Once upon a time, and not that long ago, Ben Affleck was Batman. In fact, more than just being the latest actor in a long line to play the role, he was going to write and direct The Batman, a solo Dark Knight spinoff movie tied into the DC Extended Universe. That obviously did not happen, and indeed the years during which he was attached to the project were among some of the grimmest of his personal live.
He is coming public about that and much more in an intimately revealing profile in The New York Times. Speaking candidly with the paper of record’s Brooks Barnes, Affleck opened up about his struggles with alcoholism and pain, which coincided with his highest-profile projects in the middle of the previous decade, Batman included.
“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 told The Times. “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. Then you do more of it to make that discomfort go away. Then the real pain starts. It becomes a vicious cycle you can’t break. That’s at least what happened to me.”
Confirming that he’d always enjoyed drinking a “relatively normal” amount throughout his adult life, Affleck said his battle for sobriety began as his marriage to actor Jennifer Garner collapsed. He calls the subsequent 2018 divorce the biggest regret of his life.
“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.”
This also was the same timeframe he had been cast as Bruce Wayne and Batman. When he took on the role of Batman in 2013, it was heralded by many as the crowning achievement in a comeback narrative that included his winning the Oscar for Best Picture in the same year for Argo. And yet, by the time of the 2016 release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Affleck was visibly souring on the whole production process.
Beyond the grim memes about “Sad Affleck” that took Twitter and Reddit by storm after he appeared morose during BvS interviews, the film and his performance was met with an exceedingly divisive reaction among critics and fans, which in turn led to massive disappointment. Among the fallout was Affleck’s second major (and final) appearance as Batman, 2017’s Justice League.
That production, directed by Zack Snyder, was ultimately taken over by writer-director Joss Whedon, who spearheaded extensive reshoots. By that time, Affleck had already ceded writing and directing duties on The Batman—a project he initially was expected to wear multiple creative hats on when it was announced in 2015—but he was still expected to star in the now Matt Reeves-helmed movie.
Ultimately though, Affleck stepped away altogether from the cape and cowl after Justice League’s muted critical and financial reception, and Reeves’ movie now only appears tangentially tied to the DCEU Affleck helped build.
Still, Affleck confirmed to The New York Times that Justice League’s troubled production “sapped his interest” in Batman, nor that he fully enjoyed his time as the superhero.
“I showed somebody The Batman script,” Affleck recalled. “They said, ‘I think the script is good. I also think you’ll drink yourself to death if you go through what you just went through again.’”
Undoubtedly letting go of the Dark Knight was just one disappointment in a larger range of them from that period in his life. However, Affleck appears at the present to have come out of it stronger, choosing to speak out now about his substance abuse problems in lieu of his evidently personal new film, Gavin O’Connor’s The Way Back. There he plays a former athlete who also battles alcoholism when he agrees to teach high school basketball.
Reeves’ own take on The Batman has also begun filming with Robert Pattinson in the lead role of Bruce Wayne/the Caped Crusader. The first video of Pattinson in the Batsuit was released last week.
David Crow is the Film Section Editor at Den of Geek. He’s also a member of both the Critics Choice Association and the Online Film Critics Society. Read more of his work here. You can follow him on Twitter @DCrowsNest.