The A-lister talks about his return to acting and latest role playing online tycoon Ivan Block in Runner, Runner.
When a two-time Oscar-winning writer and director agrees to sign on for an acting job, you know you’re dealing with compelling material. Such is the case with Runner, Runner, director Brad Furman’s follow up to the critically acclaimed The Lincoln Lawyer, which casts Ben Affleck as dubious online tycoon Ivan Block.
Is Ivan a bad guy, or has he just made some bad decisions? Hopefully he’s a complicated guy. We like to stand apart and look at people in this binary way and say you’re bad and you’re good, and I think that makes really uninteresting drama. What I hoped was that people would understand and identify with this guy on some levels, and maybe some people would find him and what he’s proselytising appealing. Justin’s character does early on, and then given time he’s revealed to be a guy who makes very bad choices and does things we recognise as immoral. What I think is interesting is that hopefully, if we’ve done our job right, you see at the root of those choices was a guy who wasn’t bad to begin with.
When on set was there a temptation to take over from Brad’s [Brad Furman] directive duties, or did you just keep quiet? Interestingly enough, the opposite thing happened. Because I’m a director and I’ve been in situations with an actor where I’m trying to communicate something and the actor is really wanting to be doing something totally different or dictate what is going to happen, I know the frustration. But by the same token, there’s something very liberating about just being an actor where your only concern is your performance. If it’s a complete disaster or there’s some giant crises, you just go, ‘Oh, I’ll be in my trailer. You go figure it out!’
In the movie you have a teacher/pupil relationship with Justin’s [Timberlake] character: did that spill out into the real world? Not really. I was just amazed by Justin because every day was a discovery of something else that he could do really well. It got to the point where it cheesed you off! The guy can sing, dance, write music, choreograph, he plays basketball incredibly well, he’s a great golfer, he can ski like a professional... anything that comes up, Justin can do way better than you. You don’t even want to hum a tune around Justin – you feel too self-conscious. He’s very self-effacing, very kind, and having seen the mill of the gossip machine in my own life, I really appreciated the degree to which Justin came from. He was a child performer in a boy band – and there’s nothing people want to be more dismissive of than boy bands. He showed people that not only did they have to take him seriously, but that he was one of the most important artists around.
Would you ever cast him in one of your movies? Definitely. In fact, I was just talking to Fincher about Justin and how good he was in David’s movie [The Social Network] and David was saying he needed a guy that was like Frank Sinatra. I’d work with him under any capacity – though I don’t think he’s going to hire me as a dancer.
Though set in Costa Rica, Runner, Runner was mainly shot in Puerto Rico – how was your experience there? I hadn’t been there before and it was lovely. I enjoyed it. I speak Spanish... a lot of times now you film in states that have the best rebates, so you find yourself in unremarkable places doing time. Puerto Rico is a beach paradise that was kind of like taking a vacation.
Though some of it was shot in the slums of La Perla, which is far more edgy and also a lot less glamorous... One of the things that Costa Rica and Puerto Rico have that mirrors one of the themes of the story is the great divide between rich and poor – places that have all this allure and excess and then places where people are really destitute. I was glad that this was being portrayed in the movie as it connects again to the idea of the financial sector and its collapse, its haves and have-nots. The fact that people are so impoverished contributes to the continuing obsession with money.
So if it all goes wrong with the acting and directing, you don’t have a future like Ivan Block? Oh no! I’ll get back online and they’ll be carting my furniture away. Runner Runner is released across Dubai on September 26.