nefarious criminal organizations. With the Treasury Department breathing down his neck, he takes on a legitimate client, a state-of-the art robotics company where a low-level accounting clerk (played by Anna Kendrick) has discovered a discrepancy in the books. As Christian thoroughly audits the books, he discovers the truth about this seemingly respectable company, which actually harbors some dark secrets.
Amicably separated from his wife, actress Jennifer Garner, Affleck (an Oscar winner for cowriting Good Will Hunting with lifelong friend Matt Damon) remains a doting father to his three children. In The Accountant, Christian’s father was in the US military and moved his two sons around frequently after his wife left him. Concerned that his autistic son would be subjected to bullies, the dad made both kids train in martial arts to protect themselves. Those fighting skills come in handy later when Christian has to contend with bad guys who want him dead when he makes his accounting discoveries.
The busy actor, known as of late for his portrayal of the DC Comics superhero Batman, spoke at a press conference about tackling a more down to earth crime-fighter.
Q: What did you find the challenge of the role? Is there a connection that the big company that we see is involved with building robotics and Christian acts semi-robotic?
Affleck: It was a very challenging role and it required a lot of research. Gavin (O’Connor, the director) and I went around and spent time with people who are in various places on the autism spectrum and observed behaviors, talked to them, and engaged with them in everything from what their day is like to what kind of movie they like to see. A lot of different responses, but the value was just in grounding the guy and making him like real people that we had seen and met in real life, rather than just an imagined version of what it might be, so it’s a combination of observed behavior and characteristics from people that we met and that’s where I anchored the performance in.
Q: Do you see any connection, slightly, with your Bruce Wayne/Batman character?
Affleck: (Looking at The Accountant poster.) I mean same chin, obviously. (He laughs.) If you stretch hard enough, you can draw parallels with a lot of different characters, but this is a distinctly unique character in a unique film. What drew me to it was Gavin and his work and the fact that it was very unusual. You think you’re getting one kind of movie and then you get something that is smarter, more interesting, more challenging and that adds thematic resonance about people who are different and what they’re capable of. It’s about how we try to protect our children from harm and some harm them more by doing so, so that’s what interested me about the movie.
Q: Was there something particular that stuck out when you did your research, like the little mannerisms you have?
Affleck: Yeah, that’s all stuff I just picked up and observed in people. There wasn’t any one person we kind of thought, “OK, we’re going to build a character on this guy.” It was more kind of Gavin and I going through and meeting people and observing things. We’d see something that felt close to what we were doing in the movie, we’d kind of make a note of it or just exchange a look that “this is going to work for us.” We wanted to make sure that we were doing something realistic and rooted in reality. It was about putting together those behaviors and a lot of them are observed, some of them are stolen, and that’s the way you do it.
Q: In this movie you have action sequences like you did in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Did that training help you to find this character? Who would win if they went against each other?
Affleck: I’ve only thought about beating Jason Bourne (depicted onscreen by longtime friend Matt Damon). I never thought about this match (He laughs.)
Q: When your character is a child, the dad was pretty horrible. Did it make you think about parenting styles because he did it all to protect the boy?
Affleck: That’s what I thought was the most heartbreaking thing about the story and definitely moving to me, as a parent. I face dilemmas, like we all do, “What’s the right way to raise children?” And every time, every little moment, there comes a crossroad. There are a lot of different parenting choices you can make and we all make mistakes, for sure, but we try our best. When you have kids, all of a sudden your heart is out of your body. All of sudden, now, you feel so vulnerable. And this fear, of your child being vulnerable, is very, very powerful and I can see why it made a very interesting character for the father versus a guy who — out of love and compassion and fear for his son — actually ends up brutalizing him and abusing him and it’s really interesting to look at what’s the appropriate way to channel the intense emotions we have as parents. It’s not easy.