Ben Affleck is about to star in a movie, The Way Back, about a high school basketball star-turned-coach whose problematic relationship to alcohol destroys his marriage and leads him to rehab. It’s a fictional storyline that mirrors Affleck’s personal life over the past couple of years, and one that is prompting Affleck to talk openly about his own struggles with alcohol and the demise of his own marriage to Jennifer Garner.
“I drank relatively normally for a long time. What happened was that I started drinking more and more when my marriage was falling apart. This was 2015, 2016. My drinking, of course, created more marital problems,” Affleck told The New York Times in a new and very candid interview. As was well documented by every celebrity magazine cover of the aughts, the once-golden couple and parents of three separated in 2015 and divorced in 2018, amid two of Affleck’s trips to rehab in 2017 and 2018 and reports he had a relationship with the couple’s nanny, Christine Ouzounian.
In every interview in which a towering celebrity humbly “opens up” about their troubles, there is a gutting, bombshell kind of quote, and in this case, it is Affleck telling The Times: “The biggest regret of my life is this divorce.” (The author, Brooks Barnes, notes that Affleck uses the present tense.) “Shame is really toxic. There is no positive byproduct of shame. It’s just stewing in a toxic, hideous feeling of low self-worth and self-loathing.”
Affleck now speaks like a person who has spent some time self-examining. “People with compulsive behavior, and I am one, have this kind of basic discomfort all the time that they’re trying to make go away,” Affleck said. “You’re trying to make yourself feel better with eating or drinking or sex or gambling or shopping or whatever. But that ends up making your life worse.”
It all called to mind Brad Pitt’s thoughtful interview with the publication last year, in which he also spoke frankly about going to rehab, getting sober and working to come out the other side of a highly public and somewhat scandalous marriage. Pitt recently thanked another sober leading man, Bradley Cooper, for inspiring and guiding him. It’s a new modus operandi for Hollywood’s leading men: to talk about their struggles, their feelings, and to publicly take responsibility for their part in collapsed marriages.
This is a good thing—though, at present, there is still a certain subtle, slightly intangible fawning over the men finally stepping into the confessional space, a sense of celebration and adoration at their willingness to be vulnerable, lest anyone forget that baring all in a big, post-split interview has usually fallen to the Jens (Garner and Aniston) and to famous women in general. Of course, women have been expected to spill their personal pain as part of the celebrity game since, well, forever.