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Bond of Brothers

Ben and Casey Affleck at the Chicago premiere of
Ben and Casey Affleck at the Chicago premiere of "Gone Baby Gone," which is winning praise for the elder's direction and the younger brother's acting chops. (By Jerry Lai -- Associated Press)

The drama teacher was Gerry Speca. Ben thanked him from the stage on Oscar night in 1998. He also put him in a scene at the end of "Gone Baby Gone," which is based on a novel by Dennis Lehane, the same guy who wrote "Mystic River," which also became a movie, directed by Clint Eastwood, which won Academy Awards for Sean Penn and Tim Robbins, which is obviously going to put the Affleck brothers in a position of comparison.

Ben remembers he read "Gone Baby Gone" in 2002 or 2003. That would be back in the Jennifer Lopez time, when things got a little weird. Ben thought the book might be adapted into a movie for him to act in. He began to very slowly write the screenplay with his high school friend Aaron, who would sometimes stay at his place, like Casey.

"Then I thought I might direct it, and if I directed it, I definitely didn't want to be in it," says Ben. "I was looking at the story and something was bothering me." The private eye in Dorchester, the tough-guy character Patrick Kenzie, was 40 years old in the script. "I didn't like the age he was. I couldn't find anybody to do the movie. What if he was younger? It made the movie better because it gave the guy some stakes."

Meaning stakes how?

"When something bad happens to you when you're 40, you get scarred," says Ben. "When something bad happens to you when you're 30, it changes your life. And as soon as I made the guy 30, I knew, like, this amazing actor who knew Boston, who I could get to, get a script to, who I could reach, and all of a sudden, things came into view. This is it. It's got to be Casey. This is the best person to play this part. By far. And I just happen to be lucky enough to know that because other people didn't understand that, because other people weren't exposed to him and his work the way I was."

Or as the review in New York magazine puts it: "Casey Affleck has never had a pedestal like the one his brother provides him, and he earns it." Because people might forget that Casey and Ben have appeared together in not only "Good Will Hunting" but "Chasing Amy" and "200 Cigarettes," and that Casey and Damon have been together in the "Ocean's" franchise, in numbers 11 through 13.

Did the studio, did the money people ever say, ummm, Ben, you're a rookie director, we don't think it's such a genius idea to cast your brother, who's never been a leading man, in your first movie? Casey is sitting there, politely, listening to this. Ben is nodding. "Yeah," he says, "I figured they're going to say to me, oh, he's your brother and there would be eye-rolling. Because I know Casey is so talented, but he's been having that Catch-22 problem. That he's not a star because he can't be a star if he can't get the job to be a star. I know he's had that struggle. But they trusted me, so I didn't even have to give my speech."

And what was it like to work with your brother as the director? "One of the things Ben does as a director is listen to other people's ideas and take the best and leave the rest. He's not territorial, a mistake I've seen other directors make, I guess, because they feel insecure about their position. Ben let them try their ideas, which makes them feel like their ideas are on the line. They invest more. But he's pretty discerning. Including some of my bad ideas, where he would go, like, I'm not going to do that."

Ben interrupts. "In terms of directing Casey it was just providing him with the best opportunity he could to succeed." Here he accelerates. "Doing whatever that took, creating that environment for Casey and whatever that meant, and keeping out whatever I had to keep out . . . " He's talking even faster. " . . . and allowing Casey to make whatever choices he wanted to make and, if he had an idea or instinct or experiment he wanted to try, doing what I could to let him try that, even if that meant holding off 10 other people who were going, 'What? No! We're not doing that!' That to me is directing."

Casey says this directing gig is harder than it looks. "It seems like a job of corralling," he says. "Where you have all these stubborn dumb cows, whatever, and you got to get them all in the same place." He moos. The Affleck brothers laugh. "But he's managed to corral some pretty big cows."


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