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The 'Sum' and The Substance

Ben Affleck, Trying to Test His Own Character, Role by Role

By Richard Leiby
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 30, 2002; Page C01

The menace of transnational terrorism: Can anybody stop it? Let's ask today's guest, Benjamin G. "Ben" Affleck, star of the new motion picture "The Sum of All Fears," which features neo-Nazi terrorists who set off a nuclear bomb in Baltimore.

Affleck clears his throat just like a serious politico on one of those Sunday morning newsmaker shows. "Resource allocation is a big issue," he says. "I think the American people recognize that."

Actor-writer Ben Affleck, who plays CIA analyst Jack Ryan in "The Sum of All Fears," says he is more interested in humans-in-progress than heroic caricatures. (Michael Williamson - The Washington Post)

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Ben Affleck Filmography
'The Sum of All Fears' Showtimes

Uh-oh, here we go: Is Affleck the kind of self-appointed Hollywood expert who, because he plays a CIA analyst, thinks he must have something credible to say about our nation's intelligence-gathering capabilities?

"It's extremely difficult to infiltrate terrorist organizations," the actor says, "as demonstrated by the fact that the majority of the hijackers on 9/11 didn't even know it was a suicide mission. So, if they didn't know, well, it's a lot to ask the CIA to have known."

Actually, he's making sense.

"That's the real Catch-22 of terrorism. It's extremely difficult to stop because it's not about tanks massing on the border of Poland."

Actually, he was thoroughly briefed at CIA headquarters in preparation for the role of Jack Ryan, the swashbuckling analyst in Tom Clancy's latest book-turned-movie.

Let's call him out on something tougher. Mr. Affleck, what about the continuing terror attacks waged by Palestinian suicide bombers?

"Everyone knows there needs to be a consensus on Jerusalem and there needs to be some kind of multinational coalition."

Turns out he couldn't get enough of Middle Eastern studies during a stint at Occidental College in Los Angeles.

We interrupt this celebrity profile to bring you a news flash: Affleck, a 29-year-old hunk of Boston-raised beefcake with a GQ physique, JFK Jr. hair and a dimpled, senatorial chin, is a genuine policy wonk to boot. A softhearted Democrat, he has schooled himself in the hard facts of geopolitics.

Forget character journeys and the inciting incidents of screenplays. Promoting "The Sum of All Fears," which opens tomorrow, Affleck is happier to appraise Yasser Arafat ("he doesn't have the character that a man like Anwar Sadat had, to risk his political future") or discuss the onset of the latest Palestinian intifada in the context of previous Arab-Israeli wars.

Settling in for a chat last week, Affleck loosens his tie and lights a Kool in his suite at the Ritz-Carlton. "We might as well relax," says the disarmingly tall actor -- he towers nearly 6 feet 4 inches -- as you make further mental notes:

Favors cans of diet soda over bottles of fancy water. Relieves himself with the bathroom door partly open and keeps right on talking. Self-assured. Self-deprecating. Witty. No "I make $10 million a movie" vibe; more "Let's just hang out."

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