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Et Tu, Affleck?


Affleck Like most movie fans, we at Back Stage are always interested to learn how directors make the movies we love or are eager to see. Since we constantly have actors on our minds, we are particularly curious to know how and why the casting decisions were made.

But we were in for a little shock when Ben Affleck explained to New York Times reporter Charles McGrath why he chose to cast nonactors in minor speaking and background roles in his directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone. According to the actor, casting many South Boston locals kept the film's look authentic to its setting.

"In the course of filming, the crew inevitably attracted crowds of people gawking, mugging, just looking like themselves, and eventually it dawned on Mr. Affleck that they were truer Bostonians than anyone the casting directors could provide," McGrath wrote in his Oct. 14 profile of Affleck. " 'By rule you have to use a certain number of SAG people,' Mr. Affleck said, referring to the Screen Actors Guild. 'But SAG extras have a certain look -- they're put together. So I said: "Okay, we'll use the SAG actors. I just don't want to see them." ' "

When asked how the laypeople he cast compared to professional actors, Affleck said nonactors "were less inclined to be neurotic…. They didn't give a flying -- how can I put this? They didn't give a flying hoot, and they weren't inclined to second-guess."

Actors, "neurotic"? Okay, perhaps some of them. Any actor who has spent significant time on a film set will acknowledge there's truth to what Affleck says, that some performers seem unable to stop themselves from second-guessing the director, pestering the crew with unnecessary questions, and otherwise wasting everyone's time. Yet this certainly doesn't describe the vast majority of actors, who show up on time and do their job as professionals should.

And Affleck, of all people, should know that: He's been one for most of his life. According to IMDb, his first gig was appearing in a Burger King commercial at age 12, followed by a spate of small roles in TV movies and indie films until he landed a speaking role in Dazed and Confused at age 21. Affleck and his Good Will Hunting collaborator Matt Damon even worked as background performers in the 1989 film Field of Dreams, which was partially shot in Boston.

We were disappointed to read Affleck's disparaging comments, not only because he struggled as a young SAG actor for years but because he and Damon became heroes to aspiring actors throughout the world when Hunting became an unexpected mainstream success, even earning the then-unknown actors best-screenplay Oscars. Consider how many actors Affleck and Damon inspired to write their own scripts and/or plays and take a more proactive approach to breaking into the business.

However, we don't think Affleck intended to offend or suggest that his fellow SAG members would have been inferior to the laypeople he cast off the street. His comments in the Times were not made out of malice, and we don't take issue with his casting nonactors, since he complied with the provisions stated in SAG's TV/Theatrical Agreement, which requires film producers to cast a minimum of 30 SAG background actors before casting nonunion background actors.

We would like to remind Affleck and the other fortunate SAG members who now work steadily as actors, directors, writers, and producers that your union brothers and sisters do not necessarily have a uniform look -- they come in all shapes, sizes, ages, and ethnicities. They are performers whose job is to play a wide range of characters realistically, take direction, and behave professionally. After all, isn't he still one of them?

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